Teacher emissaries educate about Israel
World Zionist Organization brings volunteers to classrooms around the world
Two Israeli women, Oshrat Frydman and Yonit Mhazri, teach at the Moriah School in Englewood They’re co-teaching first-graders in Hebrew, and they are among 231 “morim shlichim” — teacher emissaries — working far from home on behalf of the World Zionist Organization’s education department.
Ms. Mhazri’s husband, Adiel, teaches in Moriah’s middle school, and Ms. Frydman’s husband, Ilan, oversees teacher emissaries as the representative of the WZO’s education department in North America.
As Jewish schools increasingly place a value on Hebrew immersion, teacher emissaries from Israel now are working in 105 Jewish schools in 24 countries on five continents.
In Bergen County, Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus pioneered the immersion model in 2001. This year, BPY has eight WZO teacher emissaries — four married couples from Israel. Yeshivat He’Atid in Teaneck has seven WZO teacher emissaries this year. Several day schools also have post-high school Israeli National Service volunteers speaking Hebrew with students throughout the day and coordinating Israel-related programming.
All these men and women who choose to spend a year — or two or three — in a different land and culture share a commitment to giving Diaspora children a firm foundation in Hebrew, Zionism, and Israeli history from the place where it all originates.
At the beginning of December, the Frydmans and Mhazris joined more than 150 morim shlichim at a three-day professional development conference that the WZO hosted at a hotel near Newark Airport.
Ms. Frydman said the conference was “very meaningful and very professional.” The formal sessions gave her new ideas to bring into her Moriah classroom, as did informal chats with colleagues.
For example, she said, “We had a lecture on bibliodrama, which you can do with a Torah text or any text. You act as the character in the text and express the feelings and thoughts of that character. You can use this method also for social interactions and not only teaching. I plan to try it.”
Social interactions are no less important for the teacher emissaries than for the students. Ms. Frydman said the conference provided a stimulating social atmosphere with a taste of home.
“I got to meet friends from all over,” she said. “It’s always fun to meet in a Hebrew-speaking environment where like-minded people are sharing their challenges and ideas.”
This is the Frydmans’ second year in Englewood. Two of their four daughters live with them: a seventh-grader at Moriah and a ninth-grader at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck. Their older daughters remained in Israel, where one is now at Bar-Ilan University and the other recently completed her national service.
Ms. Frydman explained that when the couple was approached about relocating to Englewood for a few years, they considered the implications carefully before accepting the assignment.
“It meant we’d have to stop everything we were doing and leave our two older daughters in Israel,” she said. “But we decided we were willing to pay the price because we see it as a very important mission to connect American Jewry to Israel, mainly through teaching Hebrew and different aspects of Israeli culture — songs, games, food and more.
“We consulted our daughters, and they all agreed to give up on things for us to be able to come. We believe that everyone comes to this world for a reason, and we try doing what we can to do our share.”
Yossi Ben Harush, a teacher emissary at SAR Academy in Riverdale, said being an emissary on behalf of Israel “extends far beyond the classroom into the hallways, the streets, and when I’m traveling or just meeting others for coffee. The chance to build a bond between myself as an Israeli teacher and my American students based on Hebrew language and our common Jewish history is a deeply emotional experience.”
Gael Grunewald, vice chairman and head of education at the WZO, reminded the conference participants of the positive impact they can make in the Diaspora and how they, in turn, can be affected by their diaspora experience.
“Your role is critical to shaping the Jewish future of the next generations and ensuring that our values and ethics remain strong even in a world which sometimes tries to forget what they mean to our people and religion,” Mr. Grunewald said.
“Along with teaching the next generation of Diaspora Jews about Israel, Israel has much to learn from the Diaspora about how Jews of all different backgrounds and levels of observance can live in harmony and unity.”
Over the course of the three-day conference, delegates chose from a wide variety of sessions aimed at strengthening the bonds between Israel and Diaspora communities, based on ideals of Jewish education and pro-Israel activism.
One full day was devoted to seminars off site; participants were given the option of going to Yeshiva University, which is Orthodox, or to the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is Conservative. Both are in northern Manhattan.
One focus of the event was presenting creative ideas for educational and cultural programming in celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary in the spring.
“As we approach the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence, our goal is to ensure that the achievements of Israel are celebrated equally throughout our Diaspora communities and they truly feel a part of this modern miracle of the Jewish people,”
Mr. Grunewald said.