When six educators from Nahariya came to town last week – teaching lessons about Chanukah (and, in two cases, math and geography) in each of six Bergen County day schools and 10 congregational schools – they shared their excitement and special skills with more than a thousand students.
Local educators were equally inspired, said Pamela Ennis, education coordinator of Partnership 2000 for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The project’s twinning program connects local Jewish schools with their counterparts in Nahariya.
“Our schools are just grateful that the program exists,” said Ennis. “The feedback has been unbelievable, especially from congregational schools. It’s a way to tie their students to modern Israel. ”
Through educational collaborations such as letter, project, and bulletin board exchanges, Web-conferencing, and blogging, the five-year-old program has “made Israel relevant, real, and exciting for our students in a way that movies, stories, or books never could.”
A typical year for the program includes three exchanges, said Ennis, with educators from Nahariya coming here in the fall and northern New Jersey teachers visiting Israeli schools in the spring. The Israel Teachable Moments program – which brings 10 local educators to Israel during the summer – creates close relationships between teachers and “gives all the teachers a knowledge base [enabling them] to see things in Israel through educational eyes.”
Ennis paraphrased a local congregational principal, who told her that “kids generally think of Israel as Abraham and camels, or as a place where war happens. This kind of connection, getting to know and see kids the same ages, shows them a modern, thriving community. It helps them attach to Israel.”
In addition to teaching, the six Israeli teachers and principals who came to Bergen County Dec. 3 to 10 joined northern New Jersey educators at a professional development program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Led by community shaliach Stuart Levy, the morning focused on interpreting the relationship between Israel and world Jewish communities. Local families provided home hospitality for the Israelis on Shabbat.
Ennis said the week’s activities – which included a tour of local synagogues and culminated in a reception for all Partnership educators at the home of Glen Rock Jewish Center Principal Rachel Blumenstyk – included two videoconferences, one at Englewood’s Moriah School and one at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. The conferences, linking Israeli and American schools in a joint Chanukah celebration, reflect the increased use of technology in the program, she said.
Robin Wexler, associate principal at Moriah, called the videoconference based at that school a “trivia, math, Chanukah celebration – unbelievably exciting.” She pointed out that Israeli students returned to their school at 5 p.m., their time, to participate in the event.
Ennis said that, for the first time, the visiting Israeli educators also participated in Super Sunday, making phone calls to local Israelis. “It was an experiment and it was very successful,” said Ennis. “It helped the Israeli teachers gain an understanding of what we do to raise money for these programs, and it made them feel connected to the community.”
According to Wexler, her students had so much fun in the classes led by the Israeli teachers, “they didn’t realize they were learning.”
She said that Efrat Saar, a fourth-grade teacher at Nahariya’s Rambam School, taught a Moriah math class and, later, led a professional development session for teachers on methodology in math education.
Polling her students afterward, Wexler received comments such as, “I thought that we were just playing a game. I didn’t realize that what Morah Efrat was working on was really math.” Said another student, after a videoconference, “I loved that we could talk to the children in Nahariya and work on the same activities. It was way better learning together than just being in class.”
In addition, said Wexler, who participated in the Israel Teachable Moments program this summer, one of her teachers – who attended Saar’s staff development workshop – wrote later that “it was fantastic being able to see the way math is taught in Israel, and the excitement on all of the teachers’ faces being able to bring this directly back to our kids.”
Wexler said Moriah has been making good use of its videoconferencing equipment, allowing her students to take part in Hebrew language lessons in Israel with a teacher who had worked for four years at the Englewood school.
“We use the equipment every day,” she said. “Technology is taking off in leaps and bounds. It broadens the expanse of our students’ education.”
Wexler is also working with teachers in Nahariya to create problem-solving math activities for the two schools.
“We send solutions back and forth,” she said.
She noted that when Saar taught the fourth-grade class at Moriah, she brought with her a scrapbook of math games in Hebrew and English, prepared in Israel.
“As our kids get new skills, they’ll be able to play the games,” said Wexler. In addition, she noted, the Moriah and Rambam schools will start teleconferencing chess games. She said that Saar, who brought the school “a beautiful marble chess set” from Israel, played a game with the Englewood chess club.
Wexler said that during their visit, the Israeli teachers also watched Moriah students present a Chumash play in Hebrew and were given student projects to bring back to Israeli third- and fourth-graders.
“We’re hoping to continue the partnership,” she said. “I love the interdisciplinary nature” of the program, integrating “different subjects and different media, in both Judaic and secular studies.”
“Obviously, attempting to create and foster meaningful bonds between people who live 6,000 miles apart is no easy task,” reads UJA-NNJ publicity for the P2K program. “However, with five years of experience under our belts, we are now able to report that it is possible, and when it works, the results are striking.”