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Diving Into Israel Education

Reflecting on the iEngage session from Moving The Needle, the RAVSAK/PARDES Jewish Day School Leadership Conference 2014
Director of Jewish Life at The Emery/Weiner School in Houston, TX


After attending the “New Paradigms for Israel Education” Deep Dive at the recent RAVSAK/PARDES conference , I came back to my school invigorated and ready to continue my quest to infuse our school with more Israel culture. The deep dive, held in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute, allowed all of us to think about what we are doing in our schools in regards to Israel and how we address what sometimes appear to be difficult and complicated questions.

In one memorable workshop, we sat in three different groups focusing on how to frame issues that often times we avoid in Israel classrooms. I chose to sit in the Sabra and Shatilla group which I found fascinating. We looked at how Israel being a Jewish state informed the Kahan Commission and maintaining Jewish values at the core. Our moderator brought in such insightful Rabbinic and Biblical text that I saw the page come alive with the layers of history and meaning that each decision Israeli officials make can have. In this moment I saw clearly that Israel has a place in all of our Judaic Studies classrooms, whether it be a Bible or Talmud course. Israel is our relevant issue.

At Emery/Weiner, our Head of School teaches a class on Israel that takes many of the pieces that we discussed at the session and breaks it apart for the students. This class prepares the students for their senior trip to Israel and creates significant bonds with the Head of School as they embark on the next chapter of their life. 

Since my arrival at Emery/Weiner, I have been working to incorporate Israel into more facets of school life. We have recently added an Israel cafe for our 8th grade students. This is a time where one-third of our 8th grade meets with our Middle School Dean of students and speaks about current events in Israel and listens to Hebrew music. We meet as a school multiple times during the week, since the beginning of the year we have started playing Israeli music to open the students’ eyes to Israeli culture. We are also working closely with shlichim from Israel on bringing different programming to the school.

This is a marathon and not a sprint. Our school’s connection to Israel will only continue to grow. I have unbelievable support from the Middle and High School heads to bring Israel to the student body and interest from different faculty members on how to bring Israel to their curriculum.

The questions that still linger with me from the Deep Dive on Israel mainly continue to be, what are the forums that we can have these conversations? In so many Judaic Studies classrooms, our time is short and our information is vast. Beyond the Israel class electives and celebrations of Israeli celebrations, where can we have these meaningful conversations, allowing the time and respect that it deserves. Through more conversation with fellow Judaic Studies directors and continued support at my school, I am sure that we will come to the answer together.

Ultimately, my goal for my students at Emery/Weiner is to have a strong connection to their Jewish American roots as well as their Israeli roots. My hope is to create further connections with the Leo Baeck School in Haifa, who send us 2 students to infuse our school with Israel for three months, and create innovative programming for our schools to experience Israel on campus.

I thank those at RAVSAK and PARDES who had the foresight and experience to make Israel education a central track in the Deep Dive offerings. It was wonderful connecting with fellow Judaic Directors and others in the field interested in, and passionate about, Israel and strengthening connections between the country and day school students. I have recently joined the Reshet in Israel Education and look forward to continuing the difficult and important conversations we started together in January.

"Ein Li Eretz Acheret…kan hu beiti I have no other land…here is my home." (Ehud Manor)

Jill Shoshany is the Director of Jewish Life at The Emery/Weiner School in Houston, TX

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