Does Israel Support Family Values?

Saul Singer, in his column in Friday’s Jerusalem Post Magazine, maintains that Israel is a family-friendly country. His proof is that the birth-rate among upper-middle-class Israelis, including secular Jews, is much higher than in any other developed country.

THERE IS little point in lecturing people to have more children. The desire to sustain the Jewish people might become a small factor at the back of parents’ minds. But what will really make a difference is if what is happening in Israel begins to happen in America: people seeing that families like them are having more kids.

Israel should be a “light among the nations” in many ways, but it already is in a surprising one: demonstrating how to balance work and family in the modern world.

He cites family-friendly work places, maternity leave, cheap tuition, and affordable daycare as factors.

People do appreciate children here. While crossing the street the other day, the driver of a truck waiting at the crosswalk stuck his head out to tell me that my toddler was missing a shoe! On the other hand the “affordable daycare” is substandard. In a public preschool two adults care for thirty-five three-year-olds, and the ratios for younger children aren’t much better.

One thing we also have are Jewish babysitters, which seem to be hard to find in chutz laaretz (outside Israel). Yet the babysitters I see in the park are having trouble finding work. Ten years ago no one would put their children in daycare before age two, unless they really couldn’t afford a private babysitter. Nowadays daycare is standard, even for babies under a year old. And even in families that seem to be able to afford other luxuries such as brand-new apartments, two cars, and the like.

Women in Israel also work longer hours than they used to. When my older children were in gan (preschool/kindergarten), the majority of the women worked half-days. In recent years a mother is seen as making a sacrifice if she “only” works until four o’clock. We narrowly escaped the Dovrat Commission’s recommendations, which would have put all Israeli children age 3-18 in school, from 8:00 to 4:00, five days a week. This is not about the mommy wars; it’s about having policies that enourage and allow parents to take care of their own children. It shouldn’t be such a luxury. Child allowances have been cut drastically, as have tax benefits for non-income-earning mothers.

Israel has a lot of terrific things to offer families with children. Let’s hope our policymakers, and local trends will head in the right direction.


  1. Parents don’t WANT the responsibility of taking care of their kids. In our Yishuv, we DO have Dovrat, the kids DO come home at 4 pm and there are STILL kids home alone till one of the parents arrive. When my eldest, now 21, was a baby only the “poor” people put kids in day care, everyone else had a metapelet. The day care centers were in the lower-income neighborhoods. Today, people are clamboring to get their kids into the mishpachton or day care which has the longest hours and the most flexibility when mom/dad is late. This, for babies as young as 3 months. I don’t know what has gotten into people, besides the need to finance $250K and up homes, 2 cars, and lavish vacations. I always wonder what would happen if young people would rebel, stop the craziness of work and stop buying overprice homes… would the prices go back down to more accessible numbers?

  2. mother in israel says

    Yes, a lot of the problem stems from buying expensive apartments, as many couples do even before they get married. Then they are stuck with the mortgage, and when the children come they have no choice but to keep earning the two salaries (well, they could sell the apartment or rent it out and live somewhere more modest).

  3. SephardiLady says

    It doesn’t seem family friendly to me that there is tuition in Jewish schools in the Jewish state. I much prefer the American mindset of a free public education for all. (But, I probably should not comment since I really don’t understand the Israeli system).

  4. mother in israel says

    SL, there is public education here but parents still shell out a lot of extras for all kinds of services. Actually private schools are heavily subsidized by the government. My back-to-school post school expenses for family whose kids are receiving a “national-religious” education.

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