The magic of being bilingual.

On the way to gan this morning, Koala spotted a firetruck on the road. Obviously, this made his morning, and for the rest of the way cried out in excitement, “Fire truck! Fire truck woke up! Fire truck is here!”

He was still talking about it as we walked up to the gan door, so to get him moving a little faster, I said, “Why don’t you go inside and tell your friends about the fire truck!”

That got me wondering. Would he tell them in English? Would they understand? Does he talk about fire trucks in Hebrew? Does he get as excited? Does he get more?

We reached the door and I kissed him good bye. He flew from my arms, burst into the room, and with everyone’s attention yelled: “!מכבי אש! מכבי אש”

So there’s that.

In the last few months I’ve noticed more articles about bilingual advantages. Maybe because it’s clearly on my mind daily and maybe because new studies are constantly being reported.

Here’s a quick summary of the science: Why Bilinguals Are Smarter (NYTimes).

Here’s an excellent post about the socio-national-political-academic advantages: Teach your kids English (Times of Israel)



Teaching tech, by Israelis.

Came across this post from TechCrunch and thought it was only fair to share, considering my thoughts on Israeli education a few days ago:

Israel’s Time To Know Aims To Revolutionize The Classroom

This is the story of Time To Know, an enigmatic Israeli startup that has somehow managed to remain under the radar of Israel’s tightly knit startup scene…

…The basic thesis Time To Know is operating under is that today’s current classroom is following a teaching paradigm designed in the industrial age, i.e., a teacher standing in front of a class, a blackboard on the wall and students at their desks. Think of it this way… Imagine time warping a teacher from the 1800’s and implanting her in a classroom in 2010. She could basically hit the ground running with little to no adjustment in teaching style. Quite scary when you think about it.

And what TimeToKnow is about:

Time To Know’s breakthrough solution, created for one-to-one computing classrooms, includes an interactive core curriculum aligned to your state’s standards and a powerful digital teaching platform with robust teaching and learning tools.

Time to Know’s proven solution empowers students toward greater achievement and deeper learning.

Whether the idea can be successful is a healthy debate… But what we all have to admit is technology geared towards more effective teaching, learning, education – that’s a good start. Now that’s the kind of thing I would have expected.

Are my expectations too high? Not for the private sector.

Go hi tech!

The Jewish State of education.

I feel a parental rite of passage has been reached tonight: next year’s daycare decisions. And so I begin the rant that I know others have had and yet here I am, new parent, new experiences, joining the fray.

Someone explain this to me:

This is a family-friendly country. Walk anywhere and easily spot a pregnant woman or a mother with a litter, big or small. Even take Charedim and Arabs out of the equation, and you’ll find tons of trendy maternity shops and baby stores in shopping centers across the country. Within the government’s basic health basket, couples are entitled to receive unlimited fertility treatments until they birth two children together – that’s to birth, not just to try.

Unfortunately, it is also a country where most parents have to work; the option of one stay-at-home parent is just so preciously rare.

Then why is the daycare situation so… dire? Why is it so troubling to get your toddler into a structured situation? Why are there three weeks in August when all baby daycares go on vacation at the same time? Why are there no long-term subsidized summer activities? Why does school let out at 1?

Money, money, money. Yes, I know. But it’s a deeper argument than just that. This is a place where so much creativity is utilized in making successful the medical, agricultural, technological, and military fields… Why not the very core of everything, our children’s education? I’m not just looking at you, Israeli government. I don’t think change must only stem from the corruption upstairs.

And my final question: As the Jewish state, founded on somewhat traditional (ok, touchy) Jewish principles, why would this country not work harder for a strong, successful education system for its children? For our children’s futures? Isn’t that something all strains of Judaism actually agree on, the value of education (never mind the details)?

We, the so-called People of the Book, can’t get our educational act together?

I don’t know yet which is worse: Paying through the ass for a Jewish education in the Diaspora or paying nothing for a sub-par education in Israel.

I need to be schooled.

Today we volunteered at a ‘shuk kach-ten’ – kind of a giant yard sale where you bring junk and take other people’s junk. It was at the elementary school in Tzur Hadassah.

It was also the first time I have entered an Israeli school while it was in session. Kids running everywhere. Not unlike my own elementary school days… just, the screeching, laughing and taunting were in Hebrew.

I looked around at all these kids and their parents and their teachers… It’s absolutely true that the culture of education – and more importantly, the culture of schools – in Israel is completely different than what a lot of us Anglos grew up with. You could say here it is… without… certain elements we were raised to value.  

After exiting the building quite bewildered, I went up to my husband and posed the following: “What the %#@! were we thinking having a child in Israel? Do you realize we are those immigrant parents? Elementary school was bad enough for me in English… How is my kid going to survive in this with me as a mom?”

Note to Israelis: This is what a Kiddush Hashem looks like.

This is dedicated to Israelis of many stripes – mainly the inattentive who go global traveling and give Israel a bad name, the fanatically religious who give Judaism a crazy name, and the extreme outback settlers who give Zionism a psycho name.

There is a better way to be a light unto nations or to attempt tikun olam… And it doesn’t have to involve literature or land. It involves an outlook and dedication that is purely positive, energetic, creative and inspirational.

This Lubavitcher guy from Crown Heights totally gets it and fulfills it within an inner city public school, in a made-for-television story:

If we were all as composed and modest as this dude, Israel and Judaism would hold very different powers.

They may take my student card, but they'll never take my curiousity.

It occurred to me today – in the fifth week of my third and final year – that Bar Ilan won’t always be a part of my life.

Ok, allow me to rephrase: I won’t always be a registered student.

The only time I haven’t been a registered student – since the early 80s – was the year I made aliyah, and I felt a definite lacking.

As much as I complain about the hassle, let’s face it: Being a student is a part of who I am. I love learning. I’m always curious. I grew up on PBS. To this day, I watch documentaries about anything – fertility treatment, the Big Bang, ancient Rome – in my free time.

So this year of studies probably won’t mark the end of my student career. I think my student status – even sans student card – will carry on for life. Curiousity is my life sentence, and I embrace it every day. I already have plans for the next phase of formal education, though I may hold off for a year or so.

But there’s no reason for me to worry; I’ll continue learning past Bar Ilan. It’ll just be – let’s hope – with less hassle.

Learn to read in Hebrew for free.

UPDATE (2011): Found another excellent resource for learning Hebrew online for free…

I just came across the website of the National Jewish Outreach Program, which I’ve never heard of before. It seems like a great resource though, for North American Jews who want to become more affiliated and educated in their Judaism.

What caught my eye, though, was this: Read Hebrew America/Canada. The free Hebrew reading course is described as such:

READ HEBREW AMERICA/CANADA (RHA/C) is NJOP’s mega Hebrew literacy campaign to win back the hearts of North American Jews. The Annual RHA/C will take place during the months of October and November! RHA/C invites tens-of-thousands of Jewish adults into synagogues and Jewish centers throughout the United States and Canada to foster Jewish identity and create awareness about the importance of Hebrew literacy by running Hebrew Reading Crash Courses Level I or II or One Day Reviews.

If you can’t make it to learn with the course, try getting familiar with the aleph-bet on your own; there is an interactive aleph-bet to learn the Hebrew letters. If you are making aliyah soon and have absolutely no background, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself a bit before the leap.

The site has some other great features like:


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