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Six teachers celebrated for excellence in innovative Jewish education

The award seeks to “honor the visionary educators who are transforming the landscape of teaching in Israel.”

The Israeli educators who were honored for innovative education, June 26, 2024. Photo by Yoseph Cohen.
The Israeli educators who were honored for innovative education, June 26, 2024. Photo by Yoseph Cohen.

A mathematics teacher who combined geometry with architecture for a classroom project. A special education teacher who uses dolls for therapy. A grammar school instructor who started a communication simulation project to increase pupils’ confidence as they graduate.

They were among the six teachers from Israel’s state religious educational system whom the Tzemach David Foundation honored last week for “excellence in innovative Jewish education” for their role in shaping the future of the nation’s education.

The first annual award, which seeks to “recognize and honor the visionary educators who are transforming the landscape of teaching in Israel,” comes with a 25,000 shekel ($6,670) cash prize. The recipients, all women, were selected among a pool of 800 male and female applicants in the religious school sector who applied for the award.

“We created the Tzemach David Prize to identify teachers and schools that are creating innovative programs to increase the quality of education in the state religious educational system,” David Magerman, founder and president of the foundation, told JNS. “We are proud of the Israeli educators and the work they are doing, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to highlight the excellence with which they are doing their jobs.”

Set up in 2022, the foundation supports Israeli educational initiatives, with its initial focus on integrating English-speaking immigrants into the educational system.

Through the foundation, Magerman is currently donating $5 million to institutes of higher education in Israel, after deciding to re-route his philanthropy from U.S. colleges in the wake of the often violent antisemitic wave of protests that have swept American campuses since the war against Hamas in Gaza began.

The award ceremony for the teachers was held Wednesday evening at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum.

“Given all that is going on in Israel these days, we were so happy to be able to create a pocket of positivity and light to bring joy to the teachers, their families and school communities,” said Magerman.

Tamar Krieger Kalev, executive director of the foundation, said, “We need to celebrate teachers as they are the change-makers on the ground and they need to feel like they can innovate, create and empower themselves and their students.

“This prize is not only to recognize these inspiring teachers but also to encourage other teachers throughout Israel to re-invent their classrooms and learning communities.”

Yifat Amakias, who teaches math at the Bnei Akiva Ulpana girls high school in Hadera, said, “As a teacher who is constantly striving to innovate, being recognized at an event like this gives you additional energy to continue creating.”

She received the award in the category of “excellence in interdisciplinary integration” for her school project combining geometry and architecture.

“My students were always asking me: Why do I need mathematics? How will it help me in life?” Amakias recounted of her initiative to use both math and architecture to design a dream home.

Honoree Tehila Yitzhakhi is flanked by Tzemach David Foundation Executive Director Tamar Krieger Kalev and American Jewish entrepreneur and Foundation President David Magerman at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, June 26, 2024. Photo by Yoseph Cohen.

Tehila Yitzhakhi, from the Pisgat David School in Jerusalem, said, “I come to the field of education with a deep sense of mission to grow the next generation of Israelis with both academic and value excellence.” Her classroom simulation project was honored for excellence in learning by innovation and developing reality.

The top submissions for the prize will be made public by the foundation for the benefit of educators and their pupils.

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