Choosing a Gan Chova in Jerusalem

This morning, I posted the following on my personal Facebook profile:

“Six intensive weeks. 8+ ganim visited. 10 gannenot, saayaot, machlifot and bat sherut grilled both in person and over the phone. Countless of parents that I know and don’t personally know called and interviewed. Finally, in the wee hours of the night, we made a decision and signed Sivan up for Gan Chova for next year. It was as intense as applying to college. Now I’m going back to bed. Thanks to the countless of people who had tremendous patience with me during this process, especially my husband – I drove him to eat dessert!”

And then I promptly fell into the deepest sleep I’ve had in literally six weeks. I felt like an intense weight has been lifted from my shoulders and now I just hope that my daughter will get placed in her first pick.

I’m blogging about the process because it has been such an intense couple of weeks in my home, and I’m hoping maybe my experience will help other Anglos living in Jerusalem who have to go through the process of selecting and registering their children for Gan Chova.

Gan Chova is kindergarten that – usually – is public and run by the municipality of the City you live in in Israel. Our Gan Chovas are run by the Jerusalem municipality, although don’t bother trying to use the English site to actually register your child for Gan Chova. Personally, I hate that Gan Chova is not attached to the school you plan on sending your child to in 1st grade. I prefer knowing that my Kindergarten is attached to the elementary school where I want to send my children. I have no idea if that has ever been something the Ministry of Education would consider changing but I would certainly make a case for why it’s important to not have these Kindergarteners have two stressful life transitions: first to an independent Gan Chova from pre-school and then again to a new school for Kitah Aleph (1st grade). But I work in PR and Social Media, so really what do I know?

Since Gan Chova is public school, for the most part, you have a number of options to select from in your Ayzor (district). You get a list of ganim in your neighborhood based on your religious affiliation. We were looking – again, for the most part – at Gan Chovas that are Mamlachti Dati which is roughly translated as “Orthodox observant or Religious National.” We were interested in Mamlachti Dati since we are Modern Orthodox and we are only considering Mamlachti Dati elementary schools. That being said, there is a Mamlachti gan Chova we also looked at, considered and really liked, for multiple reasons that would have been good for our child.

We live in Arnona and so I looked at schools in Arnona, Armon HaNatziv, Baka, and Mekor Chaim area. Most of the ganim I looked at were listed in my Ayzor, some were not. When it’s time to register, you get three options. You have to put in 2 options but can leave the third blank if the first 2 options are in your Ayzor. I believe if one of your first two options are not in your Ayzor, then you must select a third option in your Ayzor.

Over the course of six weeks, I literally ate, slept and breathed finding a suitable Gan Chova for my child.  I created a mental criteria with a score for all of the positives and negatives of each gan. I spoke to parents at the pool, in the nut and spice shop, at the supermarket, on the street, at the post office, in shul, on the phone, at Gan drop off, at school pick up for my older daughter. I attended every Open House listed on the site for almost all of the Ganim I was looking into and when there was a Gan I considered that didn’t have an Open House, I called the Ganenent and asked when I could come meet her and look at the Gan. I posted questions on Facebook and read and weighed each response. I sent personal messages to people on Facebook I didn’t know who wanted to tell me things privately about Ganim they didn’t like. I asked friends to introduce me to friends who have had experiences at Ganim in the area so I could speak with them about their personal experiences. I spoke with the schools where I am hoping to send my Kindergartener for First Grade and asked which Ganim in my area send to their school. I only received the list from one of the schools but it was enough to help me narrow my choice. I made sure, during Open Houses, to speak not just with the Ganenet but with the Saayat (assistant) and the other parents considering sending their children to that particular Gan. I toured both inside and outside each facility. I looked for the bomb shelters, observed the children during play time and meal time, spoke with the Ganenet about experience with food allergies and made sure to ask the ratio of boys to girls and the number of children to staff members. I asked about Gan trips and other enrichment activities, I asked about their preparation for Kitah Aleph and their philosophies about learning vs. play in Kindergarten. I asked about Tzniut (modesty) and dress code for girls, how they approach Tefillah (prayer) each morning and the role of girls during Tefillah. I badgered my Mother and husband each time I learned something new about a Gan and was close to making a decision. I spoke with other parents at my daughter’s current Gan to make sure I also choose a Gan where she would have friends – both girls and boys – so the transition to a new place would be easier. And, most importantly, I spoke with my daughter’s current Ganenet to make sure I understand her needs in a school environment and how she works best in a Gan situation.

