Sivan Benesh and family – Adelaide

That’s it! After 3 years of paper work, forms, exams, medical examinations and many dilemmas, one fine day we received our visas. Half of us breathed a sign of relief that very soon the dream was about to be fulfilled and the other half (myself) felt that my whole world had collapsed on me as I needed to decide whether to follow in my partner’s footsteps leaving behind my entire life including family, friends, career and future plans — or to continue my life as I know it and in doing so destroy my partner’s dream literally at the gates of the promised land. My agreement was gradual – that we were going for 2 years to check things out. From my perspective, I am prepared to give life in Australia a real chance before revaluating things anew and making a final decision. This was the only way I managed to cope with such a decision that impacts on myself, my children and my parents who play a large role in our life.

Five months later the journey begins and my partner, the man who dreamed of immigrating to Australia departed as the advance guard to find work, a place to live and to arrange the “beginning of the rest of our lives” ( his words ). I can only begin to imagine the difficulties that stood in his path alone in a new country without any leads.

I remained behind with the not-so-simple encounter of day to day life full of fear of the unknown, preparing myself and our 2 children (aged 8¼ and 5) for life in Australia and the inevitable day when I would need to bid farewell to my parents.

After the Jewish New Year, the children and I joined “Dad” who had already found employment and a house for us to live in. Unlike most migrants to Australia, we found ourselves in a rather small town without a Jewish community and without Israelis who could support us. We arrived 2 days before the end of the 3rd term and literally on the first day that school resumed we jumped into the deep end!

We spent a long time debating the issue of whether to teach our children English before leaving for Australia or to throw them straight into the school system without the language. After consulting and assessing the situation, we decided that teaching them English would only add pressure prior to their departure. In hindsight, I would have exposed the children to more movies and songs in English- but no more than this.

The first day of the 4th term which is 9 weeks long arrived and my children started school without any English. Ron who in Israel had commenced the 3rd grade (for 10 days only) was assigned to an integrated class of 2nd and 3rd graders. In hindsight, I became aware that the minute we entered the classroom was the moment the teacher knew (in any case only a replacement teacher) that she was receiving a pupil that didn’t speak any English.

Whilst still in Israel, it became clear to me that I would not be able to look for work during the first six months of being in Australia – for instead of working (which is what I was used to doing from morning to evening ) I first needed to make sure that the children settled into their educational frameworks. After term ended, it would be the summer vacation and I would need to take care of the children once again – and this is the message with which I came to Australia. I came with the attitude that I am here for the benefit of my children and this attitude helped everyone- the children, the school and myself in my capacity as a mother.

The kindergarten is within the school – a very comfortable arrangement in terms of settling down. I walked into the kindergarten on the first day and introduced myself and without any unnecessary questions I was given a form to complete and that was it! The kindergarten is open four days a week and the activity hours are divided into two: between 09.00-11.30 and 12.15 -15.30. At first, Dan had a place in the afternoon. It should be noted that the attitude regarding education at kindergarten level is very different from that in Israel- in Australia it seems that kindergarten is given more as a service to the community and less as a pedagogic learning centre – the latter is the system I am familiar with from Israel.

In the kindergarten, there are open activity corners through which the children flow, and at the end of the day they get together for a song and a story.

The first thing one needs to get used to at the school is the uniform, at first glance it is scary and goes against all of my principles. Yet in hindsight- thank G-d there is a uniform, at least from the point of view that my children appearance-wise blended into the surroundings. Another small difference is that teachers are not called by their first names rather Mrs. Feifer. Because my children and I have never grown up with this, we needed to get used to it.

During the first week of term, I divided my time between the children: from 09.00:12.00 I was in Ron’s class where I divided my time between translating everything that was going on for Ron and keeping Dan busy so that he didn’t disturb the class too much, and between 12.15 and 15.00 I was in Dan’s kindergarten, where Ron and Dan played together without any enticement to play with the other children and be exposed to the English language. The second week I spent at the school most of the day ( I must say that the teacher took it rather well). It took the school a few days to get organized to cope with my non-English speaking children. The teachers and children had never heard of the country of Israel and Hebrew sounded like a ” funny and strange ” language to them.

