January 31, 2010
I don't know much about Israeli schools. I made aliya WAY after my kids were school-age, so until now, my main contact with schools here has been limited to walking past the middle school that's just down the street and davening in a shul that holds Shabbat services in a school gym.
I have no experience as a grandparent either, so last week when I was invited to be an honorary savta so that my 6 year-old friend Aviel would have someone to take to his school's Grandparent's Evening in honor of Tu B'Shvat I was thrilled!
One of Aviel's real grandmothers is in the U.S and the other one unfortunately wasn't well enough to come, so I got to play savta and spend a few hours in a Jerusalem classroom.
Aviel attends a religious school that boasts several generations of graduates. As he is careful to explain to me as we scamper up the stairs to his third-floor classroom, there are 36 kids in his home room class. One teacher and one teacher's aide. Both are religious women who don't seem in the slightest bit fazed by the dozens of family members who noisily crowd into the tidy classroom to try to find seats next to their excited grandchildren.
Estee, the teacher--herself a grandmother of three--is a take-charge person who runs the proceedings with patience and aplomb. She explains the idea behind Grandparents Evening and its connection to Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. "Just think of yourselves and the roots you've planted and nurtured," she says. "Your grandchildren are the fruit of your labors and the branches of your tree."
As Levana the aide efficiently passes around platters of fruits, cookies and grape juice, Estee conducts the Seder, addressing both the kids and their grandparents as she whips through the various blessings and explanations of the various items associated with the holiday. She's prepared a printed program full of readings and songs that we all take turns in reciting.
The kids are given a crafts project to keep them busy and Estee goes around the room asking each grandparent to say a few words about themselves. The group is a microcosm of Israeli society. There are several native-born Israelis, a few of whom are graduates of the school. Some are "former Jerusalemites" who have now retired to places like Herzliya and Netanya. Several more describe their aliya as children who arrived after the Holocaust and in the early years of the state, while yet others are more recent arrivals from France, South Africa and Ethiopia.
No Israeli event of this nature can go by without reading a poem or joining in communal singing. Everyone turns to a page of the printed program where it's only the immigrants who have to actually look at the words of the 1980 Naomi Shemer song that ends the evening: Al Kol Eleh.. "Watch over all that I hold precious...do not uproot what has been planted."
Photos at http://jerusalemdiaries.blogspot.com