Motherhood in Israel – Take Two

Why has this blog lain dormant for around two and half months? Because on Israel’s Independence Day, we welcomed our second child into the world! A week later, my computer crashed and it took around a month to get back on-line. (a blessing in disguise, to be honest)

To be a parent in the Jewish homeland….

Finally, we get some payback for our high taxes! In Israel, you don’t have any expenses for giving birth – this is covered by the state. I chose to give birth for the second time at the Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem. People often ask me why I chose there as it is known to be a “religious” hospital (most Jerusalemite women will go to Hadassah Ein Karem). First of all, it is the closest to our house (which was good during this birth as I almost didn’t make it!), it has a newer, more attractive wing, they will never put you in the hallway after giving birth (women sleep in the hallway in other hospitals because there isn’t enough room in the ward), and I like the rule of quiet hours (which unfortunately this time were not totally upheld – my first night in the hospital, my roommate’s husband came at 10 p.m. and when the Arab attendant on duty came to tell him to leave, they ended up having an entire conversation on how Arab and Jews can truly get along. Touching, but I had just given birth and really just wanted to sleep.)

From the moment I gave birth, I was officially on maternity leave. In Israel, every family receives 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. This is paid for by the government so that your place of work can hire someone to replace you in your absence. The National Insurance Institute pays you what you earned the 14 weeks leading up to the maternity leave. The father can take the leave or you can split it between you – the rule is that one parent gets the paid leave. You can stay on leave for up to six months and your position must be held for you, but the rest is unpaid.

We held a simchat bat (welcome ceremony) for our daughter 10 days after she was born. We picked this date simply because that’s when my parents were visiting from the US and on a Friday so people weren’t working. I wanted to emphasize the equality between our children – our first child was a boy so it was understand that we held his brit 8 days after his birth and that it would be an entire event to itself. So, that’s exactly what our daughter got too (minus the cut, of course!). In Israel, everyone comes no matter how far away they live. It is a small country, so it feels like everything is drivable – some relatives drove four hours roundtrip for our two-hour event. That’s just what you do here.

A few days after your baby is born, you’re already forced to leave the house. You have to make the requisite visit to Tipat Chalav – literally means “a drop of milk”, which is the government “stations” for basic childcare. This where your children are officially weighed and measured (they won’t measure baby’s length until she is one month old) and where they receive all of their vaccinations. I always get a complex because the chart always shows our babies in the lowest 10th percentile of size (we are small people!) and there is great pressure for the baby to gain weight early on. But then all the mothers at pre-school reassure me telling me how small their kids were when they were babies too.

For us, the next order of business is getting our baby her passports. First, we go to the Israeli Ministry of Interior. My body tenses just at the thought of this place which was the bane of my aliyah experience – (Learning how to push through crowded lines and waiting hours just to get my documents. Going to change my temporary document to a permanent passport and having the clerk tell me that since I left Israel for family visits during my first year, I didn’t really live in Israel and didn’t deserve an Israeli passport. Etc.) – but this time, it is not so bad. We only have to change clerks once because the computer can’t find the record of our daughter’s birth. But miraculously the second computer found it. We give the pictures and information – in a minute, we have a birth certificate in Hebrew and in English. The next day we receive our daughter’s passport by courier. We also had to schlep to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem – since I am an American citizen, my children are automatically American citizens and they can’t enter the US without an American passport. I made an appointment and still waited 4 hours in line. I didn’t have all the proper documentation so I had to come back to bring it. Then we had to wait a week for them to check it. Then I had to come back to pay for the passport. Then we got it a few weeks later. For once, Israeli bureaucracy is more efficient!

This is a society that not only loves children and babies (because I know that people everywhere love babies), but it is a place where they welcome babies in every place. Though I am officially on maternity leave, after having passed the insane first six weeks and am in a place where our baby is now on a regular schedule which allows me to plan a day accordingly, there are responsibilities and meetings and the such which still come up. Here, a baby is like a mother’s additional appendage – I just take her everywhere with me. She comes to meetings and other various events. For the first few minutes, everyone googoo-gaga’s over her. But then, it’s like she just blends in, even if I sit and breastfeed (covered up, of course!). And it is totally acceptable to do this until the baby really starts to talk and move around (or perhaps I could keep bringing her, but I am sensitive about disturbing meetings with my baby).

As all parents know, parenting is not easy. And as most people will attest, life in Israel is not always easy. But I really believe that Israel is one of the best places to be a parent – it’s a society that really loves babies. And there is something truly special about being born a Jerusalemite – being a native of our holy city and ancient capital of the Jewish people. I was reminded of this last week when we received a special certificate from the Jerusalem municipality recognizing our daughter and reminding us of the special place and time in which she was born – Only in Israel!

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4 Responses to “Motherhood in Israel – Take Two”

  1. Chuck Briskin Says:

    Mazal Tov, Stacy, on bringing another beautiful life into this world. I wish you much joy and naches. Thanks as well for your enlightening post.

  2. Daniel Burstyn Says:

    מזל טוב!!!!!

  3. Stacey Says:

    What a lovely, informative overview of your first weeks at home with your daughter. I can’t wait to meet her the next time you are in the States.

  4. Marianne Says:

    14 weeks paid maternity vacation is good? In my opinion that is way too little, and not something to jump from joy about! That it is better than nothing, yes, and better than most states in America, yes, but should it be longer, of course! If a society really appreciates its mothers it should do better!

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