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Guidelines for Successful Israel Education

"There is a season for everything, a time (et) for every experience under heaven: a time for planting and a time for healing, a time for dancing and a time for speaking, a time for loving and a time for peace"
(Selected from Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

1. Articulate

Make a safe space in your community for members to voice their disparate concerns and personal viewpoints on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Provide opportunities for open discussion and dialogue to help remove obstacles to active engagement with Israel. Meaningful conversations can begin with a short introduction by the facilitator or can be sparked by a brief trigger film or text. Dialogues can be held as a one-time event or a series of evening programs.

Communities across the denominational spectrum are holding programs of this nature. Dialog programs have taken place in many settings: congregations, coalitions of congregations in a geographic area and denominational conferences. Their focus is not in striving for consensus on a course of action or support for a common vision of the future. Dialogs simply aim to build skills and strategies for listening and sharing. They fill a personal need to be heard, a communal need for mutual respect and can yield valuable insights for future educational programming.

2. Relate

Invite compelling speakers who share your members' interests and values. Feature Israelis and Americans who can speak sincerely and knowledgeably about issues such as women's health, the environment and religious pluralism in Israel today. Make sure that guest experts share some of the good news from Israel in arenas of vital concern. Meeting those committed to facing real issues and solving tough problems can serve to increase our optimism about Israel's present and future. In this time of reduced travel to Israel, it is important to provide ways for our members to meet with Israelis on our turf. Remember that for generations of teens, encounters with Israelis have been important in shaping Jewish identity.

3. Integrate

Take an integrated approach to programming. Don't wait for Yom Ha'atzmaut or Tu B'Shvat to plan an Israel program. Weave Israel into congregation and school life in a way that emulates the fine example set by Jewish camps and youth groups. Use an Israel theme for Shabbat dinners, Shavuot study programs, and Sukkot decorations. Adopt an Israel focus at events through the year, such as Israel workshops for adults and youth at a retreat or Shabbaton, an Israel program at a diversified event, or Israeli films at a film festival.

4. Demonstrate

NYC Israel Solidarity Day Parade 2002Show your love of Israel and support for Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) at a community sponsored parade or rally. Solidarity can be shown in ways that preserve and reflect one's values. The unity of the Jewish people - of Klal Yisrael - does not require uniformity of beliefs or forms of expression. It does, however, demand that we act openly and publicly to demonstrate our connection to Israel.

As an example, more than 130 Reconstructionists of all ages stood on the float or marched in the Solidarity Day at the Salute to Israel Parade on May 5, 2002, in New York City. They took pride in their movement and in their ability to add their voices to the chorus of support provided by the 100,000 marchers and close to one million spectators who lined Fifth Avenue. (Photo: M. Warshawski)

5. Simulate

Take students of any age on a simulated trip to Israel. Invite Israeli members from the community to participate in providing a powerful experience for each traveler. Once you "land" in Israel, take participants to interesting age-appropriate activities at stations located throughout your synagogue building.

There are several models of such programs including "Passport to Israel" for pre-schoolers and elementary school children as well as newer approaches such as "Mission Without Miles" designed for middle schoolers and teens. The large floor maps of Israel available through many local Federations provide a new twist on a tried-and-true formula for success.

6. Celebrate

Mark joyous holidays and milestone historic moments in Israel's history, such as Yom Ha'atzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917), and UN Partition Day (November 29, 1947). Feature Israel themes and connections in your own personal and family life cycle events. Find opportunities to recognize and honor community leaders who bring us closer to Zion and Israel. Extend the impact of a Bat or Bar Mitzvah with a project with an Israeli social service or tikkun olam organization.

7. Fascinate

Offer interesting educational classes on Israel either as one-time events or in a series of study sessions. Invite local experts to teach these programs, such as rabbis, cantors, and academics. Sponsor an Israeli Scholar-in-Residence Weekend or offsite retreat. Offer opportunities for Israeli members of the community to share their expertise on topics such as archaeology, poetry, history and social change.

An excellent resource that will fascinate many of your members is the new Yad Mordecai Keren Torah Israel Curriculum, co-authored by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb and Cyd Weissman. An innovative nine-session program for adults and/or teens, it has been successfully piloted in several congregations and can be led by a professional or lay leader from your congregation.

8. Conjugate

Share your love of the Hebrew language and expand your fluency by joining or starting a Chug Ivri (Hebrew Language Conversation Club) in your community. By meeting regularly to read recent newspaper articles, discuss their relationships with Israel and Israelis, and share their love of Hebrew, members enhance their connections to Israel, to each other, and to their Jewish identities. This type of program works particularly well when held in more intimate settings, such as parlor meetings in members’ homes.

9. Impersonate

Make the heroes and heroines of Israel's history come alive. Dress up as David Ben-Gurion or Golda Meir and tell "your" story to an audience of students and their families. A lesson plan including monologue, dramatic scene, and activities on the life of Herzl has been designed by Gabrielle Kaplan for students in Grades 4-7. (Acrobat Reader required.)

10. Decorate

Buy and display Israeli art in your home and synagogue. Feature an exhibition of Israeli art, crafts and jewelry in your community. Many art and photography exhibits may be borrowed free of charge from local Israeli consulates. A Judaica crafts festival can help the Israeli economy and bring an Israel connection into many people's homes and hearts. Small-group sessions with visiting Israeli artists can expand the impact on students of all ages.

11. Officiate

Take a stand on Israel. All leaders of a congregation -- the rabbi, the cantor, education director, teachers, youth advisor, and lay leaders -- should take the opportunity to express their love of Israel, its importance to them and the many forms that their love can take. By what we say, whom we ask to speak and with whom we share the pulpit, we can do much to connect our members.

12. Educate (the Educator)

August 23, 2001 at the Tayelet in JerusalemInvest in the human resources that are on the front lines with our students. Teachers and Education Directors perform the holy task of inculcating our children with Jewish values and concepts. Each student, each congregation and the Jewish community as a whole will benefit when teachers have the tools - both personal and professional - to speak with clarity and self-confidence.

Support regional and global conferences on teaching Israel. Send educators to CAJE and other major seminars. Offer and generously subsidize opportunities to visit Israel, such as the Reconstructionist Educators' Mission to Israel in August of 2001.

13. Elevate (go up to the land)

Enhance and express your love of Israel by traveling there with friends and family. Nothing can compare with the personal pleasure and lasting impact of a well-planned trip. All Israel educational programs held in North America are simply a preparation for the Israel experience each Jew must enjoy for themselves. To quote the "Prayer for the State of Israel" from the Reconstructionist siddur Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Vehagim, "And for all our people everywhere, may God be with them, and may they have the opportunity to go up to the land."

These guidelines reflect the experience of the JRF-NY Israel Education Project, an initiative funded initially by a generous grant from the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal of the UJA-Federation of NY.

Type: Article

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