Looking Back at Back-to-School

Books covered in brown paper, compass sets and tracing paper are just some of items once found in the average Israeli child’s leather book-bag.

It’s back to school time — time for a look back at some items that were once part of the Israeli educational experience, and today have all but ceased to exist. Some years ago, the wonderful Nostal.co.il site compiled a slide show on the topic that contains a few surprises for those who didn’t grow up here.

For example, unlike today, when it comes packaged in odorless, antiseptic capsules, fish oil came in bottles, smelled horrible and tasted worse. It was dispensed for the good of the children by school nurses, as in this photo from the Hadassah Medical Organization’s archives.


During the 1950s austerity period, “In first grade, at the beginning of the year, notebooks were cut in half and we practiced learning to write. Those who wrote nicely in their half notebook — received a whole one.”


“Kids today won’t believe us but to economize we used our pencils down to nub, helped by a pencil extender.”


In math class, there were multiplication tables to memorize (left) and maps to trace for geography class (right). “Aided by parchment paper, we copied maps from the atlas… Those who didn’t have money would rub a bit of kerosene on a piece of white paper that would turn it transparent.”


“The ideal bar-mitzva present. Gift-givers thought they were contributing to the education of a budding engineer but, in general, the recipients would remove the sharp ‘shpitzes’ from the compass set for use as pigeon-hunting arrows.”


“In the days preceding the start of the school year, we were all busy with the task of wrapping notebooks and schoolbooks in brown paper, and adding a white sticker proudly bearing the student’s name.”


All of these were carried to school in a leather schoolbag whose contents — and many more items — can be viewed at Nostalgia Online.


About Rachel Neiman

A veteran media professional who has lived in Israel since 1984, Rachel has been part of the ISRAEL21c organization since 2008. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Globes Online, the English-language edition of Israel’s leading business daily, and before that, at The Jerusalem Post, as a business reporter, feature writer, and consumer columnist. Rachel began writing about Israeli technology companies at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine and is a professional Hebrew to English translator. In her spare time, she is an active member of the Havurat Tel Aviv congregation, and the Holyland Hash House Harriers, part of an international running and drinking disorganization.
  • Rina Neiman

    I remember bringing my backpack to the first day of school in 1973 and being made fun of because I looked like I was going on a tiyul. Dad lent me his attache case so that I could fit in.