Children respond to their parents. If you are excited about the move to Israel, they will be. If you are anxious and upset, they will be. A child should be prepared in advance. Let your child help you pack toys and books the day before the movers come. When you get to your new place, concentrate on building a replica-nest. Try to make mealtime familiar and maintain a routine as much as possible. In a new house, remember that you have to build a context. Your children don’t have the new space mapped out in their mind, so don’t try to make them sleep alone if they seem at all uncomfortable with that. Accept almost anything to ease the first few months.
Traveling to Israel
Demand a bulkhead seat if you have children under two years old and make sure your entire family is seated together. If you use a backpack or a Snugli, there is nothing more comfortable for transporting children on and off of planes. The El Al jumbo jets equipped with private television screens for each seat with a choice of channels, including children’s programs, can be lifesavers. You can keep your child’s personal disorientation to a minimum if you keep his or her most treasured objects with you.
Of course this depends on age and personality. For children under five, within a few months you can expect them to be speaking fluent Hebrew if they are in a Hebrew environment. I would suggest bringing familiar English-language videos which will be a comfort in those first months. Later on it will be a good refresher for English. Family trips to some of the many beautiful spots Israel has to offer or a visit to a nearby recreation park can be a good lift for any child.
The State-run public health clinics specializing in young children, are unofficially known as Tipat Halav (drop of milk). These clinics provide care for healthy babies and monitor development. If you become pregnant in Israel, you have the option of starting your baby’s prenatal care and your pregnancy monitoring at Tipat Halav , or with your own physician.
If you come to Israel with an infant or toddler, you should have a proper record of each child’s inoculations (double check it!) which you should bring to the clinic when you register. You may choose to inoculate your children at their pediatrician, but you will then be responsible for buying the serums in a pharmacy and bringing them to the doctor. The level of nurses at these clinics varies. Some are calm, professional and very well-informed, while others, in the worst case scenarios, can be alarmist and inflexible. Inoculating records should be automatically transferred to your child’s elementary school, but it is a good idea to keep a copy on hand
What to Pack
Attractive, good quality baby furniture, carriages, strollers, baby backpacks, high chairs, playpens, car seats, and potties are all available in Israel. If you have well-made items that you are comfortable with, by all means pack them in your lift to save money and aggravation. But, I wouldn’t suggest making special purchases to ship. Do not forget that you pay for every square meter of shipping bulk and it is not cheap!
Vitamins and Sweets
The prevailing wisdom in Israel is that if children have a proper diet, there is no need for vitamin supplements, other than iron and A and D for infants. If you find the vitamin habit hard to break, bring a good supply, because vitamins are much more expensive in Israel. Israelis have a sweet tooth combined with an only nascent consciousness regarding the relationship between sugar and rotten teeth. For those of you who have diligently kept your precious ones away from junk, be prepared for a shock. Near-strangers will glibly stick a lollipop into your 12-month old’s hand. Not to mention family, friends, and teachers. They will all think you are a stiff if you try to deprive your children of the joys of sugar. You’ll probably give in a little, but try to stick to your guns.
Finding a pediatrician, as with finding day care and choosing extracurricular activities, is best approached by asking around. Get opinions from as many people as possible. Then go to a pediatrician, see how you like her or him, and then try another one. Your options depend on the kind of health insurance you choose.
Use of English
You may be surprised at how quickly your children pick up Hebrew (although remember that even for some young children the language acquisition is painfully slow), and distressed by how quickly their command of English begins to dissipate. Maintaining quality English depends primarily on you. If you want your children to speak English, you must speak in English to them. Not in half-baked Heblish sentences, but proper full-length English sentences. When they respond in Hebrew, you can decide to continue on, repeat what they say in English or ask them to respond in English.
When you speak to a toddler, for instance, make every effort to speak correctly and use proper vocabulary. For example, “How does a dog bark, or a sheep bleat,” etc. instead of “what does a dog say...” You will become their primary source of English vocabulary. There are private English teachers found almost anywhere in the country. In areas with large English-speaking communities there are English story hours, drama clubs, and various other activities.
English language children’s books are occasionally available in regular bookstores but the selection is limited and the price is high. Even large municipal libraries have relatively small selections of English-language children’s books. I would suggest bringing a good supply, more than you think you’ll need, and on visits abroad you can restock.
The separation of children from a close family circle is one of the most poignant aspects of aliyah. It is also one of the most common problems faced by olim. When families come to Israel with young children, the children may not remember their grandparents from visit to visit. International phone calls are now relatively inexpensive -(averaging 12 cents per minute to the US). Take advantage. Call often, if you can.
Ask grandma or grandpa to read a book on tape to your children. They can then send both the tape and the book in the mail. Phonecalls, video and audio cassettes, picture albums and family memorabilia are vital props in your ceaseless efforts to maintain a closeness between your parents and your children.