It’s not what you think.
I don’t have children, never have, and don’t plan on having any for a while. I have no advice to give regarding which ganim are the best to send your kids so they’ll end up speaking fluent English at home, Hebrew on the street, and still retain those cherished American manners.
When I first moved to Sde Eliyahu 2 years ago, I decided to take my memories of teaching Jewish music in synagogue sunday schools in Boston and bring them back to life by singing with the little kids in the Kibbutz’s ganim (preschools). Guitar in hand, I made my way through the nursery’s outer courtyard filled with old computers, tools, and other assorted refabricated items that made up the kibbutz’s characteristic impromptu playgrounds. I sat myself down on a little chair in a circle of curious 7 year olds, each one sitting on the edge of his or her little stool, wondering who this new guy with the guitar was. I started to play some of the shabbat songs I remember singing at that age. They knew some of the songs, others not so much, but I got them to sing and clap a little bit. The teacher was happy, I was happy, and I felt like I was getting to know more people (albeit 7 year olds) around kibbutz.
After a few weeks of singing shabbat songs with the 7 year olds, word spread that I was singing with the kids, and making them laugh and sing, so I got more invitations from the older and younger ganim around the kibbutz. By the time I went into the army a few months after, I was doing the full curcuit, from 6 months to the 10 year olds. (I think the kids aged 10+ caught on to the cheesiness of singing “Here Comes the Train”) Whenever I came back to Sde Eliyahu on Shabbat breaks off from the army, I would always make sure to stop by the ganim Friday morning and sing a few songs with the kids. It was a good way to get me to take my guitar out of its case after weeks of neglect. Also seeing and hearing the children singing, ready to bring in shabbat reminded me of the importance of how I was spending the days that led up to shabbat.
During a week off from the army last year, I stepped in as a substitute music teacher for a preschool program for Arab and Jewish kids in Jaffa. From the moment I arrived at the school I realized that even though I was singing the same songs, it was a very different gig.
I walked into the building and I noticed there was…a television? After several months of playing music on kibbutz, I didn’t even think twice about the fact that there was no television set to be found in any of the nurseries. Why watch TV when you can play in the mud? In the gan in Jaffa, there was no mud to be found, but instead a 42-inch plasma screen was hanging from the wall, playing some sort of Israeli version of “Barney and Friends.”
I was immediately put off by the televsion and the dozen sets of eyes that were mesmerized by it. I, too, grew up watching television, but the scene of how disconnected these toddlers were from each other made me think twice about turning on the TV when I got home.
I also noticed that after almost 8 months of singing with little Israelis, I only raised my voice once or twice when a kid or two got too excited and mistook my guitar for a punching bag. On kibbutz, the kids usually sat quietly in a circle with their teacher and in the worst case scenario, would just stare at me with their mouths haning open as I sang. When I got to the Gan in Jaffa, one of the teachers non-chalantly told me to sing with each class for 15 minutes and then left me alone with the kids. Once the door closed, all hell broke loose. Not only my guitar now, but I also became the punching bag. It didn’t matter what the age was, none of these kids were particularly intersted in singing “Here Comes the Train.”
I think that the children of Sde Eliyahu and the children from the gan in Jaffa would benefit from switching pre-schools for a week. How would the kids from Jaffa go through the week without TV or deal with the quiet of the kibbutz in the valley? How would the children of a gan in a religious kibbutz benefit from spending the week doing arts and crafts with not only Ido and Tamar, but Olga and Ahmed as well?
I bear no advice on where to send your child to gan. I’m simply thankful for the opportunity to experience the diversity between the two nurseries, to travel the distance between them, and eventual to bring the two ganim, or what they represent, together for the better.