This fall, my eight-year-old twins enrolled in the Har Schenya School, an elementary school situated on Mount Schenya in Misgav, Israel. The school educates the children from several of the nearby villages including Manof, where we now live. In the second grade, there are three classes, but the children from Manof are concentrated into two of the three classes so as to encourage and maintain cohesive groups of children from the same village. This approach is unique to Misgav, a region made up of community villages and kibbutzim that all emphasize communal life as one of their core values. In Manof, for example, parents organize get-togethers limited to the children from Manof in order to foster a closely-knit group of children who in many ways feel more like brothers and sisters to one another than merely classmates.
While I see the value in keeping the children from each village together, it was a shock to me when I discovered that the other students in each of my children’s classes will remain the same all the way until middle school. When my son was struggling to make friends at the beginning of the year, this method seemed particularly concerning to me—fatalistic even. If your child gets along with the other students in his or her class, then six years together can create special bonds and friendships that are difficult to achieve with the approach I experienced growing up in the United States. If your child does not get along with the students in his class, however, he is stuck with them for most of his childhood, with little recourse against the system.
Ultimately, the different approaches in each country say a lot about each respective culture. The United States emphasizes individualism, and Israel emphasizes collectivism. Your guess is as good as mine as to which approach is better. But I do know that as an adult I am not in touch with a single friend from elementary school; my hope is that the Israeli approach will mean that, in thirty years’ time, my children will be.
Kim Salzman, who directs the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Israel and Overseas funding programs, moved to Pittsburgh’s Parternership2Gether region—the city of Karmiel and the surrounding Misgav region—this summer. Located in Israel’s central Galilee, Karmiel/Misgav has been Pittsburgh’s “sister city” region since 1995. Coordinated locally by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and supported by the Federation’s Community Campaign, Partnership2Gether promotes people-to-people relationships through cultural, social, medical, educational and economic programs.