|Fourth-grade students from The Moriah School joined with fourth-graders from Nahariya, Israel, through a videoconference on Tuesday. Josh Lipowsky|
Fourth-graders from The Moriah School and the Rambam School concluded their joint class on Tuesday by singing. Throughout the lesson the children laughed, applauded, and waved at each other, seemingly forgetting that they were separated by thousands of miles.
Videoconferencing equipment connected the Moriah students in Englewood to an immigrant absorption center in Nahariya, Israel, where the Rambam School had gathered its students for the joint session. The event grew out of the Partnership 2000 program, which links the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey to the northern Israeli city, and marked a major step in bonding children from the two schools. Moriah’s principal, Elliot Prager, praised the success of the program and hoped more conferences would follow.
“This is a first,” Prager said, “and promises not only to be exciting and motivating, but also an important step toward a whole new level of Hebrew instruction and interaction between the Moriah students and their Israeli peers.”
The 45-minute session focused on Purim and midot, positive traits. Students took turns asking their foreign counterparts questions and applauding when answered.
Moriah’s lower school associate principal, Odelia Danishefsky, joined other area educators this week for a mission to Nahariya, organized by UJA-NNJ. She helped coordinate the Rambam students and, during a telephone call after the lesson, she said one of the Israeli teachers was crying because she was so moved by the experience.
Carmi Shilwan, Moriah’s fourth-grade Hebrew immersion teacher and a Jewish Agency emissary, led the lesson on Moriah’s side. Shilwan had planned the lesson last month with a teacher from Rambam and he said part of its goal was to demonstrate the Moriah students’ familiarity with the Jewish state and to help the students bond.
“We wanted to show the children in Nahariya that many of our kids had been to Israel and were not strangers to Israel,” he said after the lesson.
Weeks beforehand, the students created “identity cards” to introduce themselves to their counterparts. While all Israelis hold identity cards, this was a new experience for the Moriah students, Shilwan said.
“It connects you with being part of one Jewish people,” he added.
Most of the session took place in Hebrew, which delighted Moriah’s faculty.
“Hebrew is one of the keys to understanding and being part of a Jewish community around the world,” said Stuart Levy, director of UJA-NNJ’s Israel Programs Center, who helped coordinate the morning. “Even we were surprised at how well the children held their own conversing in Hebrew.”
“It was thrilling for us to see our own children expressing themselves in Hebrew,” Shilwan added.
After Moriah kindergarten teacher Wendy Nachum visited Nahariya in 2005 as part of the first UJA-NNJ teachers’ delegation, the school began looking for ways to link the students, according to Prager. They began pen-pal and other programs that kept the initiative alive, but they were never able to bring the students together. Last year, the school received new videoconferencing equipment through the New York-based Gruss Foundation, which provides program funding for Jewish day schools in the metropolitan area, and Yeshiva University.
When it came time for Moriah’s faculty to discuss new programs with the Rambam School, Prager suggested they take advantage of the new equipment. After Tuesday’s experience, he said he looked forward to repeating the program.
“The issue is not will we, the issue is how soon will we be able to do this again,” Prager said. “You lose all sight of the fact these kids are sitting 7,000 miles away.”