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Chinuch Starts At HOME: Part 4

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Integrating Olim School-Age Children into the Israeli school system

Learn about the options for English-speaking schooling and educational leniencies.

Israel has a long record of accepting and integrating Jewish families throughout its almost 75- year history. Many children have arrived in Israel at all ages of development and with a variety of educational backgrounds. This list includes European post-Holocaust refugees, North African children with little formal schooling, Russian children from a post-Communist society, and Ethiopian children who just traveled the desert to safety. Anglo children are in an enviable position compared to others, as Israel has a system established to help oleh children succeed.

Nevertheless, Anglo children still face challenges – the greatest of which is fluency in Hebrew. The government supplies resources for ulpan in school (sha’ot olim). In general, the younger the oleh, the easier it is to fully communicate in Hebrew after the initial immersion process.

What about older children? How quickly do they pick up Hebrew and what can be done if the transition is not going smoothly?

As with aliyah in general, there seems to be two schools of thought: what I call the “total immersion approach” and the “slow but steady approach”.

Total immersion advocates recommend that children move into a Hebrew only environment as soon as possible. It’s helpful to move into a Hebrew speaking yishuv or neighborhood. It’s also quite helpful if one or both parents are fluent in Hebrew as well. Hebrew can be spoken at school, on the playground, and then reinforced at home. Many children will do well with this immersive approach, soon growing so much in their Hebrew skills that they sound almost like a native speaker. After the first year, these children will be well on their way to integration in language and culture.

This approach also seems to work better with younger children. Once kids are in older elementary school, the total immersion program is harder to facilitate. Social and cultural issues surface, making the immersion harder.

This brings us to the second approach, which might work better with older children: the “slow but steady” integration. Here, the children stay in a similar cultural environment, yet learn Hebrew and Israeli systems in a slower process. Moving to a neighborhood where other Anglo families are present, perhaps enrolling children in a more Anglo-centric school, even enrolling them in an English speaking school, can provide educational and emotional support throughout their transition to becoming Israeli.

Parents need to know their children well and to be honest with what they, as parents, can do to support them. If the parents are fluent Hebrew speakers, then the children may be familiar with Hebrew and Israeli society from the family. If no one in the household speaks Hebrew and everyone is adjusting to a new culture at the same time, a “slow but steady” approach may be needed.

Depending on the child, his/her age upon aliyah, and language skills, the best approach when coming with older kids could be to place them into an English speaking middle and / or high school. This will allow them to form friendships immediately and to continue gaining strength from excelling in their best subjects while learning the ropes here.

The names of these religious, English speaking schools are:

  • YTA (Yerushalayim Torah Academy): A high school for both boys and girls on separate campuses

  • Naaleh - Elite: A dorming school for both boys and girls on separate campuses

  • Ohr Moshe: A school for boys from grades 7th through 12th

  • Ulpanat Orly: A school for girls from grades 7th through 12th.

As more schools open every few years, it is advisable to check online for the updated list while planning Aliyah.

Regardless of which school your child attends, all olim children are entitled to leniencies in the Bagrut system. First, Israel determines into which category the child fits.

Level A children enter grades 1 through 3 upon moving to Israel.

Level B children enter grades 4 through 8 upon moving to Israel.

Level C children enter grades 9 through 12 upon moving to Israel.

Note: A student’s level is determined by their date of entry into the country, not by their Aliyah date.

Students in all three levels are eligible for the following leniencies:
  • Taking a special immigrant exam in: Hebrew language, Hebrew literature, Civics (Ezrahut), Bible, History, Talmud, and Jewish Thought (Mahashevet Israel)

  • 25% extra time for all written exams

  • Exams will be read to the student in Hebrew, with the exception of the Hebrew Language exam. The student is required to write down the answers in Hebrew.

  • Use of a hard copy or electronic dictionary for Hebrew written exams in all subjects with the exception of the Hebrew language exam for Level B

  • Use of a Tanach with English translation, without commentaries, for the regular exam and the specialized immigrant exam

Students in Levels B and C are eligible for the following additional leniencies:
  • No penalties for spelling mistakes in all written exams in Hebrew.

  • Exams are offered in English in the following subjects: Tanach, Hebrew literature, Civics (Ezrahut), History, Math, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Science and Technology.

  • Level B students who take the exam in English are not eligible for an oral exam or for bonus points or to use a dictionary.

  • Level C students who take the exam in English are eligible to take an oral exam in all subjects except mathematics, English and Hebrew language and to use a dictionary (but no bonus points).

(Thank you to the Nefesh B’Nefesh website for this guide.)

In his study of how teens fare after Aliya, Dr. Avidan Milevsky asserts that, after four years, none of the teens who were interviewed expressed regret about making Aliyah, though many teens and parents admitted to facing difficulty in the teen years. See the link to Dr. Milevsky’s study here.

Dr Milevsky’s website, Center for Research on Aliyah, can be found here. It offers many insights for how to best prepare for the aliyah process, to make it as smooth and successful as possible.

And while it takes effort, please know that aliyah with older children is possible and can be a most positive experience for your child and your family.

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