...But first, let me rewind with a quick recap of the טיול (trip) to Zikhron Ya'akov that Israel Experience planned for the Rishon LeZion and PTK cohorts last Sunday. Even though none of us have made Aliyah (permanently move to Israel), as "immigrants" for the next ten months, it seemed only fitting to trace the steps of our ancestors who arrived in the first wave of immigration to the land in 1882. Our first stop was Tishbi Winery, symbolic of the agricultural characteristic of this Aliya and the family business that still thrives today. Lucky for us, at 10 am we toured the winery and topped off the morning with a wine tasting- six wine pairings with six dark chocolates, each with their own flavor. Next up, we braced the 100 degree heat and visited the Ramat Hanadiv Gardens, the name of which hints at famous benefactor and philanthropist, Edmond Rothschild (yes, this is whom the plethora of "Rothschild Streets" around Israel are named after). His purchase of land for the Jewish people, business endeavors, and financing of Jewish sites such as Rishon LeZion, proved instrumental in the progress of the Jewish homeland. Rothschild's funds also went to establishing the Tishbi Winery in Zikron Ya'akov...coming full circle. Our last stop of the day were the breathtaking beaches of Caesarea, which are actually considered the "middle" of Israeli coastline, between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Physical remnants of the Ancient Roman aquaducts and amphitheaters depict the area's history dating back as far as 60 BCE when King Herod commissioned construction and renamed the territory for Caesar Augustus. Moving away from the start of a tedious history tangent, as our group reflected on the day, it became apparent that not only were we at a midpoint in Israel, but also in our lives. With coastline extending equidistant in both directions, our lives can take any turns. This next year is that chance to pave our own paths and take ownership of our decisions. For me, this also means seizing opportunities and creating new ones.
The other main highlight of the week, besides my roommate's birthday celebration at our new local Karaoke Bar, a sleepover in Rishon LeZion, and the dust storm (plus accompanying 85% humidity) that persisted throughout the week, I had my first observation day in school!! To clarify, I was the one observing, not the one being observed!
I found out that my school placement is an Orthodox all-girls Junior High school, Yeshurun. My commute will either have to be a forty-five minute walk or a forty-five minute bus route (back to the crazy bus system again), and I need to dress modestly (this means only skirts and dresses, both of which have to fall at or below the knees, and elbows need to be covered).
The night before our first day my teaching partner and I (another ITF-er) met with our Pedagogical Advisor (PA) and set our expectations for the first day. To my surprise, from just the two-hour glimpse I got, the school and its students were more than I could have ever hoped for. The school is certainly well-equipped with supplies and technology (compared to some lower socioeconomic areas), the girls were lively and diverse, and the entire staff was warm and welcoming, excited for our role at the school. Two of the grade's strongest English-speaking students joined our host teacher and us for a tour of the school grounds, which accommodates approximately 1,500 students! There's a library, gymnasium, auditorium, computer lab, and outdoor seating lunch area with a snack kiosk that even sells infamous Israeli ice-cafe.
However, even with these seemingly iconic American school qualities, Yeshurun is really unlike any other school I've encountered in the States. Not because of the more religious environment or single-gender student population, but because of the layout and lack of "accessories" adorning the school in addition to the behavior of Israelis. Hallways and classrooms right now are bare (maybe just a token to the beginning of the year), and motivational posters, colors, and energy normally projected from the adorned walls in American schools I'm used to are nonexistent. One thing I've noticed throughout my time in Israel is that there is a great illusion- when visiting or vacationing the country seems to be relatively similar to the US and other first world countries... until you realize that it's not. It's hard to explain, and hopefully in future posts I will better be able to articulate what I mean, but in terms of the schools themselves, I assumed a stronger equivalent than what is there. And that's without even touching upon the differences in student culture- kids raise a pointed finger when they want to answer or ask a question, compared to the whole hand. Energy lacking from the walls is certainly made up for in classroom behavior, where the teacher and students are more vocal, interactive, and upbeat.
My co-teacher and I observed one advanced-level English class and my mind was blown by the level of English proficiency. The students were reviewing their homework about a story on US President Theodore Roosevelt, or "Teddy," and how the teddy bear was named after him... a fun fact that even I wasn't aware of!! Only able to be that fly on the wall for such a short period of time, I am excited to see how the next few days in school will illuminate my perceptions.
My last thought for this blog post will end with a token of gratitude for MASA, who the next day gathered all of the country's 150 ITF-ers in Holon at Talpiot college, and provided an entire day of programming about the Israeli education system, differences to expect, and ways to adapt. We heard from the Chief Inspector of English in Israel, and other over-qualified guest speakers to help better explain the tableaus we all saw the day before in our schools. I will touch upon the high holidays in a later post, but today we had our last day of programming before our first real day in school tomorrow! With a last Ulpan refresher, a lesson on communication and introductions, breakout sessions on Working with Words and Having Fun While Learning English, among others, I am grateful and more confident and excited for tomorrow. Wish me luck and stay tuned!