Chug – חוג: Extracurricular activity; plural: Chuggim.

With the start of the new school year in Israel, the main question floating around all the parent WhatsApp groups is, “What Chugim are you sending your kids to this year?” Communities have Chugim fairs in which the various clubs give presentations and parents can meet the instructors. Children as young as three are already signing up for Chugim such as swim, ballet, gymnastics, and dance.

Chugim are a great way for Olim to interact with Israelis in an informal setting. This helps with both language and social integration. And they are not just for the kids! Adults participate in a wealth of “extracurriculars” all over the country, such as sports teams, choirs, art classes, exercise and dance classes to name a few. They are a low-pressure way to pick up Hebrew while doing something they enjoy in a group of people who share a common interest.

As Kineret Rifkind put it, “Chugim are important for the kids to have activities outside of the home and make new friends and speak Hebrew in a more informal setting.” “Chugim have definitely given my oldest more confidence as he can integrate into activities without the academic pressure there is in school.” shared Sabrina Perl. “We have always done Hebrew Chugim hoping that they would strengthen his Hebrew, and I believe it has. I think Chugim in general can be a great tool for Olim kids to meet friends with similar interests, even while lacking the language.”

In Israel, the elementary school day ends early, so Chugim are a common way for children to fill their afternoons in an enriching way. “Chugim allow them to integrate without the pressure of academics. There are opportunities here in Israel that my kids would never have in New Jersey.” shared Arielle Poritsky Schachter. With the shortened school day, children of Olim can explore their passions and improve their Hebrew in an informal, friendly environment.

Sometimes Chugim even give Olim children the push they need to work on their language skills, like in the case of Leah Stein’s daughter, “My daughter fell in love with robotics, something that was not offered in our school in America. She forced herself to learn Hebrew so she could speak in front of the judges to explain her work. It was the best possible Ulpan for her because she wanted to be able to express herself in Hebrew so badly!”

No matter how long you’ve lived in Israel or how good your Hebrew is, Chugim can be beneficial in many ways. Shara Shetrit of NBN, who has lived in Israel (on and off) since 1995 still feels that attending yoga and mountain biking Chugim help with her integration. She has acquired new language skills relevant to her activities and has made great friends who share her interests. The people she is meeting and connecting with are diverse – not from her usual “Anglo bubble.” These Chugim are her “way in” to make friends outside of her normal community and be more connected to broader Israeli society.

Chugim are available to all ages. Whether you want to make new friends, improve your Hebrew, or just learn a new skill, the benefits of attending Chugim are innumerable. Check out your local Matnas, website, and community lists to find out what Chugim are available in your neighborhood!