Dr. Avidan Milevsky is a Research Scientist and Senior Lecturer in psychology at Ariel University and a registered psychologist in Bet Shemesh specializing in teens and Aliyah issues. Dr. Milevsky is the former interim Rabbi of Kesher Israel the Georgetown Synagogue in Washington, DC. Additionally, he was a visiting professor at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research on families, well-being, and spirituality in psychotherapy has produced over 100 papers, 25 peer-reviewed papers, and 6 books.
Aliyah with children: How to ensure your child’s Aliyah success
This article is a write up of a two-part Facebook Live series presented for Nefesh B’Nefesh by Dr. Avidan Milevsky.
When considering Aliyah, a big question that comes up for families is how to ensure a successful Aliyah and transition for your children. For each family the transition to Israel will be slightly different but there are several steps that can be taken ahead of Aliyah to make the move smoother and easier on your kids.
Prior to Aliyah:
Ahead of Aliyah, consider bringing your children on a pilot trip. This will help your children get involved in the decision to move and make them feel like they are a significant part of the choices that are being made. Have your kids reach out ahead of the trip to family of friends already living in Israel so they can schedule meet ups over the course of the trip. Even if all you have in Israel are distant relatives or friend you may not be so close to, this will help your children feel like they haven’t left their entire family behind and will give them a new family to come to.
When beginning the discussion of Aliyah with your family, it is important to have the grandparents on board. It will help the children feel more supported throughout the process. Work together with the grandparents to set up time to video call and visit. This way they will feel a part of the process as well.
It is also helpful to connect with other families in your area whom are considering Aliyah. Start a support network for yourself and for your kids. Meeting up with them prior to your Aliyah and again post-Aliyah can give you and your kids a feeling that they already know some people in their new home. Considering moving to Israel’s North or South? Click here to learn more about the Nefesh B’Nefesh Go Beyond pilot trip opportunities!
It is also important to include your children in the decision-making process. This will allow the move to come their Aliyah as well. Allowing them to weigh in on what community you choose and the schools you will send them to, gives them a sense of control and a feeling that their opinion counts. This will help them identify with the move and not give them the feeling of tagging along and being dragged along for the ride.
When you get ready to pack up your home, be sure to bring “comfort items” for you children- things that will make their new house feel like home. Comfort items can range from the living room couch to a big box of Lego that they love to play with. These items will make the new house or apartment feel familiar and help with the transition. Additionally, when making Aliyah, most people find that their apartments are not yet fully set up ahead of their move. Be sure to make accommodations for your family that will be comfortable and inviting.
When considering which flight to choose, many families question which kind of flight, a charter or a group, will be better for their family. The charter flight offers the unique experience and excitement of a welcoming ceremony. Group flights are a bit lower key and offer the assistance of Nefesh B’Nefesh staff on the flight and at the airport but without the ceremony and party. It is important to keep your children in mind when making this decision- consider their ages and sensitivities. Will the charter ceremony be too loud for them? Will it be too overwhelming? Will the ceremony be constructive in helping them feel special? Think about your children and their needs while making this decision.
In the days leading up to your flight, make sure your kids are getting enough sleep and eating well. These basic needs make for happier and calmer children. On the day of the flight, be sure to bring snacks and food with you to the airport for the kids.
Bringing your entire extended family to see you off at the airport may not be the best idea. It can be an overwhelming experience and can cause too much drama. With the processing and preparation ahead of the flight, you might be too busy at the airport to manage a large group like that. It is also recommended to try and arrive early to the airport because any extra stress will spill over onto the children.
In your first few weeks in Israel will be difficult. Moving to a new country nad dealing with the bureaucratic side of things can be complicated. there will be a few government offices you will need to visit but avoid dragging your kids along with you if you can help it. It will be more constructive for you and your children if a family member or a babysitter can take them out to a park or occupy them with an activity for a few hours. Try not to share the complications and difficulties with your kids. Keep things as positive as you can.
