Some 250 educators from all over the US gathered in Las Vegas this past week for iCamp, a conference dedicated entirely to promoting Israel education.
The conference, hosted by iCenter for Israel Education, a US hub and catalyst for advancing Israel education, aimed to teach educators new approaches and skills to impart to youth in order to facilitate deeper personal and authentic connections to Israel.
“At iCamp, and in everything the iCenter does, we focus on the student in the learning experience. We show educators the many ways that they can help learners develop deep and personal relationships with Israel and Israelis,” Anne Lanski, executive director of the iCenter recently told The Jerusalem Post.
The three-day conference included sessions with a focus on “understanding Israel through physical, emotional, and intellectual experiences,” explained Lanski.
“We want to help educators tap into the passions and interests of their students, and use those interests to connect with Israel in really meaningful ways. If we want Jewish youth and young adults to feel a connection to the country, they have to be in relationship with Israel and Israelis,” she said.
“The more that American youth meet Israelis face-to-face, and the more they see all aspects of Israel- culture, science, politics, history, etc., the better. It’s through people and first-hand experience that real connections develop,” she added.
One highlight at the conference was a multimedia presentation called Sipur Yisraeli (Israeli Story), with live-action, video, music, highlighting the variety of people that live on streets named after Herzl.
Other sessions focused on how to create an exciting learning environment, the art of imagination and risk-taking, how to explore Jewish texts and relate them to the land, the people and the State of Israel.
In addition, iCamp introduced educators to the second edition of the Aleph-Bet of Israel Education – a collection of 12 guiding educational principles, such as “Israel as a Cornerstone of Jewish Identities,” “A Learner-Centered Approach,” “Eretz, Medina, Am Yisrael,” “Modern Hebrew,” and “Israeli Arts and Culture.” Participants in the conference also had the opportunity to learn with the authors, American educationists Parker Palmer and Lee Shulman.
“We never tell educators what to teach. They know their learners and their surroundings best. iCamp and other iCenter resources are rich in content, while offering many different tools and approaches to be great Jewish educators,” said Lanski.
Dr. Barry Chazan, a pioneer in the field of Israel education, professor of education and founding director of the masters in arts for Jewish Professional Studies at Spertus Institute, said that, “the premise of iCamp can be summed up in one word: relationships.”
“Whether it’s the relationship between educators and learners, educators and Israel, learners and Israel, educators to one another, and the educators with themselves, good education requires deep, authentic, personal relationships.
iCamp moves us further in this direction, building these relationships and helping educators understand how these relationships are so critical to effective Israel education,” he said.
The diversity of iCamp’s participants – leaders from synagogues, day schools, camps, youth movements, college campuses, JCCs, Federations, and more – underscored this sentiment.
“Amid all the talk of Israel being a divider in communities, at iCamp, excellent education and Israel unify participants,” said Lanski. “Jews from different backgrounds who work in so many settings come together to learn how to be better educators and how to make Israel a part of their educational activities.”
“We are committed to advancing the field even more, to sharing our resources and approaches, and to hammering the point: it’s all about facilitating relationships with Israel and Israelis,” she said.