A new tool to foster Jewish identity in the Diaspora: Israel education

The conference was built around idea that there is a need to develop a common language toward fostering an attachment to Israel among youth in the Diaspora.

Joint Israel-diaspora project (photo credit: jewish agency)
Joint Israel-diaspora project
(photo credit: jewish agency)
Some 140 Jewish educators from 16 countries participated this week in the First International Dialog on The Israel Educator.
The four-day conference in the capital was organized by the World Zionist Organization, the ministries of Education, International Affairs and Strategy, and Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, and the iCenter for Israel Education.
The conference was built around the idea that there is a need to develop a common language toward fostering an attachment to Israel among youth in the Diaspora. The program aims to address issues relating to the role of the Israel educator in facilitating this process and strengthening Jewish identity and acceptance of the Jewish state.
“The conference was a result of a growing recognition that we can no longer take for granted the support of young Jews abroad for Israel,” Dr. David Breakstone, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and initiator of the conference, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The aim is to develop a common language and framework that transcends the differences between Jewish communities worldwide and encourages a commitment to Israel as a central part of the Jewish identity of youth, Breakstone said.
A diverse group of educators from Israel, the United States and other countries participated in the conference, from Chabad rabbis to female rabbis, from young informal educators to the head of the largest network of Jewish day schools in the US, as well as principals of schools in Argentina and Uruguay.
“The idea is to develop a curricula and ‘textpeople,’ rather than textbooks,” Breakstone said. “For Israel education to be effective we need a larger number of professionals working in the field to serve as intermediaries between the Jewish state and young people abroad.”
Through dialogue, lectures and field experiences the conference aims to provide educators with practical tools to impart to their students and communities. One such tool stemming from the conference is the establishment of the first professional network of Israel educators.
“A lot of Israel educators feel isolated out in the field, they don’t have a support network, or access to resources,” said Breakstone.
“This will enable them to share best practices, share curriculums, articles – this will be a tremendous boost to the field.”
Other themes discussed at the conference included understanding the Israel educator’s identity, the language and terminology used in building Jewish narratives, the place of Israel and Judaism in education, and collaboration in Israel education among Jewish educators and institutions worldwide.
“We are in the midst of an historic paradigm change in terms of the place of Israel within Jewish education, Jewish identity and this is a really exciting path,” said Anne Lanski, executive director of the iCenter.
According to Lanski, students and educators alike face a new era of education and identity development. The notion of experiential learning, a powerful and relatively new tool, through endeavors such as Birthright-Taglit has enabled hundreds of thousands of students to experience Israel and strengthen their Jewish identity.
“We are in a time where the WZO, the Jewish Agency, the government of Israel and the philanthropic world are committed to a vibrant future, with a language and a vision that isn’t about reacting to survival but being proactive to creating a generation and a future that is going to flourish,” she said.