OpinionIsrael at War

Why we’re sending educators to Israel now

Jewish educators need to be on the ground in Israel, immersing themselves in the situation alongside their Israeli counterparts.

An image of sisters draped in the Israeli flag. Source: Pazargic Liviu/Shutterstock
An image of sisters draped in the Israeli flag. Source: Pazargic Liviu/Shutterstock
Anne Lanski. Credit: Courtesy.
Anne Lanski
Anne Lanski is CEO of the iCenter.
David Bryfman. Credit: Courtesy.
David Bryfman
David Bryfman is CEO of the Jewish Education Project.

Over the course of only a few months since the start of 2024, our respective organizations—the iCenter and the Jewish Education Project—have facilitated educational travel experiences in Israel for more than 300 North American Jewish educators.

These educator experiences in Israel were led by The iCenter and The Jewish Education Project in partnership with M², UpStart and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Partner organizations included the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Prizmah, Upstart, RootOne and the Reform Jewish Educators’ Mission run by ARJE and the HUC-JIR School of Education. These experiences were generously funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Maimonides Fund, the One8 Foundation and the UJA Federation of NY.

One of the accomplishments of this initiative has been the ability to bring together a diversity of educators who work in a broad range of settings. These include many aspects of the Jewish educational ecosystem: summer camps, day schools, youth movements, synagogues, JCCs, engagement organizations, academic institutions and Israel travel programs.

The educators have represented the religious and political spectrum of Jewish life in America. They reside in small and large Jewish communities in over 20 states. They all came together in their desire and need to grapple with Israel and Jewish education in a post-Oct. 7 world.

Why provide these Israel experiences particularly for educators? One said, “Like so many, I arrived in Israel unsure of what to expect and with a lot of apprehension. I finished the week with a clearer sense of how to channel my hopes and fears in a productive and meaningful way. More specifically, the experience helped me think more deeply about my role and how I can put my teaching to the best use in such a crazy time.”

Educators are confronting some of the biggest challenges in our community in the aftermath of Oct. 7. Many of them have worked tirelessly to support their learners and communities, who need more resources and education related to Israel’s history and current events, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of antisemitism. Educators must also have the necessary time to attend to themselves and their own socioemotional well-being amid the ongoing crisis. They need opportunities to continue their own learning.

To accomplish this, Jewish educators need to be on the ground in Israel, immersing themselves in the matzav (“situation”) alongside their Israeli counterparts. They must see and hear firsthand the effects of Oct. 7. They must confront the trauma and loss, as well as the remarkable, inspiring ways Israeli society is addressing its diverse challenges.

As an educator said, “I was especially inspired by the Israeli participants who joined the group. Each one taught me a lot about humility and resilience.”

The authentic, sensitive, difficult conversations North American educators are having in Israel with survivors of the atrocities, families of hostages, soldiers in and out of active service, volunteers, community organizers, social workers and fellow educators will be shared with their learners and communities on their return home. At the same time, each visitor leaves a piece of themselves behind in Israel. They do so in the form of a caring gesture, expression or commitment, which is met by Israelis with enormous warmth and sincere gratitude.   

Educators visiting Israel are also immersed in the emerging and profound Israeli cultural expressions that have been created since Oct. 7. Music, art and poetry are powerful educational tools. Learning directly from the artists in conversations and workshops, and sharing their work with a broader audience at home enables learners outside of Israel to feel a tangible, visceral connection with their Israeli peers.

Confronting difficult issues in Israel with Israelis of differing perspectives has brought our North American educators closer to Israel figuratively and literally. A breadth of insights and lived experiences enhance the educators’ abilities to teach about Israel.

As one said, “These delegations to Israel have given educators the knowledge, tools and the stories to respond with even greater appreciation, understanding, empathy and hope to this historic time for the Jewish people.”

We already see that the path ahead for these dedicated educational professionals will be deeply enhanced and the field of Israel education and Jewish education will grow as a result.

For many years, there have been calls for a comprehensive program for Jewish educators to increase their knowledge, skills and capacities, and to enhance their relationship with Israel and Israelis. Though born out of horribly tragic circumstances, the opportunity has now arisen to influence the trajectory of Israel education moving forward with these mishlachot areyvut (delegations of responsibility). We encourage educators to join us in future Israel educational experiences.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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