Shalom to School
September the 1st looms boldly in the minds of all Israeli children. September 1st is the first day of school in Israel. Parents and children alike will make a shift from the calm of summer into the structure and schedule of school days.
More than 2 million students will be making their way to the over 4500 schools throughout Israel. Children who have spent the past two and half months b'bayit (at home) or in kaytana (day camp) will be making their way to the beit sefer (school). The term for school literally means "house of books".
The Israeli school system consists of kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school. As the students enter their classrooms they are greeted by teachers with the phrase 'Shannah Tova" (a good year), the same words as at the new year.
Israeli children begin their formal education at age 5 with kindergarten. However, Israeli kindergartens encompass education for children from ages 3-5 with the final year at age 5 the only one that is compulsory. Kindergarten begins with the other schools and it is a fun place where education is less formal focusing on building the fundamentals and social skills.
The first day of school is especially anticipated for approximately 140,000 students. This is for those who have finished their time at kindergarten and are entering Kita Aleph or First Grade. A very big deal is made for children entering the first grade. It is a big change in the children’s lives as they go from the fun of kindergarten to the more proper setting of elementary school.
Most schools have a special ceremony on the first day of school for Kita Aleph students. The children are often welcomed with an all-school assembly singing a song called, “Shalom Kita Aleph”, they wear a special t-shirt with the same phrase and are introduced to their new school and fellow schoolmates. It is a wonderful way to kick off the year with the older students welcoming the youngest.
Most schools in Israel require students wear a uniform. However, the uniforms are simple and consist only of a t-shirt with the school’s logo for summer and sweatshirts with the school’s logo for winter. For this reason, there isn’t a huge “new school clothes” market in Israel. However, backpacks and planners are another story.
Backpacks, especially for elementary school students, are an important back to school purchase as are planners for older children. These are embellished with popular children’s characters and television shows. Each child of course wants to have his or her favorite despite the additional cost to their parents. It is an annual discussion for lots of kid and their parents.
Of course, there is all the shopping for the necessary school supplies. These account for about 30% of all stationery supplies sold in Israel for the whole year. Competition for sales is steep with lots of stores advertising deals on backpack and supplies rather than clothing.
Soon the first day of school will come and go and the remainder of the school year will lie ahead filled with possibilities. However, every year just as they settle into their schools the children of Israel get a small reprieve from the classroom as the High Holidays arrive.