The special education teacher took upon herself to deal with Ron and she worked with him and tried to help as much as possible yet she as was the case with all the other teachers had never taken care of a child that did not know the English language and was not familiar with the culture…. For the first 2 weeks, everyone did their best, the teacher, the special education teacher, and I who returned to Grade 2. After 2 weeks the school inspector arrived on behalf of the Ministry of Education in the framework of the ESL program (English as a Second Language) and created a little order out of this mess. Since there was no-one else to fulfill the role of the teacher, I was chosen to be the teacher, and we went over the timetable and a new order was created. We also met with the kindergarten staff and spoke to the principal and arranged for Dan to join the morning group so that I found myself spending ½ a day between the kindergarten and the school and the second half with Dan at home and Ron staying at school alone. This solution as a “win/win” situation for all.

Dan quickly got used to his framework and said good bye in the morning without any problem. In the beginning he wandered between the play corners of the kindergarten freely without the language and without communicating yet understanding his surroundings and the boundaries and in the time that I was not in the school I was dedicated to working in the kindergarten: cutting, painting, copying. I did everything I was asked to with the goal of allowing the staff to work on an individual basis with Dan. One of the kindergarten teachers took the job upon herself, but the entire staff joined in with love and willingness and towards the end of the term one could see Dan’s interaction with the other children.

Ron became part of his class with the children playing a major role in his integration as they were full of motivation and willingness to help. Whilst all the children were surrounding Ron in an effort to impress him, one very special experience stands out: one of the girls went to the computer room and took the Hebrew alphabet from the internet written in Hebrew and in English phonetics – an experience displaying sensitivity and creativity. The teacher hung the Hebrew alphabet on the board and gave Ron time and space to talk about himself. Nevertheless, in spite of the motivation and willingness of his classmates to help in his integration, Ron still found certain difficulties especially during the breaks where suddenly the class disburses and Ron was alone. Working in co-operation with the teacher, we came up with a solution- as the teacher took it upon herself to arrange shifts of children to take care of Ron and help him during the breaks. The children were full of goodwill but sometimes a little too much, for example, one day when I arrived at the school during the break I saw the following sight: Ron walking back and forth by himself and behind him a girl was following him. If he turned left so did she and so on I watched for a few minutes and then asked what was going on? The little girl replied that she was looking after Ron … In the end a ball solved the problem… Ron bought a ball to school and immediately became the centre of attention.

I continued to work with Ron and Dan and slowly, slowly they began to speak English….in small moments you see the progression and you understand that in spite of the fact that the language is not yet fully understood and comprehended, they understand enough to figure out what is going on.

One thing I have noticed is that there is no violence in the school. A new child who is weak by virtue of his inability to communicate could in many ways be a victim of bullies-which was my big fear as a mother. I was prepared for the worst possible scenario-I was surprised (and I pray that I am not wrong) that the opposite is true as these children like any other in the world are surrounded by violence. It is reinforcing to know that the teachers are out there in the playground and if there is a problem the children can turn to the teachers who have the tools and the authority to act.

I am now waiting for the school year to begin, for the children to be reabsorbed and to enter their permanent educational frameworks. I believe that the day is not far off from the beginning of the new school year where the children will speak better English than I … and I will be able to take the time to find work.

And that’s it!!!! After nearly 3 months I can say that the life here is good, quiet, and peripheral. One needs to be willing to open up to possibilities, calm the suspicious soul that characterises oneself and to acknowledge that if something succeeds that it was not necessarily at one’s expense-here there is space and respect for everyone.

I am not trying to paint a rosy picture only -there are also difficult moments. There is not a night where do not dream about our house in Israel, my dear parents and so on…. And we are still strangers, words still get stuck occasionally which makes us feel like idiots, and many times I find myself barging my way into well-mannered people queuing patiently ……. What an embarrassment!!! I still have a deep scented love for the country in which I grew up and I still feel very strongly connected to. I email my mother by email every day, my home page on my computer is Ynet and when there is a quiet moment I listen to the Army Radio Station.

Sivan and Arieh Benesh
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