How do you incorporate Jewish identity and Israeli life issues into the curriculum of Israeli and Los Angeles day schools?
Some two-dozen teachers from Los Angeles schools joined 40 from Tel Aviv schools in Israel recently to provide practical solutions to these issues at the second annual Educators' Seminar. Part of the twinning program of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership,Â the weeklong seminarÂ -- whose theme was "Homeland" -- helped bring together the curriculum of two far-apart cities.
"How do you translate the partnership into schoolwide practice?" one Israeli presenter asked.
Los Angeles schools have done this by formally incorporating Israel studies into the program. At Milken Community High School, for example, learning about Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) has been incorporated into the school's mission statement, and a class called "Understanding Contemporary Israel" will become mandatory for seniors next year. With Israel's state of national, economic and political unrest, primarily caused by the intifada, the annual seminars (sponsored by The Federation and the Jewish Agency's Joint Program for Jewish Education, the Tel Aviv Board of Education and Israel's Ministry of Education and Culture) serve to strengthen ties between students who undergo very different life experiences. And with travel to Israel effectively wiping out student exchanges, making these life experiences understandable to the students takes on critical necessity.
"Our children feel an emotional connection with Israel," explained Val Goldstein, a teacher at Pressman Academy, "and that's been increased because of partnership, because they have contact with real kids their age, whose pictures they see and whom they even meet."Â
At Tel Aviv's Ironi-Tet school, for example, Young Diplomats, a volunteer group, communicates via e-mail with peers at its Los Angeles twin, the New Community JewishÂ High School. Other schools have arranged regular e-mail correspondence between students in both English and Hebrew.Â
"They'll give us Israel, and we'll give them Judaism text, ritual and tikkun olam," said Judy Taff, Judaica director at the Heschel School in Northridge.
While schools here incorporate Israel studies and Hebrew lessons into their programs, in Tel Aviv -- where there is often an innate hostility to anything religious -- many schools in the program now include Jewish culture and religious concepts in theirÂ studies. For example, in the Nitzanim elementary school in upscale, secular Ramat Aviv, the teaching of holidays has now been anchored in rabbinic texts. The school has also developed a joint program with the Beit Daniel Reform synagogue for holiday celebrations and b'nai mitzvah, and some teachers have begun taking classes in Judaism.
By learning about religion in America, the Israelis can begin to understand the differences in culture between their schools -- all public and mostly secular -- and the Los Angeles schools, all of which -- except for Calabasas High School -- are private schools that, whether Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or community-oriented, are based on a connection to Jewish religion.
The twinning program has attracted other Tel Aviv schools wanting to join the partnership, and they are waiting for Los Angeles schools to twin with, said Gila ben Har, Tel Aviv's director of education, culture and sports. "We want to go deeper and deeper," she said, suggesting expansion of the program to science, math and kindergarten teachers, as well as sports teams.
Making the connections between twinned schools, has reverberated outside the educational circle.
"The partnership first targets students," explained David Ackerman, director of educational services at the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, "but the impact on parents and teachers has also been profound." That's important, he added, because "a teacher touches hundreds of others."