It is important to make those first few weeks as fun and as encouraging as possible. Try to pretend you are tourists- take a day trip, go on a hike, do a family activity. This will give your kids a positive impression of their new home.
Try to make your Aliyah date as early as possible in the summer so your kids have some time to settle in before they begin school. Their schedule will be off for a few weeks- and that is ok. Don’t try to force it- it takes time to adjust! Consider signing your children up for a summer camp in your area so they will already have some friends they can identify at the start of the school year.
The most critical part of Aliyah for children is their ability to integrate into Israeli society. Sign your kids up for extracurricular activities (chugim) – this will help them create a social group and fit in. Chugim can also help with their self-esteem – being successful at a non-academic activity will keep them positive even if they are not successful academically during the first year. Remember, initially it is more important for your children to make friends than it is to make grades.
Aliyah with Children: Culture, Language, and Academics
When considering which community to live in, there are many factors to consider including whether to join a more Israeli or more Anglo-centric community. There are many variable and many opinions. Lets examine the pros and cons to each.
When living in an Anglo community, there are several perks- the community will speak English. The language will be familiar to you and it can help with social integration off the bat. The community will also be more culturally familiar making it easier to integrate in the short term. Your children’s schools will also likely have a more familiar educational philosophy that you were accustomed to in your home country.
The important thing to remember is that this is a short terms success. Consider the goals you have set forward for you and your family- is long term integration important to you? An Anglo community may provide you with the comforts of home but you need to consider whether you want to live in Israel or become Israeli.
An Israeli community may be harder to integrate into initially but it will certainly help you achieve some of your Aliyah goals. Learning Hebrew becomes necessary as you work to communicate with your neighbors and friends. You will learn about Israeli culture faster. Your children will experience academic success in the long term. Integrating into Israeli society, while difficult at the start, will be more accessible to you in an Israeli community.
It is important to remember that an Israeli community also has its drawbacks. You may face social issues initially while you learn how to communicate. Culturally you will be coming from a different place and your children may face greater challenges and potential bullying in school when they first arrive. Consider yourself and your children when making the choice of where to live- recognize what you can handle and what will be too much.
There are several ways to combat potential integration issues even before you arrive.
Hebrew and Culture:
Ahead of Aliyah, consider exposing yourself and your children to Israeli books, TV and products. This will give you the basic reference points used in Israeli culture. You can also get together with the Israelis who may be living in your community- get to know them and use their experiences to help your own!
Be the role model- speak Hebrew in your home to your children to help them begin adjusting before you leave. Read them Hebrew story books and have them watch the Israeli equivalent of their favorite TV shows.
Ahead of Aliyah, it is important to prepare your child for the Israeli curriculum. It may be worthwhile to pull your child out of classes that are not relevant to their future Israeli curriculum and to put an emphasis on classes that are relevant. Consider hiring tutors to work with your kids on math and science.
Choosing the right school for you kid is critical. Make sure to do your homework when deciding where to send them. Many people pull kids out after a few weeks because of a misunderstanding about the school’s religious, academic, and behavioral style.
A kid who does not have a school will suffer academically and socially. Even in a supportive school your child will likely need extra help. Take advantage of any offer to use an educational consultant. The school system may offer one- if they don’t, it may be worthwhile to hire one. Once your child begins school, if they are facing difficulty, pull them out of non-relevant classes- classes that are not cumulative from year to year like geography, history, science. Have them focus their energy on the cumulative subjects like Tanach, Hebrew and math.
It is important to note than any pre-existing educational difficulties or issues will be exacerbated after the move. Find a school that offers the services your child needs. There are many options for hands on learning in Israel. Make sure to bring any assessments with you (please note that you may need to do local assessments as well) and to connect with the school’s special education personnel. If your child takes any medications to help, please be sure to bring a 3-month supply of medication with you so your child is covered until you can get the appropriate doctors’ appointments.
Remember: Aliyah can be difficult and the transition can take time. Use Aliyah sensitive therapists to assist in allaying those post move challenges.