Two local schools in projects with UJA-NNJ sister city

Two local schools in projects with UJA-NNJ sister city

An online forum called a “wiki” is connecting kids from an Orthodox coed high school in Paramus and a secular coed high school in Israel’s northern coastal city of Nahariya.

The wiki (from a Hawaiian word for “quick”) is a simple, user-friendly way for students and teachers at the Frisch and Amal schools to share photos, documents, and videos on their own password-protected Web pages.

Frisch’s director of educational technology spent a day in Israel just before Rosh HaShanah, setting up Amal ninth-graders on the Frisch School’s wiki, launched with great success last year as an in-house complement to Frisch’s integrated curriculum program.

“Through the wiki, our ninth-grade students and their classmates in Nahariya will literally be able to be on the same page across the globe,” said Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, who also trained Amal’s teachers on the educational uses of wiki technology. “We are literally tearing down the walls of the classroom.”

An Amal School student adds his comments to a discussion on the Frisch wiki.

The wiki is the latest aspect of Frisch’s association with Nahariya high schools, begun five years ago as part of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Partnership 2000 Program, which footed the bill for Pittinsky’s trip. Coordinated at Frisch by Hebrew language department chair Barbara Gononsky, the effort aims to foster a closer diaspora-Israel relationship.

Mercedes Haddad, educational coordinator for the North Jersey-Nahariya partnership, said all of Nahariya’s 13 schools are involved in projects with day and supplementary schools in North Jersey. Twice a year, small groups of teachers and principals from both sides meet in person to share ideas and feedback.

Haddad’s own 11th-graders at a state religious high school have been discussing modern Hebrew poetry with Gononsky’s juniors for the past four years. Kids in all the Nahariya elementary schools sent Rosh HaShanah greeting cards to their New Jersey peers recently and will communicate again before Chanukah, she said.

“In Nahariya, we now know about other Jewish communities and religious streams,” said Haddad. “We think our students are more aware. In the beginning, even our teachers weren’t familiar with people in the diaspora. Being aware of the mutuality and how we depend on each other is a great advantage. But the wiki is something very unique and innovative.”

After listening to and analyzing the Israeli song “Every Year Begins With a Question Mark,” Frisch and Amal students began a wiki-based discussion sharing their questions and thoughts about the new Jewish year.

Tzadok Gamliel, the Amal teacher working directly with Frisch, said his students enjoy their Hebrew-language give-and-take with the American kids.

“The whole goal is to make a connection,” he said. “We are a small nation and it’s so important that we keep in touch with Jews in the United States to know what they are doing, what they like and don’t like, and that they learn the same about us.”

The project ties into Frisch’s discipline-wide integrated theme for this year, which explores Jewish identity – specifically, the various aspects of “modern Orthodoxy,” including its emphasis on religious Zionism.

This philosophy, said English department chair Tikvah Wiener, posits that while the State of Israel is “the beginning of flowering of the redemption” in a religious sense, honor is due to the non-religious – and sometimes anti-religious – Jews who founded the state.

“What better way to show that than creating a dialogue with a school where most of the staff and students are secular – connecting with those who are not the same as us?” she asked.

And yet there are many similarities, she noted. “One Israeli student wrote that one of his ‘question marks’ is whether [kidnapped Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit will come home. That’s wonderful for our kids to see – it engenders a tremendous sense of ‘we’re in this together’ on many levels.”

Later this year, Wiener plans to expand the wiki project to Frisch 10th-graders and their counterparts at a school in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.

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