Monthly News from JNF’s Advocacy & Education Department
The Israel Advocacy & Education Department at Jewish National Fund-USA wishes you a Happy Summer! Wherever you are, we hope you find some time to relax near a refreshing body of water, maybe in Israel. Speaking of water and Israel, did you know JNF-USA offers lesson plans based on water solutions and technology in Israel on the Ask Herzl Database for Educators? The STEM-based lessons are geared for students ages 8-16 - try adding this to your Israel education and let us know how it went. Take some pictures and share with us!
As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions you may have for us at [email protected].
The Israel Advocacy & Education Team
"Sometimes the Reward is Extra Nice"
By Rick Abrams, Israel Programs Admissions Director, NJ & Eastern PA
The end of the Israelites’ journey is near. The tumultuous book of B’midbar/Numbers is now two weeks in our rear view and it’s time to hear Moses’ long “second telling of the laws/story”. That is the what the word “Deuteronomy” means: Deuter / second, Nomy / law. And it’s all from Moses’ perspective.
While the first parashah of this final book of Torah is relatively short (a little more than two chapters) this week’s parashat V’Etchanan is not, and it begins with pleading:
וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל־יְהוָה בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר׃
I pleaded with The Eternal at that time, saying,
אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת־עַבְדְּךָ אֶת־גָּדְלְךָ וְאֶת־יָדְךָ הַחֲזָקָה אֲשֶׁר מִי־אֵל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה כְמַעֲשֶׂיךָ וְכִגְבוּרֹתֶךָ׃
“O Lord GOD, You who let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness and Your mighty hand, You whose powerful deeds no god in heaven or on earth can equal!
אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנוֹן׃
Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.”
Funny, but I don’t remember Moses pleading his fate with God back when he learned he wouldn’t be crossing the Jordan. However, these are the words that Moses uses to revisit that scene.
Later in this parashah, two wonderful and important texts appear: First, the second telling of the aseret ha-dibrot/10 utterances (commandments) that were first given to the Israelites back in Exodus; and the second, is the five verses of the Shema.
On the theme of the “words that Moses uses” in Deuteronomy, there is something curious that occurs in this version of the 10 commandments. No worries though: In this retelling, there are still 10 Commandments. Let’s see just how’re they’re different.
The largest variance is in the fourth commandment, about Shabbat. In the Exodus version: “Remember the Sabbath day” is written. However here in Deuteronomy, its “guard/keep the Sabbath Day.” Besides giving the Kabbalistic Poet Shlomo HaLevi his first verse of Lecha Dodi, (Shamor v’Zachor b’dibur echad!/”Keep” and “Remember” are as one), and one reason we light two shabbat candles Friday evening, this slight change points to Moses restating the law in his own way.
So it’s refreshing to note that the words for the fifth commandment have only slight changes:
כַּבֵּד אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיכֻן יָמֶיךָ וּלְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ עַל הָאֲדָמָה
אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ׃
Honor your father and your mother, as The Eternal your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that The Eternal your God is assigning to you.
What I love most about this commandment (in both the Exodus and Deuteronomy texts) is the fact that this and only this commandment has a direct reward attached to it. And this reward has benefits for now and in the future.
The Italian Commentator Sforno, referencing the Talmud, lays this out perfectly:
“That you may long endure” even in this life already. As our sages said (Talmud, Peyah 1,1) that “there are commandments for the fulfillment of which one ‘eats’ the dividends in this life, whereas the principal is reserved for use in the world to come." Honoring father and mother is one of those commandments."
When we honor and respect our parents in this life, and we receive the blessing from The Eternal to live on “the land the God has assigned to us” for a long time.
It makes me happy to know that that Theodor Herzl and his friends from the World Zionist Congress seem to have known this commandment as well. (And, that they were probably good to their parents). When they created the Jewish National Fund, they understood what land God was referring to back in Exodus and Deuteronomy in the 10 Commandments.
So, even though Mother’s Day and Father’s days have passed, it’s never too late to honor your parents, and the dream of your parents. This way you can help us continue to bring God’s reward to life, as we take care, watch over, and enrich the land and people of Israel, for a very long time, as it says two times in our Torah.
Three Florida Jewish Educators Reflect on Educating During Covid and How They are #Winning
Written by Yael Brenner, Stacey David, Sharon Solomon
It’s Sunday morning! Mordechai, our Israel educator, pulls up in his big Zoom tour bus, live from Israel. When the first class ended, David Kessler, a high school senior from New Jersey remarked, “I learned more in one morning with Mordechai than I did all of last year in public school.”
Shortly after the pandemic hit, our proud team of directors from four synagogue schools came together in the spirit of collaboration to create meaningful Jewish experiences for our teens: Congregation Ohr Shalom, Summit, NJ; Temple Beth Shalom, Livingston, NJ; Temple Beth Sholom, Roslyn, NY; and United Synagogue of Hoboken, NJ. We soon realized how much we all could benefit from coordinating our efforts and aligning financial resources.
A centerpiece of all our schools is Israel education, so Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) became a natural partner for the team. We decided at the outset of our collaboration that we wanted to not only present facts and information but delve deeper into what makes Israel tick, what makes it so important and unique. We wanted to empower our students to become active partners in their own education by linking the stories learned to their own personal history and Jewish identity. As the relationship between Israel and the Jewish diaspora evolves, and as young Jews in particular drift away from our shared history, Israel education has become more vital than ever.
Our Israel Education project has three main goals: 1) Connect Jewish teens to the State of Israel in genuine, nuanced, and meaningful ways; 2) Utilize techniques of experiential education successful in camps and Israel programs in a synagogue school setting; and 3) Carve out a common virtual space for our teens.