Phew, right?

And then I made the charts and I weighed all the pro’s and con’s of each Gan and the lists grew and grew. In the end, I had narrowed it down to two very good options in Baka but selected one over the other based on a call I had with a parent of a child currently in that particular Gan Chova whose child also went to Gan with my daughter last year. Her personal testimony about how the Ganenet works with her son – who in personality is similar to my daughter – helped us make the decision to select that particular Gan.

Now we wait to see where the municipality will place our daughter and hope she will be placed in our first choice, and that her friends will also be placed there along with her. We won’t know anything for a couple of months.

The purpose of this blog post though is to share a couple of observations that I had during this intensive process: So, here are some things to consider when looking for a Gan Chova:

1) Facebook – Think carefully about things people post on Facebook, especially if you do not know that person. There was one Gannent who received a particularly scathing review on a Facebook group and I know multiple people who automatically didn’t even consider looking at that Gan because of one testimony from one person they never even met. Give every Gan a chance before making the decision. You could be crossing off a really good Gan that might work for you and your child, based on feedback of a complete stranger. My daughter was at a Gan Chova in Baka a couple of years ago and we did not have a good experience. I always prefaced that we did not have a good experience with that I’ve heard things have improved, and that I recommend people go and meet with the Gannenet themselves to formulate their own opinion.

2) Speak to Other Parents – This might sound like you being a stalker, but literally stand outside the Gan at pick up if you can’t find anyone you know who has a child in the Gan you are considering for your child. The best thing to do is speak to parents whose children are currently in the Gan you are considering. They are really the best people to speak to because their children are in the Gan right now. Sure, you can speak to parents who have sent in years past, but it’s also really good to get the impressions from parents who are dealing with this Ganenet every day. Things change from year to year: new staff members, pregnancy and birth that has the Ganenet out for a couple of months, etc. so you’ll get a better impression from parents.

3) Speak to your Child’s Gannenet – Consult with the person currently in charge of your child’s education as she/he knows things you might not know about your child: how they react to discipline and structure, personality with staff members, how they interact with kids, if they are shy/sensitive in a school environment, can they sit during circle time, are they immature or mature for their age, are they ready for an intensive learning environment or would it be better for them to spend another year with a lot of free play, other sensitivities from sound to smell to light, etc.

4) See the Gan, Meet the Gannenet – It’s so important to go and observe the Gannenet and look at the facility. I immediately crossed off two Ganim based on the fact that the facility was way too cramped to handle the 35 kids that were crammed into the room. If the yard was just dirt and slide with no other toys and/or outdoor play area. I ranked another Gan higher if it was a newer facility with clean bathrooms and an upgraded play area with jungle gym, sand pit and plenty of outdoor toys. I watched the Gannenet closely as she greeted children in the morning, responded to those that came to interrupt her while she was speaking with parents, saw how children responded to her as they came into the room. I watched how she interacted with her support staff, and how they in turn interacted with children.

5) Religious Aspects – Don’t be surprised if the Ganenent is not someone from your own religious community. I’ve found that most of the Ganenot from the Mamlachti Dati Ganim are more “observant” than we are in our home. I grew up with a Chazan and a Chazanit leading the Tefilla every morning. I’ve given up on that ever happening in a MAMAD Gan Chova in Jerusalem and until there are some Open Orthodoxy Gan Chovas in our neighborhood, this is going to be something I would categorize as “to be taught in the home.”

6) Special Needs – My daughter has food allergies and so it was very important for me to be able to work with a Ganenet who has experience with children with food allergies. I did visit a Gan during meal time where there was a child who qualified for a special Saayat because he has food allergies and I was really surprised to see not that the child ate on a separate table by himself with just the Saayat but that they were seated facing the wall! Meal time is such a important social interaction time period for children and while I understand how dangerous it can be for a child with anaphalaxic food allergies to share forbidden food, there is no reason he needs to face the wall and not at least be involved in the normal interaction that takes place at Gan during meal time. I’m hopeful that the seating arrangement was a one off that day.

And if you can recruit a friend to join you in this process, that will make it a little less stressful since you’re in it together! My friend Tami was the perfect person to visit Ganim with since she has more experience than I do when it comes to Gan Chova, and she made it fun!

This is a long enough blog post but I hope some find it helpful! What has been your experience with Gan Chova in Jerusalem? Let me know!




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