Building a community Israel education initiative

By Peta Silansky

In 2013, I was asked to join a conversation about developing a community Israel education program. Intrigued, I went to the meeting. I never could have imagined the journey that this meeting started, both personally and professionally. The unforeseen importance of this invitation changed the trajectory of my life, empowered me to discover my own Israel story, and gave me the unique opportunity to guide others on theirs.
Opportunities come in unexpected ways.
Typically, as an educator, I set goals, develop objectives, and strive to evaluate the results. And I find myself wondering, how do I measure or give value to moments of unforeseen importance?
My task was to create a program that would support Dallas religious-school educators in providing more effective and passionate Israel learning in their classrooms. The program was to provide a platform for educators to build and deepen their relationships with the land and people of Israel, and was to include an experience in Israel. Along with articulating these objectives, the program funders gave me a single recommendation: connect with The iCenter! With that, The Schultz Israel Fellows program was born.
Initially, my conversations with The iCenter were filled with questions as we explored the why, who, and how of this potential initiative. I developed a framework, revisited the purpose of the program, developing something of significance and value, and was guided by The iCenter to approach this work in ways that could engage and inspire our educators creatively. This initial cohort has given way to three additional groups for a total of 45 Schultz Fellows who have impacted more than 200 community educators and leaders, and 2000 students from within eight supplementary schools, eight synagogues, five early childhood programs, five community organizations, and three Jewish day schools in the Dallas area.
My relationship with The iCenter has gone beyond building a framework of Israel education and working together to expand The Schultz Fellows program. The iCenter continuously challenges the way I make meaning of Israel education; they guide me to reimagine and generate new ideas about the way I approach my work. Together, we have created and implemented meaningful Israel experiences for educators and, subsequently, their communities. I reflect and learn from them, and then build on the experiences to develop new ones.
Working with the Schultz Fellows has enabled me to see Israel through new lenses, and experience firsthand the impact of a shared Israel experience. For this, all credit goes to the treasure of the Dallas Jewish community, the Schultz family: Lesley (z”l), Howard and Jaynie. This visionary family invests in impactful ideas with commitment and hope, embracing the paradox articulated by Parker Palmer at iCON (The iCenter’s biennial conference): “a balance of chutzpah and humility.” The chutzpah to say what it is they care about and support, and the humility to listen and learn from others.
Israel education is part of the landscape of Jewish education in Dallas, and I am fortunate to drive part of this initiative. The inclusion of Israel education across the curriculum is central to Jewish education and community programming. Witnessing the impact that a personal Israel experience has on community-building furthers my desire to continue work in this field.
I now bring the confidence, knowledge, tools, and resources to move forward to dream, create and implement more Israel education in Dallas.
I am filled with gratitude for the support both locally and from The iCenter that makes this work possible. This part-time temporary initiative that started from a conversation has resulted in a strategic, deeply impactful program that creates excellent Israel learning and experiences for students in all kinds of settings. I have the added benefit of forming relationships with educators across our community who hone their skills as educators. The Schultz Fellowship is a model of success, demonstrating the power of a community thinking big and taking bold steps.
Peta Silansky coordinates Community Outreach and Engagement and the Schultz Fellows program for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and is a participant in The iCenter’s Graduate Certificate in Israel Education — a partnership with The George Washington University.

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