Going Dutch treat in Modi'in

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Going Dutch treat in Modi'in

Postby dami » Mon Oct 24, 2005 6:52 pm

Going Dutch treat in Modi'in

By Daphna Berman

Walking past the ordinary residential building on one of the main streets of Modi'in in central Israel, you would never know there was a school inside. And once you enter the school, you would never know that you were in Israel and not in Amsterdam.

Jip en Janeke, named for two Dutch storybook characters, is the official school for Modi'in's small, but thriving Dutch community. Located in a former apartment, it is filled with board games, books, posters, and even tulips, all imported from the Netherlands in the past year.

"We're really Dutch," teacher Miriam Kerkof explains with a laugh as she points to the flowers that have come to be synonymous with her home country. "And we want this to feel like Holland."

One of Israel's fastest-growing cities, Modi'in is home to about 25 Dutch-Israeli families, many of whom seek to pass on Dutch language and culture to their children.

The school idea began two years ago, when a group - mainly Dutch women married to Israeli men -met to discuss ways to amend a situation in which their children were unable to correspond with their Dutch relatives even though they were exposed to the language during visits. The end result was the opening last year of Jip en Janeke, which received both official recognition and support from the Dutch government.

"This would have been impossible without a grant from the government," admitted Eke Behar, one of the school's founders, who said that hundreds of similarly funded schools exist outside Holland. "We aren't commercial and we try to keep costs as low as possible for parents. But we still need to rent an apartment and pay a teacher, which would be very difficult without a subsidy."

For most of the children, who study at regular state schools until 1 P.M., the two hours a week they spend here is like most other after-school activities. Fifty students are enrolled in the program. Most are from Modi'in but a few come from other communities, including the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm and West Bank settlements. Children aged 4 to 14 with Dutch citizenship are eligible, and tuition is minimal because of the Dutch government's support. The schedule varies by age, but the school opens at 4:00 P.M. daily for two consecutive two-hour sessions.

"The goal here is to deal with Dutch language and culture in a fun way," Kerkhof says.

Dutch national holidays are celebrated, with parties on the Queen's birthday as well as on Sinterklaas, the national feast of Saint Nicholas held on December 5. Parents are quick to insist that the latter is not a Christian holiday.

"We teach the culture, history, and geography of the Netherlands and Europe that the children don't get here in their Hebrew schools", Kerkhof said. "Without a Dutch connection, it's not a good idea to come here."

For most of the children, who switch easily between Hebrew and Dutch, the language skills they learn here provide them with a "secret language" at school.

"Other kids don't understand it and so learning Dutch becomes very fun for them," Ilona Azar De Vlieger, one of the school's founders, explains. Her children, aged seven and five, attend. "My kids have a great time and their Dutch has really improved since last year."

Fluency is still an issue, Kerkhof admits. Some children speak Dutch at home, while others only hear it occasionally. Some parents are satisfied if their children can follow a basic conversation, while others want their children to work on grammar, reading, and writing. Certain parents seek a modicum of cultural familiarity, while others dream of sending their children to Dutch university. No two children at the school, says Kerkhof, are at the same level.

Parents seem satisfied with the educational enrichment program.

Since the Dutch government requires a minimum of three hours a week for subsidized schools, Kerkhof takes the children on weekly field trips - all Dutch-speaking, of course - to supplement the two-hour classroom experience.

"The school allows them to meet children from the same background, who share the same language, know the same foods, and experience the same Dutch culture," Behar said. It also provides a valuable service to many Dutch-born mothers who want to preserve a culture and life they left behind.

"When all the other mothers were getting emotional about sending their children to first grade, it didn't mean to much to me because I never went to first grade in Israel," Behar said. "But what my kids are learning now in the Dutch school is familiar to me and for that reason, it is very emotional for me."

"Every parent," Behar concluded, "wants their children to share a piece of their childhood experience."

The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated-- Gandhi
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