We had always had the Channuka season marked on our mental calendars as a time where the hard work should begin to pay off. Based on what we had heard from other olim, Channuka time is when the “strangeness” of our new surroundings would begin to wear off and when the kids should begin to get into the flow of things with their friends and in school.
Although we could definitely see progress being made each month (I can’t say each week because there were some really rough weeks in there) we had looked to Channuka as the benchmark time where we would really be able to see significant developments. In the tough weeks this actually gave us a bit of strength because we knew we were shooting for a specific goal and that there would be light at the end of the tunnel of difficulties we were dealing with.
We actually did see results. For most of us. Chaim’s schooling was on track, Chaya was coming home happy and excited from the open welcome her class gave her, Aliza was trying as hard as she could to get out of Ulpan and go to the “normal” class and even Batya, after a slow start, was really coming into her own in Hebrew and making the grade in school (Moshe at almost 2 is too young to have many adjustment issues and speaks an excellent Heblish).
Socially we knew they were doing well, with good friends and a strong support network of kids who had great empathy for their struggles and great compassion in going out of their way to make them feel welcome. Having met with most of the kids teachers in the weeks before Channuka, we knew that they were doing well and that immediately after Channuka we would start to turn on the heat as far as academics.
Our biggest emotional worries with the kids once we saw how well they were doing socially, were making sure they weren’t suffering educationally because of the transition and getting Mordechai comfortable enough in school for him to begin speaking in Hebrew.
So it was a really great thrill when Goldie dropped Mordechai off in his Gan on Sunday and got an awesome report. His teachers told her that the change in him (since Channuka) was overwhelming; he has begun to speak in Hebrew and really participate actively in all the class activities. He interacts with all the other children, not just the English speakers. Most importantly to him, he has found his role in the classroom and is finally confident (once again) in his ability to do well in school.
It is all about confidence. He mixes Hebrew words in his sentences all the time now and we can feel how much more comfortable he is with the language issue. Sure, he makes a ton of mistakes with his grammar, mixing up his tenses, genders and mangling the words. But he is trying and is not afraid of making mistakes, a fear which is (in my opinion) the biggest hurdle you face when learning to speak a foreign language.
To us, this is a huge victory. The child who has had the hardest short term adjustment to the language and culture is finally beginning to get it. We had suffered along with him for so long that it was a tremendous lift for the whole family to see him break through the barrier.
Suddenly, he no longer wants Goldie to stay with him in the mornings for school drop off. In fact, since the gan is at the end of our block, he actually prefers to walk there (and home at the end of the day) by himself. We (still being American in attitude) have decided to allow him to walk by himself a couple of times a week and see how we handle it.
We attended parent teacher conferences for Chaim and were not surprised to hear that Chaim was doing well. As we saw with Mordechai, it is truly amazing the difference that confidence and comfort make in a child’s attitude and accomplishments.
Chaim, who had struggled mightily with a poor program, irresponsible educational administration and oversight and had a miserable first couple of months here, has also made a significant turnaround. Now that we have found the right educational program for him with GMAX, he has risen to the occasion and really applied himself to accomplishing his goal of finishing High School early and getting into college.
The folks at GMAX are working with him very closely and we can see how much his teachers care about their students personally as well as academically. Yes, they all tell him frequently that he should consider staying here and I am sure that their voices are more powerful to him than our own. Yet, they respect him and understand that he has the right to choose for himself.
The other kids are reporting successes as well. They have made tremendous growth in their language skills and have not let the transition to Hebrew slow them down in their work on core subjects like math and social studies.
Goldie and I spent a night shopping in Machane Yehuda for groceries. I know I have said it before, but we are drawn to Machane Yehuda. The produce there is HUGE and always incredibly fresh. The prices are unbelievable. And each time we go we make a discovery of a new store or booth that we hadn’t visited before. This week our surprise was finding the cheese store.
Hard cheeses are different here. The flavors are different and even the texture is different. I have not been able to adjust to the Israeli cheeses. Finding a store with a good hashgocho (Kashrut certification) that also had a large selection of products was a welcome surprise. The proprietor was thrilled to show us the various products he had and we went home excited that we had found a new place to buy our old favorites. The only thing he didn’t have (that we could see) was plain old American cheese, which we still have to bring in from
The same night we went to Machane Yehuda we started to look for a van. I would say minivan, but with six kids there are very few options for us here and none of them are mini – either in size or in price. Interestingly, all the larger vans here are converted commercial vans so most of them come standard with diesel engines. The gas will be cheaper (about forty cents a liter) and the diesel engines supposedly run longer with less maintenance.
Car buying is radically different here. There is a published price and you pay it. No haggling, no trying to get things thrown in, nothing. This is unusual since almost every other vendor expects you to bargain with him about price. OK, except for the supermarket and gas station.
As new olim we are entitled to an import tax break on the purchase of a new car bought in our first five years here. The break? Instead of having to pay 120%+ import taxes on the value of the car, we have to pay 70%+. What a bargain!
Financing a car is another difference. In
When you consider that a car can run anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000 for a NON LUXURY car, a quick calculation shows how expensive getting a new car here really is. This leads to one of the good things about cars here.
After the initial drop in value the car experiences as you drive it off the lot, cars here retain their value for a long time. A twenty year old van can cost over $10,000, depending on its condition. Since new cars are so expensive, the resale market here is very strong and many people purchase their cars from rent a car or car leasing companies.
Since we have been driving a five seat car for several months now, we are eager to finally get a new car (which, because of the taxes, will probably be the last new car we ever own) and have the opportunity to travel together as a family again.
We had a rare quiet Shabbat. Our kids have been passing different bugs back and forth and Goldie was tired out with having to keep up with all of us as well as her own schedule, so we decided to have no guests and just stay home for the meals in order to relax a bit.
The Shabbat weather here was awesome. In between lunch and mincha we all went out to our backyard and either sat in the sun or ran around on the (new) grass with the little kids.
After Mincha, Mordechai had invited one of his friends, Shmuel Schvartz, a Hebrew only speaker to come over and play. Shmuel’s family davens in our shul and Shmuel is quite comfortable with me in my capacity as candyman in shul, so he was happy to come. Mordechai’s best friend in
It was nice to see all the kids happily interacting, even if none of the English speakers really wanted to invest the effort in speaking Hebrew without parental prompting. The ease and comfort they are acquiring in speaking Hebrew and dealing with Hebrew only speakers is something that Goldie and I will probably never attain and can only be grateful that we could provide it for our kids.
I can’t believe that I can finally say this, but they are now all (Thank G-d) doing well and really progressing forward as American Israelis. We will always be different. However, since this country was built on and continues to rely on significant amounts of emigration from foreign lands, so many others here will also be different so we should fit right in.