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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A new player officially entered the Jewish education arena on Sunday as Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish People, celebrated the official opening of its International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies.
"The vision of the school is to nurture a connection and a commitment of the young generation to its people, and to create a common foundation for a vibrant Jewish people," school director Shlomi Ravid, who has run the school since its inception six months ago, told attendees.
The question of peoplehood - the principle that binds Jews from distant lands and often incongruent cultures - has become central for many in the Jewish world concerned over the growing gap between the two largest Jewish communities - Israel and American Jewry - which together comprise some 80 percent of the world's Jews.
Much of the funding for the school came from Russian-Israeli businessman Leonid Nevzlin, who told The Jerusalem Post he saw his $2 million donation as "my contribution to Jewish peoplehood and excellence."
His philanthropic efforts, he said, focused on Jewish education "because if people are educated, if they study the humanities, then they want to live in democracy and freedom."
Beth Hatefutsoth director-general Hasia Israeli told the Post last week that the school reflected the museum's mission of becoming "a world center for Jewish peoplehood, advancing the pride of belonging."
The school has already provided training to 1,200 teachers and 3,000 students, including young people from Diaspora communities participating in programs such as Taglit-birthright israel, Israeli said.
"Peoplehood isn't a well-defined discipline," Israeli said. "It includes subjects such as philosophy, music, cinema - a world of content that the school will open up" using the museum's extensive archives. This is the only museum that tells the story of all 3,000 years of the Jewish people."
The new school comes as a American Jewish Committee study released last month reported there was almost no education on American Jewry in Israeli schools.
According to the study, "Teaching about American Jewry in Israeli Education," only 13.6% of teachers surveyed reported any teaching on American Jewry in their schools in the last three years.
In September, another American Jewish Committee study - "Young Jewish Adults in the United States Today" - found a "consensus among several studies that Israel is not central to [American] young people's Jewish identity."
"When 70% of American Jewish young people no longer see caring about Israel as a core component of their identity and 85% of schools in Israel don't expose their children to knowledge about American Jewry, we must realize that we've already slipped quite far down the slope," a senior AJC official told the Post.
"The two communities are developing very different ways of being Jewish that often seem mutually unintelligible," the official said. "We're reaching a point at which the two centers of the Jewish world won't understand each other."
However Ravid told the Post on Sunday evening that there was cause for optimism. "At the [United Jewish Communities'] General Assembly [in Los Angeles last week], 'Peoplehood' turned out to be the new buzzword of the Jewish people," he said.