Family & Education

Moving to Israel? The schools will drive you crazy

Since making aliyah two years ago, I've faced constant challenges. But none worse than the Israeli education system.


Clever people make aliyah when they are single and carefree. Or as newlyweds, or with babies. Or when they are retired, finally breathing a sigh of relief at being kid-free.

Not so clever people make aliyah with three teenage children. Those people are nuts. And it appears that my husband and I are those people.

Parenting three kids in a new country where they feel you have “ruined their lives” and they say they will “never speak to you again,” has been tricky. Attempting to educate them in the Israeli school system, I have found myself totally lost.

Whilst I wasn’t a Supermum in the UK (I’ve never even met one), I definitely had the semblance of control. I knew which school each child attended, I knew what time they started and finished and I knew which colour school uniform to buy.

I picked them up on time (unless I was engrossed by Netflix, and then they had to wait), signed homework diaries with a flourish, and was an efficient Class Representative. I sometimes even remembered it was “dress up day” (ugh). And, vitally, I never once received a phone call from a teacher asking me to “come in and have a chat.”

But then I made aliyah. Any control I thought I had disappeared immediately, out of the oval-shaped window on the El Al plane.

In Israel, I struggle to tell people what grade my kids are in. Is it Yud Aleph? Kita Vav? Where are they supposed to be? And when? Where is the front gate? Is there a uniform? When is parents’ evening? Am I supposed to go? What time do they finish?

It transpired that each day was different. None of this “the whole school starts at eight and finishes at four” malarkey that I was used to. Sometimes they started at 8am, but this could change to 7.30am, and you might find out at 7.25am. On a Monday they finished at 1pm, but the following Monday it could be 2.14pm.

I finally acquired their timetables (it would have been easier to have bought drugs) but they were in Hebrew, (apparently that’s the language they use here). Thankfully, I’m no fool and I succeeded in producing English translations (Matematica = Maths. Simple when you know how).

I stuck them on my fridge, used yellow highlighters and sticky gold stars for important moments and was ready to be an Israeli parent.

But the kids didn’t stick to their timetables. They appeared home at all times, sometimes just an hour after they had left. Their excuses varied from “lesson cancelled,” “teacher had a baby,” — during the class?— to “Mum, I already told you, we only have sports every other month, and only if it contains the letter W.”

Obviously, I know that one of the prime responsibilities of a parent is to get your kids to school. But I was confused. I tried phoning the school. Sounds easy. But after numerous attempts at battling an Israeli answer machine, there are only so many times you can angrily press ‘shalosh’ before your number is barred as an alleged phone stalker.

I wouldn’t be put off. I had managed to acquire the mobile phone number of one of the teachers (I think it was through one of my drug contacts). So I whatsapped her in my best Ivrit enquiring: “Bevakasha, lama lo my kid not b’school?’

It transpired that if a child wanted to leave school premises during the day — they could. They just sort of left. If they didn’t want to go to a lesson they didn’t. No one seemed to stop them. I was not used to this. In the UK, there was a stern chap who prevented this from happening. I think he was the headmaster. But in Israel the kids sort of arrived and left willy-nilly.

I gathered over time that their non-attendance was actually marked down, and parents were notified of their child’s “bunking” at the bi-annual parents’ evening.

I had actually received the whatsapp notification about parents evening, and wasn’t phased that it was in Hebrew, as I had recently discovered my new best friend — Google Translate.

I confidently entered the message, dizzy with happiness that I finally had the tools to parent the Israeli way. Once I had entered the text, Google came up with this: ‘The school invites you to meet the new dog, situated in the arena at the end of the lake. It will be chilly at the time of 8.15pm’.

As I didn’t really fancy meeting the school’s new dog (I’m not a huge animal lover), or being chilly (sunny is my preferred weather), and I’m usually in bed by 8pm, I gave it a miss.

This meant I had no idea that the kids were being rather naughty. But once I did know, I put down my best parenting foot and made them attend school on a daily basis.

But, obviously, only when the calendar month has a ‘W’ in it.

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