This US Preschool Is So Israeli it May as Well Be Tel Aviv

Published: 
September 23, 2017

Source: Times of Israel

 

Tamar Pinto runs what may be the only fully Hebrew preschool in the country, explicitly meant for children of Israelis in America. Jewish preschools across the US integrate varying levels of Hebrew into the day, if only to teach holidays and prayers. But at Gan Gurim, though many of the children were born in the United States and may well live here for most of their lives, you’ll have trouble finding English – or American child-rearing norms – anywhere.

At Gan Gurim, Tamar Pinto, the preschool’s founder and head teacher, welcomes each child into a circle through song, calling them by name and wishing them a good morning. Surrounding her are Hebrew kids’ CDs, Hebrew board games, Hebrew signs bearing days of the week, seasons, letters and numbers. Even the coffee on offer – instant with sugar and milk – recalls an Israeli teacher’s lounge.

In 2003, an Israeli acquaintance heard about Pinto’s teaching background and hired Pinto to watch her child, too. By December, five other Israeli families had hired Pinto to take care of their children. When the families all asked Pinto to keep going for another year, she obtained a license to open a day care in her home. Since then, Gan Gurim has accepted 12 children a year. The current class ranges from ages 18 months to 4 years.

The area attracts many Israelis because it is home to the National Institutes of Health, which employs international post-doctoral students, and is also close to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. According to estimates, some 15,000 people in the area have lived in Israel. Some Israelis stay on a temporary visa and go back, while others bounce from job to job and remain stateside.

Both types send their kids to Gan Gurim: Those who plan to return and want their children to have an easier time reintegrating into Israeli schools, and those who expect to stay and have their kids keep up a connection to their birthplace – and grandparents.

Aside from the language, much of Gan Gurim’s programming would fit into an American Jewish preschool (for example, the Rosh Hashanah songs focused on apples and honey).

On Israel’s Independence Day, Pinto takes out a huge map of the country and points out where everyone’s family hails from. The kids bake pita bread on a traditional Druze oven (they’re kept far from the flame) and eat an Israeli salad with tahini sauce they mix themselves.

“The kids, they squeeze lemons, chop garlic, they do the whole process,” she said. “Kids need to learn through their senses, not by seeing me do something but in that they taste, touch, get dirty, listen – to really experience it.”

The Israeliness also shows up in daily activities. One recent morning, the kids all played on a playground and ran around a fenced-in yard – Pinto supervised from a distance and her adult daughter and assistant, Doron, kept a closer but still hands-off watch. Everything is up to code and safe, Pinto says, but the free-range Israeli style encourages independence, responsibility and problem solving.

Read the entire story at the Times of Israel.

Updated: Sep. 27, 2017
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