(July 6, 2022, CANCUN, Mexico, JNS Wire)
The World Zionist Organization (WZO)’s education department recently convened over 100 Latin American Jewish educators for a weeklong seminar to help strengthen Jewish education and identity in their classrooms. The event was part of the education department’s effort to bolster communities abroad both organically through training local teachers and through educational shlichim sent out from Israel by the department. It comes amid an international shortage of qualified educators.
Participants hailed from 13 countries and territories including: Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The initiative was spearheaded by Mizrachi delegate Gael Grunewald, who serves as the World Zionist Organization’s vice chairman and leads its educational arm. Grunewald assumed the role after Mizrachi and its Orthodox Israel Coalition were successful in the 2020 World Zionist Congress elections. The broad-based group of the ten major modern-Orthodox organizations in the United States, falling under the umbrella of World Mizrachi, transformed the landscape of the ‘Parliament of the Jewish People,’ for the first time ever creating a powerhouse coalition espousing Orthodox ideals. This allowed for the key roles that Grunewald and his colleagues would hold for the next five years, and how they impact both Israel and the diaspora.
Participants heard from a variety of top speakers both from Israel and their home countries including Israeli President Isaac Herzog; Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai; Keren Kayemet Le’Israel President Avraham Duvdevani; renowned author and educator Rabbi Benny Lau; former Knesset member Ruth Calderon and many others.
Topics broadly focused on Jewish education, Jewish identity, the future of Jewish education in Latin America and the relationship between Israel and the Central and South American Jewish diaspora. Grunewald’s introductory remarks framed strategic methods to optimize future partnerships between Israeli institutions and Latin American Jews. Other speakers concentated more specifically on the challenges presented by educating students today including European Council of Jewish Communities Executive Director Mariano Schlimovich whose topic was entitled “Making Jewish Education Relevant for Today and the Future,” as well as renowned Israeli educator and author Prof. Yoram Harpaz, Ph.D., who spoke on “Five Basic Reflections in the 21st century.” Several educational leaders addressed challenges faced by the Latin American day school community including issues surrounding financial sustainability, student recruitment, leadership and teacher retention as well as the quality of education.
Since his appointment, Grunewald has worked tirelessly to advance education for the international Jewish communities, grounded in Mizrachi’s principles of love for Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.
“The conference showcases the paramount importance of Mizrachi’s role in the World Zionist Organization, and how Gael’s placement there advances religious Zionism both in Israel and the diaspora,” said World Mizrachi CEO Rav Doron Perez, “We are experiencing the echoing accomplishments of the Orthodox Israel Coalition in the World Zionist Congress from 2020, seeing firsthand the impact that is possible when leaders who espouse the values of Orthodox Jewry are placed in the world’s most essential Jewish Institutions.”
“Jewish communities globally are experiencing an educator-employment crisis that the World Zionist Organization’s education department is uniquely positioned to support through organic local programs like this one that strengthen local educators and through our sending out educators from Israel to support these communities while on shlichut,” added Grunewald.