New Jersey has ample water – especially this year, when heavy rains have caused severe flooding. Israel, on the other hand, has suffered from a chronic water shortage for years.
In July, two educators – Jill Grunewald, enrichment teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, and Tal Glat, a fifth-grade teacher from Nahariya – found ways to bring this point home to their students.
As participants in the Teachable Moments program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey – part of its Partnership2Gether initiative – the teachers created a curriculum they now both use.
Phyllis Miller, Partnership2Gether education task force coordinator, said each year the Teachable Moments program pairs 10 sets of teachers, half from northern New Jersey, half from Nahariya. The educators come together in July to develop a joint project.
“They tour Israel, and everyplace they go they find teachable moments,” she said. “The idea is for both the teachers and their classes to cooperate during the [school] year.”
After working with their counterparts for two years, the New Jersey educators may return to Israel to teach the classes they twin with. “It’s amazing [for them] to see the schools in session,” said Miller. “They meet the teachers and principals and see bulletin boards of projects from New Jersey hanging in Nahariya.”
So far, at least 20 local teachers have participated in the project, said Miller. The teachers hail from 11 towns “from Fort Lee to Oakland.”
Grunewald said she heard about the program from teachers who participated and said it was “wonderful. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with teachers who are excited about a concept,” she said.
When she met her Israeli counterpart, “I told her about the wetlands in New Jersey and that I was working on conservation, a little bit in every grade. She pointed out that there’s so much about water in the Mishnah and Torah. It just seemed a perfect thing.”
“We have too much water, they have too little,” she said. “We started talking about it and got excited.”
Grunewald said she has introduced Schechter students in grades 1 through 6 to programs sponsored by Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) and Project Wild, two federal environmental education initiatives.
She also took students on a tour of New Jersey wetlands last year, during which they explored different-sized sponges, observing their effects on the water. While she is pleased that Israeli children will learn more about New Jersey, she said, she also wants her students to learn more about the Kinneret, the Jordan, and the Dead Sea.
Grunewald said she and Glat decided to launch their joint activities in conjunction with Jewish holidays.
For Rosh Hashanah, students exchanged hand-made greeting cards with an Israeli “twin,” including written introductions describing themselves, their families, and information on how they celebrate the holiday.
For Sukkot, both teachers will provide an overview of the two countries. At Chanukah time, students will start to map and compare rainfall and temperature.
“It’s not just about math,” said Grunewald, “but about relationship-
Not only will the joint projects “link science, geography, Hebrew, Judaics, writing, and real connections, but at the end, [students will] see how similar New Jersey and Israel are, in size, for example. But they’ll see that the water [situation] is different.”
Grunewald said she and Glat e-mail each other “sometimes three or four times a week. We compare notes on what we’re implementing.”