New immigrant Rachel is undergoing culture shock on behalf of her children.
A friend once told me that I do my children a grave disservice by delaying their attendance in gan until they are 3, 4 or 5. She claimed that they need the gan experience in order to develop that tough exterior so useful in Israeli society. I don’t know if she’s right or not, but every action involves a tradeoff. If you only associate with American families, they will not learn Hebrew as quickly nor the ins and outs of Israeli society. And Israeli culture has positive values such as love of the land, close extended families, and less materialism. Even “protektzia” is positive when you are the beneficiary.
Rachel raises three specific issues.
- Neglect and benign abuse that are considered normal. Stick by your American standards regarding safety issues. Make sure the mother giving your kid a ride puts a seatbelt on him, and isn’t planning to leave the house when he is visiting. Check who is supervising your kids’ school trips and youth activities. Some parents will give you a hard time, but others will thank you even if it’s only in their “hard” (as my 4yo puts it). Schools are allowed to release kids after 12:45 (not sure from what age, but definitely upper elementary grades) without notifying the parents. Your kids have to know what to do in that situation.
- Junk food. I’ve gathered that junk food is also a huge problem in the US. I’ve given up this battle for the most part, I’m sorry to say. My first-grader’s classmates are constantly reminded not to bring junk, but the quantity given out at school makes up for this. I still control what I buy, but not always what comes into the house. My 4yo told a playgroup mother that we had had homemade pareve ice cream with food coloring and chemicals on Shabbat. In reality, a guest had brought cookies filled with colored gel. My kids know what’s healthy and why we don’t buy certain things.
- Manners. When we see others push into line, we can explain to our children how it feels to be pushed and the prohibition against “gezel zman” (stealing the time of others). Saying thank you and you’re welcome is important. However, our ultimate goal is for children to feel gratitude and be sensitive to others. I don’t insist that my children use these words, but hope they will follow my example. And they generally do. But that is more about my parenting approach than cultural difference.
Here are more tips on keeping kids close.
- Send them to gan as late as possible. Less junk food and bullying, fewer parent meetings and birthday parties–what more could you want?
- Look for like-minded parents, including Israeli ones. Find people who will teach you about the system, in order to understand and influence it.
- Focus on the positive–both in your children and in Israeli life. Israel has improved in many areas such as safety awareness and handicapped access.
- Limit the amount of time your kids spend with friends until you know the parents. Remember that just because someone is “Anglo” doesn’t mean they have the same values and standards as you.
- Invest time in building up a support network for your family.
- Depending on where you live, you may be exposed to a much wider variety of cultural experiences and mindsets than you were in the US. The parents who are unaware of safety issues may have grown up in a home where those issues were not on the radar screen.
- Limit time spent in gan, daycare and afterschool programs, hugim (afterschool activities), and youth groups, and stay on top of what happens there.
- Let your kids know why you do things differently, without criticizing other parents. Their approaches may be valid, especially in a different cultural system.
- Be realistic and avoid stereotypes. Are kids in American dayschools always welcoming to new kids? Do teachers always have complete control of the class? Do all American parents put their kids in seatbelts every single time?
- Teach children to respect their own individuality and that of others. Give them the confidence to withstand negative social pressure.