By Rachel Gross Weinstein
For five days, Israeli educators visited Dallas to learn about American culture, teach classes at local schools and stay with host families. They left an indelible imprint on the Dallas Jewish community and built connections for the future.
The Center for Jewish Education (CJE) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas hosted 22 educators from Dallas’ partnership region in Akko and Mette Asher during Chanukah. The group represented pre-K through 12th-grade teachers and principals who shared their teaching methods with students and teachers.
During their visit, the teachers also participated in Shabbat-related activities with their host families, attended events at Congregation Anshai Torah and Beth Torah, toured the Aaron Family JCC and got a glimpse of Jewish life in America.
It was made possible through a new CJE initiative called Israel @ the Center, whose purpose is to bring Israel to classrooms to create cultural, religious and social bonds between students in Dallas and Israel. Meyer Denn, CJE executive director, said this was the first event of its kind to take place in Dallas and he believes it was successful.
“We both benefited from this because they learned about Jewish life in America and we learned more about Israeli culture,” he said. “The relationships they made with the host families were incredible, and being in the schools was uplifting for both sides. This is the best way to engage American teachers and students about Israel.”
Dallas is one of 16 U.S. Jewish communities within the central region that form the Partnership with Israel to collaborate with Akko and Mette Asher in the Western Galilee of Israel, making a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of Israeli citizens. The others are: Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Waco (Texas); Akron, Toledo, Canton, Dayton, Youngstown (Ohio); South Bend, Indianapolis, NW Indiana (Indiana); Des Moines (Iowa); Omaha (Nebraska); Louisville (Kentucky).
Developed in 1994 by the United Jewish Communities (UJC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Partnership with Israel program helps Jews in Israel bridge the geographical and cultural gaps that divide them. Harold Gernsbacher, United States chair for the Partnership for the Western Galilee, said having the Israeli teachers in Dallas accomplished that mission.
“It’s important that we continue to build bridges and use our partnership community as a catalyst for the future,” he said. “We are supposed to be building a better Jewish tomorrow, and teachers are the core of that. They fill our kids’ minds with the exposure for them to want to be Jewish. The Israeli teachers were fantastic. It was a life-changing experience and was an extraordinarily bright moment.”
The Israeli educators consisted of a group of 17 first- through eighth-grade teachers and their coordinator, and a smaller one of five early childhood teachers and their coordinator.
In addition to their other activities, they visited the religious schools of Congregation Adat Chaverim, Anshai Torah, Beth Torah, Kol Ami, Shearith Israel and Temple Emanu-El. They also taught lessons at Akiba Academy, the J Early Childhood Center and the Ann and Nate Levine Academy.
Eliad Eliyahu, education coordinator for the Jewish Agency for Israel, led the delegation of 17 teachers who came from eight different schools. He said the trip was a great way to bring everyone together.
“In order to make a real connection to the Jewish world, our students in Akko need to understand what it means to be Jewish in other parts of the
world,” he said. “The twinning between the students in America and Israel is a great way to do this. The most important part is that Israeli and American teachers are working together to come up with ideas. They are enriching students’ lives and it helps them better understand Judaism across the world.”
Sigalit Baizlay, a principal at the Rambam School in Akko, said this was her first trip to the United States and now she has a better understanding of American life. She hopes to bring back everything she learned to her students.
“I only knew what America was like before by hearing about it,” she said. “I now see the connection between America and Israel and realize how important we are to each other. We are one Jewish family.”
Ahuva Lavi is the principal of the Eshcol School in Akko. She and science teacher Meerav Ben Aruya facilitated a lesson at Akiba Academy about oil and its connection to Chanukah, and told students about their school. They also shared letters that Eshcol students wrote for their Akiba counterparts, and hopes to continue the connection between them.
“It is so nice to make this connection in person,” she said. “We had warm hospitality in Dallas. Being at the day schools, religious schools and working with the teachers allows me to see what everyone is like. This experience was meaningful, exciting and interesting.”
Not only did the educators make an impact on the teachers and students, they influenced their host families as well. Michael and Deborah Fripp, members of Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, hosted two teachers, who taught the fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Kol Ami Religious School.
Michael said having them in their home was especially meaningful for their three young children, who now have a deeper connection to Israel.
“We learned so much from them and they helped bring out the joy in Judaism,” he said. “Our kids learned about the culture of Israel. We plan on staying in touch with them as a family, and Kol Ami plans to keep its partnership with them. They helped transform Israel from a physical place kids read about to someplace that’s real.”
Local educators reflect on their experience with Israeli teachers
Throughout their five days in Dallas, the delegation of Israeli educators visited local Jewish schools and had a lasting effect on students and teachers. The plan is to continue working with them so American and Israeli students can learn more about each other.
The educators also interacted with American teachers to share ideas of how to make classroom lessons effective and bring Israel directly to American students.
Rabbi Zev Silver, head of school at Akiba Academy, said the Israeli teachers got a good sense of what Akiba is about and they were amazed that all denominations of Judaism can learn in one place, something that doesn’t happen too often in Israel.
He said they plan on videoconferencing with schools in Akko, and Akiba students will write letters to their Israeli counterparts.
“We don’t always have an understanding about the depths and breadths of the north region of Israel, and we want to expose our students to the beauty of eretz Yisrael,” he said. “Anytime you bring in people from Israel, it’s wonderful. They were interactive and nice. Our students saw how excited our teachers were; it was impactful. We want to bring Israel to them in real ways, and this was an opportunity to do so. We hope that putting them together with us will enhance our children’s learning of Israel.”
Alyse Eisenberg, Jewish studies coordinator for the Early Childhood Center at Levine Academy, hosted educators at her home and also had six of the early childhood teachers come to Levine. She said they created a whole day of activities that were beneficial for the students and teachers.
“Having visited Israel before, I had an instant connection with them,” she said. “Because the Israeli teachers and our teacher met each other, the connection between the two will happen more frequently. With young kids, we try to make connections to Israel any way possible and this was a nice way for them to see people from Israel. This is a first step.”
Ruth Schor, director of the Congregation Beth Torah Learning Center, hosted teachers at her home also, and said it was an exhilarating experience, as she is Israeli and her husband is American.
The teachers visited Beth Torah classrooms and engaged students in Chanukah related learning through singing, dancing, sports, games and video presentations. Schor said this helped students better understand life in Israel.
“Celebrating Chanukah with the Israeli teachers in our schools, homes and synagogues add a more personal touch to the Partnership,” she said. “The Partnership with Israel, although there is full awareness of its importance and values, presents challenges as well. It requires true resourcefulness, commitment, creativity and more. Spending the time with teachers who brought the spirit of Israel to our classrooms, homes and heart during the holiday of Chanukah, rekindled our commitment to make the Partnership with Israel a priority of our Jewish educational program.”
Two Israeli teachers visited Congregation Adat Chaverim as well. Religious School Director Valerie Klein said she liked how they provided a different point of view to students about the culture of Israel.
She added that they talked about what it was like to celebrate Chanukah and discussed the Israeli army with older children. She looks forward excitedly to seeing what this continuing partnership will bring.
“We are going to continue the connection by writing letters and e-mails,” she said. “It was good that they could put a face to Israel. I want to foster a love and connection with Israel and the best way to do that is through personal connection, and we did that. It was a neat experience.”