Shvushim: Get it or not, here they come

“Hey Mom, I’ve got shvushim!” my oldest son said to me recently one day.

“Huh?” You’ve got what? I thought, vaguely wondering if it was something communicable…

Shvushim,” he repeated, as if he were saying a word I could ever hope to say without immediately giving away my immigrant status. “Shavua yeshiva” he added, ever exasperated with my lack of Israeli with-it-ness. Just when I thought I knew it all, my life in Israel has thrown me a ‘new immigrant moment.’ On further assessment it would become clear that this ‘moment’ would actually last a couple of years…

“Aha!” I said as if it were all clear to me now. Shavua yeshiva…Yeshiva week? Nah, that’s Miami in January. Nope, still no clue… “Honey, what exactly is – er – shvus…shvushim and does this require any action on my part?” Busted. Can you fault me if my favorite type of parenting for teens is the parenting that takes place on auto-pilot?

“Not really, Mom.” (Phew!) “In twelfth grade the schools give weeks off here and there for the guys to go check out pre-army yeshivas and programs for next year.”

Pre-army…am I ready for this? Is one ever? “And they call this svush…er…shvusim…uh…?”

“Shvushim! Ah, don’t bother trying to say it, Mom…” he said with a smile.

And so it happens. Bringing a family to Israel is like making Aliyah as many times over as the members of your family number. All the more so if you are the mother, not that I’m sexist. (Alright, maybe I am a bit, but I digress). All of the challenges and struggles, learning a new language, navigating the Israeli school system, learning the Israeli healthcare system by experience – hopefully not too much, new foods, a new culture, new expectations, social challenges – all this is experienced by the new Oleh mother multiplied by the number of children in the family plus the spouse. That’s a lot challenges! Luckily we women are up to the challenge.

Like any challenge, success is so sweetly rewarding. And like any really challenging challenge, success only brings you to the next challenge. So we keep on breaking our teeth at those parent-teacher conferences to advocate for our immigrant children. And we try to loosen up from our sheltered, protected, Old Country lifestyle so that our children will more resemble their Sabra neighbors rather than younger versions of ourselves (that’s a tough one…) We try to ‘get’ things that Israelis do so we can be there for our kids, but often find that we must have been sprayed with Israeli-proofing before we arrived here because some things we just don’t get…

And then, one day, it happens. It may take a year or two, or it may take a decade. But suddenly, somehow, our kids get it. And we still don’t. It is quite transformative, really. It is then that we know why we did it all. The challenges, the struggles; after all, what was the goal if not our children? We make such herculean efforts.  We feel like we are on a treadmill; no matter how far we think we’ve gone, we look around and we’re in the same place. Yet still we keep on. And then that day comes.

I moved to Israel thinking I’d ‘become’ Israeli. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My brain, at 33, was just too old to make such a huge cultural leap. But our children were not too old. They were going to be fluent in Hebrew by Chanukah, indistinguishable from their peers by Pesach. Uh, no. That, too, was a fantasy, created by someone who clearly did not make Aliyah with kids. As each successive Chanukah would come and go, and my pathetic academic Hebrew was still the best in the house, I started to wonder if my kids would ever surpass me. Slowly, slowly they crept up on me. Until with a whoosh! (or, should I say, a shvu”sh?) they left me in the dust. I may not have been ready. When are we ready? But I sure am happy – and proud – to take a seat in the stands and watch my Israeli children take off.



About the Author

Laura Ben-David is the author of numerous articles and the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has done public speaking about Israel and Aliyah all over the United States and Israel. Contact her at or follow her tweets at