December 20th in Ramat Gan is open house day for all the municipal pre-school and kindergartens. And so parents are invited to walk around the various nurseries, watch the kids in their natural habitat, talk to the pre-school teachers and ultimately decide on where to send their kids to next fall. So we did. On a Friday. Instead of sleeping in. Or having sex. Or watching a movie. And boy am I glad I did. Because the Taiwanese sweatshops that churn out Nike apparel ain’t got nothing on the conditions we witnessed.
1. Armed guards at the entrance. Who frisk you. And ask you probing questions. Like are you carrying a weapon? And I said no. Even though my fists are as deadly as they come. But I paused. And asked him why there was a need for an armed guard at a preschool. Without missing a beat he tells me that some kids have tried to escape. And that’s why he’s there. To prevent them from escaping. Poor bastards. Barely four years old and already prisoners. I spied one kid with a raggedy head of blonde hair surveying the gate and I winked at him knowingly. This kid was a tunneler. For sure. Like I was when I broke out of that nursery in Ashkelon in ‘81. Rivka’s Gan. And someone found me on the main street in Ashkelon. A 3 year old on his lonesome in the big city. Well, more like a coastal province. But that was then. And this is now. And armed guards patrol the gates.
2. Forced agricultural labor. Under the pretense of maintaining an ecological friendly pre-school, those slave drivers are forcing unsuspecting children to grow produce, herbs and spices. Lettuce. Cabbage. Thyme. In the cold. Until their tiny little fingers fall off. And that produce is sold in the local grocery store. And marked up because it is locally grown. And organic. And fair trade bullshit. But do these poor kid farmers ever see a shekel? Not a chance.
3. Tragically indifferent parents who have made horribly misguided life choices. Like the one we saw at the first nursery on the ironically named Herut Street (Liberty Street). We knew her from previous years. A woman raising her daughter on her own. With no male presence. When asked why she wanted to send her daughter to that particular forced labor camp, she replied: “It’s so close. I could fling her out the window and she’d land in the garden.” O-M-G. My first thought was to call social services. This woman was obviously abusing her child. Throwing her out the window? I would never throw my son out the window. Never. I don’t care how much he complains about his calloused hands and his frost-bitten fingers. He’s my son.
4. Outdated, obsolete technology. Like in this picture. A computer from the 80’s. On which they are forced to input data. Or do some SEO work. Or worse. FOREX. And judging by the floppy disk port and the size of the monitor the internet connection is probably dial up. And none of the seating arrangements takes ergonomics or feng shui into account. I witnessed two young girls, no more than 5, cramped into one cubicle and forced to share a computer. And unable to rejoin their comrades until certain quotas were met. My heart broke for them.
5. Poor nutritional options. The flyer that was handed out assured us that healthy and nutritious values were emphasized. Fresh vegetables and no sweets. But on the table beside the stack of flyers (how eco-friendly is that!) was a Styrofoam plate full of sandwiches. And not even whole wheat or whole grain. Or gluten free. Plain old sliced bread made of white flour. With a chocolate spread. And Michelle Obama would take one look at those sandwiches and order that awful place to be shut down. And burned to the ground. But this is Ramat Gan. And in Ramat Gan a chocolate sandwich is considered a healthy option when the alternative is hunger.
6. Military Propaganda. On the walls of the pre school, next to the flag of the great state of Israel, are two dolls dressed in full military attire and waving the blue and white flag patriotically. If this were around the time of Independence Day I could understand. But that’s in May. Which leads me to believe that in addition to the forced labor, the poor and unhealthy diet, the armed guards at the gate there is a strict military indoctrination. A quick look at the regimented schedule was enough to prove my worst fears. 8:30-9:00 – Singing of the national anthem. 11:30-12:00. Cleaning up of the nursery. 13:00-13:30. Cleaning up of the yard. And finally, as I was leaving, I noticed a plaque that was donated by the Paratroopers that read: Keeping the children safe.
As M. and I left the last nursery, mortified by the gulag like conditions we ran into another fan of Sapphic pleasures who was raising her children with her partner. And she asked us which one of the pre-schools we intended on signing D. up for. M. smiles and tells her what we all already knew: It doesn’t matter which one you sign up for. The city’s educational department places the children in whatever pre-school they want. Quite arbitrarily I might add. In some cases even splitting twins up. The horror!
And as we came home from our tour of pre school hell we both sat down. Too exhausted to have sex. Too tired to watch a movie. And not enough time to sleep before we had to go back and pick up our little Mohican.
There’s not much I can do. I can’t afford to stay at home with my son every day. Neither can my wife. We both work. And he needs to be surrounded by his peers. But there is one thing I can do. I can download and make him watch the greatest prison/war camp escape movies of all time. Like The Great Escape. Stalag 17. Papillon. Or Shawshank Redemption.
And that way, at least, he’ll have a fighting chance.