Surrounded by the historical black and white photos of Tel Aviv’s Gymnasia Herzliya, the city’s oldest and one of its most prestigious high schools, the educators and coordinators of the school twinning program of the Federation’s TA-LA Partnership settled into their seats and began to discuss their favorite topics: Students and education.
They were all in Israel for eight days, 42 educators from Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. The School Twinning program has been taking place for the last 12 years, starting with four pairs of twinned schools and now with 19 twinning programs at a total of 36 schools. Some 6,000 students have participated in delegations, and the program has reached more than 60,000 students, parents, siblings, teachers and administrators. The goal of the program? To enhance the students’ knowledge in matters such as Jewish identity, Israeli identity and the position of Israel and the Diaspora within one’s Jewish identity. And according to all involved, the twinning program has made a profound impact on all participants as well as the cultures of the schools involved.
This was day seven of the 9th Joint Educators Seminar, in which these co-coordinators of curriculum spent much of their time creating, reviewing and discussing the elements of the classroom study and activities that they will be jointly using over the next year. The theme of the seminar was “Beyond Words, The Search for a Common Jewish Language.” In their effort to examine the ideas that extend beyond words, the teachers were looking for educational ideas and activities for motivating themselves and their students to find a common language.
To that end, they took part in sunset poetry readings, had a talk with internationally acclaimed Israeli writer David Grossman, and discussed the writings of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the driving spirit behind the use of modern Hebrew and the author of the first modern Hebrew dictionary, whose 100th anniversary was being celebrated by the seminar. They had a joint havdalah and melave malka ceremony with Tel Aviv’s alternative congregation, Beit Tefila Israeli and engaged in a music workshop with musician Josh Laufer from Artists and Musicians for Israel.
The idea was to see how Hebrew has changed over time and place and to understand the language challenges facing Israeli and Diaspora communities, explained Anna Kislanski, the Tel Aviv organizer of the seminar. And, as always, to see what the two groups, Los Angelinos and Tel Avivians, can learn from one another.
“I’ve never seen a group of more dedicated educators,” said Shari Davis, a curricular consultant for the partnership in Los Angeles and Anna’s Los Angeles counterpart. “Each delegation has a theme expressed in their trips and their curriculums. The circles of conversation just keep on expanding.”
“The teachers are the ‘nihutaim,’ added Anna, using the Hebrew term ‘nihut’ to mean an exchange of ideas. “They can fertilize their environment through the joint track and expand the circle of influence.”
As for the teachers themselves, the experience of sharing a week of learning and conversation with their Los Angeles and Tel Aviv counterparts is one that can never be overstated. It’s a chance to recharge their own batteries, given that they spend so much quality time finding the best ways for their own students to click with their twinning counterparts.
Einat Lev Haim, an English language teacher at Tel Aviv’s Nitzanim School – twinned with Los Angeles’ Adat Ari El -- who has been the school’s twinning coordinator for the last three years, has found that the program has made an indelible impact upon her students.
As they experience their American counterparts’ Jewish experience, they ask, “’Why would they go to all that trouble to be Jewish in America?’” says Einat. “And when they experience the prayer skills of their L.A. friends, they wonder whether they – the L.A. kids -- are more Jewish than they, the Israelis. If ‘they’re so into Judaism, why live in America?’” Finally, she added, as a result they often end up attending services in Israel, at their local Conservative congregation Tiferet Shalom in Ramat Aviv, where the school is located as well.
That’s the reaction of the secular Israelis with their first real exposure to religious practices. For the religious schools participating in the twinning program, their experience of Jewish L.A. is completely different. When the Israelis students from Zeitlin were visiting the L.A. students from Hillel, teachers Dalia Golan and Pinchas Levi focused on a curriculum of life cycle events, and how life in different places – L.A. and Israel – affects religious practice. Dalia took all the students to a Los Angeles mall during Chanukah, where the juxtaposition of a massive Christmas tree situated next to a menorah, which was then lit at candle lighting time, in public, with sufganiyot (Hebrew for jelly doughnuts) served, was absolutely shocking to the Israeli girls.
“No book or movie could have shown that better,” said Dalia. “The girls kept on saying, ‘It’s Chanukah in the kenyon (Hebrew word for the mall) in Los Angeles.’”
“They know of one another, they all watch [television show] ‘90210,’” quipped Yoav Ben-Horin, Director of Global Jewish Education at L.A.’s New Jewish Community High School. “But it’s about encountering life in context. It’s not coming to Israel with your parents and going to the Kotel [Western Wall]. It’s a pedagogical program with your peers, and it creates a bond with the real Israel.”