Navigating a hybrid identity

Veteran educators discuss how they helped change Israel’s school system from the inside out

December 7, 2017 02:16
2 minute read.
DR. MICHAEL GILLIS speaks as (from right) Dr. Beverly Gribetz, Hannah Schwartz and Rabbi Meir Ekstei

DR. MICHAEL GILLIS speaks as (from right) Dr. Beverly Gribetz, Hannah Schwartz and Rabbi Meir Ekstein listen during Monday evening’s NBN event at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. . (photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)


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“When I hear the word hybrid I think of my son who is at the Hartman institute studying for a year and his nickname is ‘the hybrid,’ because he clearly crosses that bridge and that’s really what we’re about,” revealed Hannah Schwartz, the cofounder of the Frankel School in Ra’anana.

Her son – and her family – represented the overarching theme of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s first seminar on education which took place at Hebrew University Monday night.

In a seminar called, Olim Engage Israel, professional career educators hailing from Latin and North America revealed their deepest struggles acclimating to the school system both professionally and personally and what they did to overcome them.

“What prompts educators to not just integrate into the system, but bring about seismic positive change as well?” Dr. Adina Schwartz, Nefesh B’Nefesh manager of education and research, asked rhetorically during the talk that was launched in partnership with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

For Schwartz, she found it untenable that as her daughter was about to enter in elementary school, she had two choices: Enroll in a religious education or secular education.

“That can’t be. Judaism is supposed to be diverse,” she recalled saying to her husband at the time. “I could not accept having to choose.”

That sentiment was echoed by Nicole Hod, an immigrant from Colombia, who choose to enroll her daughter in the same school for that exact reason.

Thus, her and a group of families in Ra’anana banded together to create a system that worked for them.

The city municipality allowed them to have a track within an existing school, and within five years her school consisted of 50% of the population.

Schwartz is proud not only of providing the city with a pluralistic school system, but also for exporting the American mentality that a school should be more than a building set to educate students, but a linchpin binding a community together.

“As an American, who is accustomed to a school being a center of the community, that is a foreign concept for Israelis. We wanted to create an environment that catered to children’s needs but was also a support mechanism for the community - not just for olim, but Israelis too,” she said.

For Beverly Gribetz, the principal of the Evelina de Rothschild-Tehila Religious School in Jerusalem, she was instrumental in introducing pluralism into the city’s education system.

“I came from a world where girls learned Talmud. In 1977 there was no such thing as a lady Talmud teacher,” she said of the period when she first made aliya. “I’m glad to see this has changed and it seems ridiculous that parents screamed and didn’t let their children study with me.”

“The identity that we brought from the US, and was adopted in Jerusalem in particular, I think that’s something very positive,” she said. “Pluralism is necessary. We should be able to focus on similarities and not differences.”

Schwartz added: “I believe in children, education and that people are stronger when they are united. that is the message we send our children and staff.”

This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.

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