Technology connects Diaspora youth to their Israeli counterparts

“It is important that children learn that Israel is not only about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or politics," says CEO of Snunit.

Snunit CEO Revital Rubin in January with Geoff Cohen, the principal of the Herzliya School in Cape Town, South Africa (photo credit: Courtesy)
Snunit CEO Revital Rubin in January with Geoff Cohen, the principal of the Herzliya School in Cape Town, South Africa
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Snunit Center for the Advancement of Web-Based Learning, the largest educational Web portal in Israel, is seeking to launch a site dedicated to connecting Jewish children and youth in the Diaspora with Israel.
Snunit began in 1994 as a project of the School of Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1999, it became a nonprofit NGO, established by the university and the Nir and Beverly Barkat family.
Responsible for launching the first Hebrew language website, today Snunit creates, develops and manages innovative educational sites for elementary and middle school pupils, reaching hundreds of thousands of users throughout the country and the world.
“The easiest way to transfer educational messages to a critical mass of people, especially to youth, is by technological means, with the push of a button,” Snunit CEO Revital Rubin told The Jerusalem Post.
For youth, Rubin explained, the technological world is their “first world.”
“We take advantage of this media to reach wider audiences of youth and provide them with knowledge,” she said.
Snunit’s latest project, which is still being developed, includes an English site and application aimed at connecting and teaching Jewish children from the Diaspora about Israel.
“As a Jew who lives in Israel, I understand the importance and necessity of doing this,” Rubin said, crediting this latest endeavor to her visit to South Africa last month. The visit was organized by Community, a joint program of the Gesher Leadership Institute and the Diaspora Ministry, to expand and deepen the connection between public opinion leaders in Israel and Diaspora Jews.
As part of her visit, she toured South Africa and met with pupils and school principals in Cape Town and Johannesburg. While there, she saw firsthand how little adults and children in the Jewish community knew about Israel, and that most had no connection to the country.
“They study the Bible and Jewish holidays, but they don’t learn anything about the State of Israel and the culture and what troubles youth in Israel,” Rubin said.
“It is important that children learn that Israel is not only about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or politics, or the ultra-Orthodox, of course these are issues but there are a lot of other parts of Israel that youth should get to know,” she added.
Rubin said she was shocked to discover that around a third of Jews in the world have no connection to Israel whatsoever.
“Due to this journey, I understood this need to create connections [with the Diaspora] and today I see this as a mission,” she said.
Rubin stressed that it was important to understand that religion is “not everything” when speaking about Jews and Israel.
“If we keep presenting this to the world, we will lose a lot of Jews along the way and the Jewish people cannot afford this,” she said.
“We have to understand that there are also Jews in the world that currently have no link to Israel and there are people in Israel who are secular – and we must think how to connect them to develop a diverse Jewish synergy.”
Rubin said the application’s aim would not only be to teach Jews about Israel but also to connect between youth and create a dialogue on issues that are important to them.
“There are children and youth who deal with the same problems that youth in Israel do, wherever they are in the world, and it is important that they make that connection,” she said.
Still, Rubin said, it’s a twoway street. While children in the Diaspora know little about Israel, Israeli children likewise know very little about their counterparts abroad.
“I believe in reciprocity – we also need to teach kids in Israel to get to know the Diaspora,” she said. “And I believe that we need to start establishing [the] roots of this connection at a much younger age, and not only focus on adults or young adults.”
Rubin stressed that positive effects of web-based learning in reaching out to youth in the Diaspora and connecting them with Israel.
“Israel has brought children and youth to Israel on trips [like Birthright and Masa],” she said, “but how many children can you bring? Two hundred thousand? Three hundred thousand? With this technology, we can reach out to millions of children.”
Rubin acknowledged that it is no substitute for bringing youth to Israel, but said it could serve to complement their physical presence in Israel and provide them with knowledge about the country.
“We don’t need to stand on our two hind legs,” she said.
“I think it is a good thing, both tactically and strategically, for there to be Jews in the Diaspora, and our responsibility is to strengthen our connection with them and to strengthen them against all the challenges they face, such as antisemitism.”
“If we don’t understand this, we will distance youth and adults in the Diaspora from the Jewish people,” she added.
Overwhelmed by her experience in South Africa, Rubin said the pupils and teachers in the two Jewish schools she visited would be provided free access to Snunit’s educational portals.
“Many of our websites are in Hebrew only, and so now we are also looking to translate these sites into English, and we are looking for a partner who understands the importance of this,” she said.