By: Hillel Kuttler
When Rachel and David Heller moved to Israel in 2012, they sought a Montessori educational framework for their daughter, Adina. Problem was that the movement wasn’t popular in Israel, like it is in their native Toronto.
So, soon after settling into the Lower Galilee village of Mitzpe Netofa, the Hellers created a Montessori school for children ages six months to three years. They later helped to start another school, where they trained teachers in the Montessori approach, which encourages children to make choices in their own learning.
Adina, now 7 years old, is in second grade at the school, which is housed in the community center of Givat Avni, a neighboring village. Known as the Galileean Schoolhouse, the school will eventually move to a permanent site at Kibbutz Lavi, just down the road. Utilizing equally proficient Hebrew and English, Adina told a visitor about her school and how close it is to Mitzpe Netofa.
“What started as the thing we were looking for, we built it here. That’s one of the reasons we’re staying,” said David, sitting with Adina and Rachel at the kitchen table in their home, which is next door to the clubhouse of the B’nai Akiva youth movement and steps from the grocery store.
“We didn’t realize how important [the education component] was to us. We were still so new at being parents,” Rachel added. “The journey we were on combined making Aliyah and the growing family. It’s a journey of discovery.”
At a child’s-size shelf unit, with drop-down desks that open just a foot or so above the floor, Adina’s Israel-born sisters found things to do. Liat, 4, drew on paper. Keren, 2, stuck pencils into holes of a pencil box. David had built the unit – not much of a stretch from his job in sales at Lavi’s factory that custom-makes furniture for synagogues. Rachel works mornings and nights in marketing for several U.S.-based companies.
The Hellers hadn’t planned to settle in Mitzpe Netofa. They saw it as a good base for looking into northern-Israel living options. But the community’s hospitality, such as providing a caravan-like apartment and residents consistently inviting them over for meals, made the couple realize that they’d found their home.
The village’s population is entirely modern-Orthodox. Quite a few English-speaking families are among the Hellers’ neighbors. No one drives on Shabbat, making the roads and paths in the hilltop settlement extra-safe then for children.
While shopping and entertainment requires driving at least 15 minutes, David and Rachel said that no one lacks for on-site activities. An adult co-ed choir meets; kids’ after-school offerings include judo, piano and basketball; a library opens several times each week; women partake of yoga and Pilates classes; a community garden was started; Jewish-content classes are run for men and women; and an English-speakers’ book club began.
The Hellers also enjoy hiking, walking and bicycling in the Jewish National Fund forest at the community’s edge. For a nice meal, they go to restaurants in Tiberias or a nearby moshav. Down the street is a shaded park with swings, slides and a see-saw, Adina explained.
“There are a lot of things to like here. There’s an outlook of wanting to lend a hand,” Rachel said.
“It is what you put into it.”