It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

The Ben-Zvi Institute is getting students to discover their own Jerusalem backyards.

The Ben-Zvi Institute is getting students to discover their own Jerusalem backyards (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Ben-Zvi Institute is getting students to discover their own Jerusalem backyards
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
 It’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood for participants in the Ben-Zvi Institute’s neighborhood initiative
The organization has been educating schoolchildren about the community they come from, in order to inspire a feeling of pride for their heritage – by showing them what’s in their own backyard.
“After we learned about the neighborhood, I feel proud of the place we live in,” relates a fourth grader from a Givat Gonen school.
The goal of the initiative is to strengthen Jerusalem children’s ties with their neighborhoods through social action, archeology and nature. “If a kid is connected to his neighbor, he is a better Jerusalemite, neighbor and leader,” says Talya Zisken, head of Ben-Zvi’s educational development branch.
The institute was established by a special law of the Knesset for the purpose of continuing second president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi’s Zionist, educational and cultural activities. It operates from what were the home and offices of Ben-Zvi and his wife, Rahel Yanait, in Jerusalem.
The program consists of five tours of a neighborhood and its surroundings during the school year, for fourth graders at participating schools. The teachers give a class to prepare pupils for the tour, then trained Ben-Zvi guides lead the children on the local, interactive tours.
The tours have several components, with each tour focusing on a different aspect of the neighborhood. There’s a historical component that expands on the names of the streets and the stories of the area. The pupils meet different social groups within the community, such as those living retirement homes for the community component.
They focus on local structures so participants can discuss the types of buildings and their architectural significance; the kids also get a chance to experience nature and the wildlife that share their space.
“The children learn about their homes in an experiential way.
When they discover who lived in the neighborhood before them, it connects them to their identity,” says the principal of a Givat Gonen school.
Zisken outlines how this works in practice: “In Katamon, they go to the valley and see all the natural surroundings; they also have a history lesson about the people that the streets are named after. It’s about finding different levels of connection.”
In fifth grade, the students from each school have the opportunity to do a guiding course. They fill the shoes of the tour guides who helped them explore their neighborhoods the previous year, and lead a tour of their own. At this stage, they have the opportunity to learn still more about their communities and take leadership training courses to empower them and teach them a range of skills such as public speaking and leading.
At the end of the year, the fifth graders lead a tour for the younger pupils and their parents, sharing their knowledge and their experiences.
“The parents say, ‘Hey, wow! I never knew that.’ It makes the kids feel like leaders, and it gives them confidence,” says Zisken.
Four years ago, when the project was initiated, there was no telling how well or poorly it would go, she explains. Today, there are more than 40 schools participating in the neighborhood tours.
“Taking part in the project grants students honor and prestige in their own eyes. They feel important,” enthuses a teacher from a Givat Gonen school.
“The participation empowers the students and helps them get to know their neighborhood and other neighborhoods in Jerusalem,” affirms the principal of a French Hill school.
“A lot of different people helped think of it,” Zisken notes. “Part of the mission is to get the students to understand that there is a lot of beauty and uniqueness right in their backyards. When they discover that, it’s a whole new level of kinship.”