Jewish National Fund Brings Israel Education to Life on a Special Tour for American Teachers
For 117 years, Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF) has been a staple of Israel education in America. From the iconic Blue Box and planting trees in honor of loved ones, to the historic posters on the wall of Hebrew school classrooms alongside photos of Theodore Herzl, father of Modern Zionism, JNF has been intertwined and interwoven with the history of the land of Israel. However, for the 34 Jewish educators, teachers, and administrators on the recent Jewish National Fund-USA Educators Tour of Israel, the lessons and values of JNF today are more relevant to Israel’s future than its past.
Standing on a grassy campus, between the dorms and cafeteria, these educators could have been on any regular college campus. However, they were visiting Alexander Muss High School in Israel, a premier educational institution of Jewish National Fund, which not only makes history come alive, but challenges the status quo on Israel education. The students are taught “in a context that is both meaningful for them, and relevant, but tied into the bigger issue,” said Keith Dvorchik, CEO of the Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando, after sitting in on one lesson of the students’ Israel Studies curriculum. “It’s understanding how critical our connection is to Israel, as Jews. When you are here, you are home.”
Joining hundreds of other educators from Israel and around the world at the KKL-JNF World Education Conference, the JNF-USA delegation quickly learned that JNF’s educational programs permeate Jewish learning at all ages -- both formally and informally. “JNF walks between the two worlds of America and Israel, and brings the two together,” said Stacy David, Education Director of Congregation Ohr Shalom-Summit JCC in New Jersey, who sits on many different educational boards, including the Jewish Educators Assembly and the Principal’s Council in the Metrowest Jewish Federation. “We’re learning together and seeing things on the road. It’s that combination and flow that makes this trip.” And indeed, seeing is believing as the educators were able to discover a side of Israel that will only enhance their ability to make Israel come alive for their students.
Over the week, the group experienced just how far JNF has come beyond the trees and Blue Boxes that were once a staple in their educational programs. The lessons and values of JNF’s various partners in Israel, which span from tree-planting in the Yatir Forest to visiting the Be’er Sheva amphitheater to the Wadi Attir sustainable farm and Bedouin community, transcend the projects themselves, and present teachable moments for students that can be incorporated into lessons at any age level. Following a very moving ceremony with JNF partner Special in Uniform which helps people with special needs serve in the military, Lori Fein, a religious school administrator and teacher from Temple Beth Ami in Maryland, saw new opportunities for bringing the values of Judaism and Israel into her classroom. “Our school is inclusive, and we showed the kids a video of the program, and had them write letters to Special in Uniform soldiers,” said Fein, “Having actually seen how this has helped the soldiers’ lives, tells the kids that we all want to treat each other with respect and value them as individuals. These are the practices we want to see in our school and for our students to carry in their lives.”
For seven of the teachers, this was their first time in Israel though they have been teaching Israel and Jewish education for many years. Experiential learning, from the perspective of JNF, opens up a world of new opportunities for bridging the connection and impact of Israel in the lives of American Jews. “We have educational programs for every grade level for them to connect with,” explained Anne Greenspoon, JNF Director of Community Engagement, “The impact of the JNF Israel Continuum is created by pulling kids and families in when they are young, and continually connecting with them as they grow up.”
With its long-standing commitment to suppor the land and people of Israel, Jewish National Fund-USA has become more than just a history lesson for these teachers. The values that were experienced exemplified the ongoing legacy that Jewish National Fund offers Jewish communities across the country, securing the next generation of advocates for Israel.