After a few hours of eating, talking and some board game playing in a second room, I finally began asking the boy some questions. I would have asked him sooner but I doubt he could have been more quiet and compared to my own very boisterous sons and almost constantly hormonal daughter I honestly didn't really notice him.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was in ninth grade in the same yeshiva that my boys attended. (Notice that I said "attended". I'll get back to that in a second.)
I turned to my son, who as far as my monthly credit card bill states, is still in 12th grade, and I say to him: "Z, did you know that N (the ninth grader) is at Herzog (the school) with you?"
Z: Ema, I know.
Me: Well you never mentioned it when he walked in today.
Z: Yeah, we talked about the ninth grade rabbis for a while.
Me, turning to N: I hope he's being nice when he sees you (he has a bit of a reputation for his intimidation glare) and he isn't giving you his scary look. If he is you can tell me and I'll handle him!
N: (silently nodding and acknowledging the entire conversation)
Z: Ema, what do you think? I barely ever see him. I don't go to school that much!
And therein lies the issue. My 12th-grade son doesn't go to school that much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If that comment was meant to soothe me, rest assured, it did not.
As far as I can tell, school begins in earnest in 10th grade in Israel and as you can see, it wraps up at the end of 11th grade and if you're lucky parents, there might even be some learning in 12th grade. So, at best, you are looking at two to two-and-a-half years of real education.
Most major exams are taken in 11th grade here, with a few remaining in 12th grade. Twelfth grade is also the time to re-do exams that didn't go that well in 11th grade. What it comes down to is that the average 12th grader (as far as I can tell) spends most of 12th grade doing anything but going to school and then puts a final push on in May and June for their few remaining exams. And all the while, at least in my case, parents are paying the schools' monthly tuition.
There are definitely some 12th graders working hard in school here; I've seen them. But according to what I hear it is because their schools divide up the national exams into different groupings. There are also kids who are good students yet seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at the beach .... some with surf boards.
All I know is that it is nothing like what I expected education to look like in the State of the People of the Book. I worked hard in 12th grade right down to the last exam. But that was a generation and an entire ocean ago. Who knows, maybe I was learning in all the wrong places and I should have just gone to the beach.