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Things that are weird in Israel #4: Gans

IMG_00003959Have we really been here for six months and this is only my 4th “Things that are weird” post???

Okay… gan.

Gan is pronounced like “gun” but it means “garden.”  As in Kindergarten.

So what’s weird about kindergarten???

Well, I don’t know about you, but where I come from, kindergarten is a grade.  Actually, in Ontario, we have two levels of kindergarten:  junior (JK) and senior (SK). 

In any event, as a grade, it takes place in a SCHOOL.  With a principal and teachers.  In a classroom that, except for a few more toys, is kind of indistinguishable from a very colourful Grade 1 classroom.

Gan does not.

Gan is a separate building.  If your kid goes to gan for two years, there’s a decent chance (depending on where you live and a bunch of other variables) that they’ll have to go to a different gan for each year.

In gan, there are no teachers or principals:  there’s a ganenet.  This is a hard word, apparently, judging from the fact that it took my sister many tries to not quite get it right while she was here.  Say it:  “Gun” the letter “en” then “ette” like the end of cigarette (chas v’shalom).  Gun-en-ette.

Schools have names that are sometimes lofty, sometimes vague.  Naomi’s school is Moriah, named after Har Hamoriah (Mount Moriah), the holy Temple Mount site where Avraham nearly sacrificed Yitzchak.  Other elementary schools around here are Aharon Haroeh, Yamit (roughly, “sea” school; it’s right beside the ocean) and Sinai.  Nice, lofty names.

Gans are named after objects, period.  Preferably basic one-word nouns that sound like they were thought up as team names by an unimaginative camp counsellor.

GZ switched gans this week.  His old gan was called Gan Etrog (citron kindergarten).  His new gan is called Gan Chitah (wheat kindergarten).  Here it is:


Actually… that is the other weird thing about gans.

Gans are built side-by-side.

I don’t know if this is a local phenomenon or some kind of thing to save building materials and other resources, but almost every gan I’ve seen is actually TWO gans right next to each other.  There are separate entrances, separate bathrooms, separate playgrounds.  The kids don’t play together, let alone greet or even know each other during school hours.  But they are right there, side by side.

The picture above, though I said it is GZ’s new gan, is actually mainly of the next-door gan, Gan Tapuchim (apples kindergarten).  His old gan, Gan Etrog, was right next to Gan Hadas (myrtle kindergarten).

The new gan looks very new… kind of sterile, in fact.  Akiva told me they build it just a few years ago because, and I quote, “the old one fell down.”  I’m counting myself lucky because it’s not surrounded by a sand pit like most.  Those sand pits make their way home in shoes, pockets, backpacks  - everywhere.

Inside the gan, it goes without saying that everything possible is child-sized:  tables, chairs, aron kodesh (the little Holy Ark at the front of the room).  It seems like a very nice place to start out in school.

The picture right at the top of this post is a “goodbye picture” Akiva took.  He never did fit in there, exactly.  The new gan is more mixed, racially; he will no longer be the only “lavan.”  Also, even the Ethiopian kids there are more likely to be second-generation Israeli and fluent Hebrew speakers.

Here’s another local gan I happened to be walking past on Friday.  This one is called Gan Tzivoni (colourful kindergarten).  There’s another one next door, but I didn’t catch the name. 


You can see stuck to the fence:  every gan in town gets routinely plastered with posters for every single upcoming children’s play and production anywhere in the vicinity.  Unfortunately, both of the ones shown here were on Shabbat. 


I actually took the kids to a play two weeks ago.  They have them every month in the ulam (community centre).  What can I say?  It was a terrible play, with puppets, based loosely on the mashal (parable) of the guy who goes out looking for diamonds and brings home a boat reeking-full of fish.

What?  Never heard it before?  Google it; it’s a good one, but everyone who knows me is sick of it by now.

Anyway, the play wasn’t all that great, and my kids didn’t understand it all that well, and it was overly loud and the audience members were obnoxious, but somehow, sitting there, I felt happy to be part of a community, feeling maybe like things in Israel were not so weird after all.

But then I couldn’t help but notice, though, that the characters in the play, when they want to make them sound like idiots, just total dummies, they give them a bit of the old American accident.  “Mah?  Mah ani rotzah???” with a nice American R.

Okay, so it’s still quite quite strange here.  Sometimes, overwhelmingly strange.  But culture shock is an insidious thing that doesn’t always lend itself well to witty blog posts.

Still, I’ll try to post more of these as they occur to me.

In the meantime, I have to go to bed so I can be up early for our second day of… Wheat Kindergarten!!!

Come on – that’s weird, isn’t it????


  1. In Jm, ganim were called after the ganenet. So there was a gan trom chova called Gan Tzipi, and a gan chova called Gan Miri. Yes they were run by the Iriya, not private. When one went to register, they were mostly called after the street they were on, but in everyday conversation, after the ganenet.
    I believe Yamit may be named after the settlement given back with the SInai to Egypt in the peace agreements.
    liza bennett (yahoo)

  2. It's pronounced more "gan" than "gun," but don't stretch out the vowel. I don't understand why building double gannim (plural of gan) is strange. It's efficient, because there are different ages and all that must be accommodated. Also the toilets are kiddie-sized, of course.

  3. When ganim are side-by-side, there's usually a gan trom hova (for younger kids, 3-4) on one side and a gan hova ("compulsory" gan for kids before first grade) on the other side. Having them in the same building makes security easier and probably saves on building costs as well. About the names: usually ganim in the same area are named according to a theme: flowers, trees, cute little animals, etc. If you think about Jewish holidays (Sukkot), it certainly makes sense that Gan Etrog was next to Gan Hadas! And while "tzivoni" does mean colorful, it also means "tulip", so the next-door gan is probably named for a different flower. I'll bet that if your son's gan is "wheat," which is one of the 7 species, you will also find "Gan Zayit," "Gan Gefen,"Gan Te'ena," "Gan Rimon," etc. nearby!

  4. I guess I figured if it makes economic sense to build them side-by-side, how much MORE sense it should make to just incorporate them into school buildings, like I'm used to. No?
    You're right about the Tzivoni - forgot about that.

    @batya - I don't know whether we're pronouncing the English or the Hebrew wrong, but when we say "gun" and "gan," my kids and I, they sound exactly the same. :-)

  5. p.s. Here, too, they are called after the ganenet. When I mentioned which gan GZ is in now to a friend, I had to say the name of the ganenet so she would remember that her child went there LAST YEAR. :-)

  6. Looks like our school here in Toronto follows the tradition of naming classes. K and N are in kita geffen, next year K will be in kita magen david (and in three years, kita shalhevet) and R just started in kita zohar.

  7. @decemberbaby: Aw, that's so beautiful. I love that idea!!!


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