To accomplish these three objectives, we needed an educator who could serve as a dugma eesheet (a personal example) for our students. Our Israel educator would have to radiate enthusiasm and organically captivate teens when it came to learning about the Jewish State. We wanted our learners to feel – through both the head and the heart – a personal investment towards Israel.
Put simply, education is best shared through passion. In Mordechai, we found an ideal partner for the job. We found someone who not only emanated love and enthusiasm for the material but had a tangible connection to Israel as well. This connectivity and personal investment was immediately evident in Mordechai's lessons. Perhaps most importantly, Mordechai was able to translate a sense of Israeli pride to our students. This concept is at the core of good education, being inspired and inspiring others.
Right away, our teens were hooked. “I can’t believe how into that spy class both of my boys were,” a mother from Congregation Ohr Shalom remarked. “The kids fought each other to tell us the stories!” With topics ranging from the history of “Israeli Spies”, “The Great and Complicated Heroes of Israel”, and deep dives into Israeli music, culture and holidays, each session brought creative, collaborative elements to the screen.
Take a glimpse into one of Mordechai’s magical sessions: The Israeli elections are two days away. Mordechai shows the students an image of an Israeli voting booth. He asks the group, “What is different about this voting booth?” One teen answers, “It’s in Hebrew”. Another, “It’s not touch screen, it’s all paper ballots.” Mordechai explains that the Israeli voting booths are just like 70 years ago, still the paper system! He tells the learners, “Anyone can start a political party and run. We sometimes have 50 parties running!” Mordechai then teaches students the significance of 120 members of Knesset, taking them back to the days of the Great Assembly. Finally, he leads them inside the Knesset building where the seats in the main chamber floor are shaped like a Menorah, “Can you see the design? Why is it shaped like a Menorah?” The fascinated teens eagerly discuss.
Not surprisingly, Mordechai’s weekly classes have captivated not only our students, but our educators as well. “Mordechai has inspired both teachers and teens to view Israel as part of “their” complex history and responsibility,” says Grace Gurman Chan, Education Director at United Synagogue of Hoboken, New Jersey “We are each an integral part of the ever-evolving story of Jewish history, and it's vital that we do not study through the lens of an outsider, but from the center of things.” Educators from all four schools have woven aspects of the sessions into their own classes.
While this past year has been one of upheaval and reconfiguration for Jewish education programs, the pandemic also served to accentuate our specific educational needs. For too long, many schools have had neither the resources nor personnel necessary to build programs that foster a sense of Jewish identity and pride. By utilizing modern technology and bringing our schools together in innovative ways, we have learned that these obstacles need not be insurmountable. “The Jewish National Fund-USA’s virtual touring program began very soon after the pandemic closed the doors to many of our institutions. What Stacey, Sharon, as well as other cutting-edge educators suggested to us was groundbreaking,” remarks Richard Abrams, M.A.J.E., Israel Programs Admissions Director, NJ and Eastern PA. “Working with the gifted and enthusiastic educator, Mordechai Cohen, has been the metaphoric cherry on top!”
The manner by which we’ve brought Israel education to dozens of Jewish teens during the pandemic is replicable for congregational schools across the country. Our secret ingredient was our educator and partnership with AMHSI-JNF, as well as our refusal to shy away from important and even controversial topics regarding Israeli politics, history, society and people. Ultimately, it’s our hope that through partnerships such as the one built with AMHSI-JNF, our teens will merge their lives with our shared Jewish history, and in doing so, refine their worldview through a new lens, a personal Jewish lens.
Mordechai summed it up best. On the last Sunday morning of our series, “The Great and Complicated Heroes”, Mordechai told the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, “Oyneg Shabbes”. This group collected as many diverse materials as possible on Jewish life in the ghetto. Ringelblum and his collaborators met secretly on Shabbat. They realized how important it was to write their own history rather than let the Nazis do so. They reached out to ordinary people in the ghetto. They handed out notebooks to Jews and encouraged them to record their daily experiences. Ordinary people were trained, rather than professional historians, and they became ‘an army of collectors’ - sources of history which would be passed onto future generations. Mordechai reminded us that we need to “write our own history and our own memories.” Every Sunday morning, he empowered our teens to see themselves as the future of the Jewish people and writers of Jewish history.
Alexander Muss High School in Israel – Student Spotlight
Hi!! My name is Barri and I am from Atlanta, Georgia.
My parents both went on AMHSI when they were in high school (their first date was actually at dinner before an HSI reunion!), and my great-aunt was even a Director of Admissions for AMHSI. So, needless to say, my family was beyond excited for me to begin my own HSI journey.
In the past 10 days that I have been here, High School in Israel has surpassed every expectation I have had for my time here. I already know that the people I have met here - other Jewish American teens - will be my lifelong friends. Yesterday, we went to the Kotel for the first time together this summer. Crying and laughing, hugging, and celebrating together was a memory that I know I will never forget. My classes have taught me so much and allowed me to relearn Judaic stories in an entirely new perspective. I am so excited to see what else my AMHSI journey will bring in the coming weeks.
Foundations 2, Summer 2021
Do you know a student like Barri who would love to spend time in Israel during high school? Your referrals mean to much and help us keep our program full of amazing students!
Nominate a Student Leader!
Many schools and universities are going back to campus this fall and Jewish National Fund‑USA is looking for student leaders to take on Fellowship roles in their communities. Do you know a high school or college student who would make a great student leader by helping JNF bring Positively Israel programming to their community? If so, we would love to have you nominate them! Please complete this short form to nominate your student leader today!
Know a Teen Who Wants to Travel to Israel?
Tell them about Dream Israel! The Dream Israel Teen Travel Initiative makes grants of up to $7,500 available through qualified trip providers. Teens can study abroad in Israel while fundraising for a JNF-USA project of their choice, so they become more connected to the land and people of Israel while learning to give back.