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LINKed to Israel
StandWithUs curriculum connects middle school students with Israel.
StandWithUs (SWU) is an international nonprofit organization that supports Israel through worldwide educational programs and efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Through extensive leadership training programs for high school and college students, Los Angeles-based StandWithUs builds strong connections between young people in the diaspora and Israel.
But staff members were concerned about research data that indicated many younger students lacked a personal link with Israel.
“Two surveys motivated me to do something different,” explains Mina Rush, director of middle school education and programming for StandWithUs. “In the Pew Study on American Jewry, as the cohort got younger, the ‘disconnect’ with Israel became larger, with 75 percent describing their connection with Israel as ‘somewhat’ to ‘not at all.’”
She adds that a second survey of “supplementary schools” — Jewish schools that provide classes after secular school or on Sundays — indicated a similar problem. “For every 100 kids after their bar or bat mitzvah, only 12 were left who were engaged in Jewish institutional life,” Rush says.
For those attending most Jewish educational programs, less and less time was devoted to Israel, she adds.
Rush began talking to Jewish educators from all denominations and types of schools, asking, “What do you want your students to walk away with?”
She was convinced that Israel education should be based on the core values and experiences of today’s students with a focus on social justice.
Rush, along with teachers and internet experts, developed “LINK— Discovering Your Israel Connection” — an interactive, internet-based curriculum that engages middle schoolers with Israel in a contemporary way that is meaningful to them.
LINK comprises six lessons that total about 12 to 15 hours. Topics include Jewish continuity in the land of Israel; Israel’s size and location in the Middle East; population diversity in Israel; Israel’s tradition of international humanitarian aid; innovation and technology; and developing a personal connection with Israel.
LINK is an online, discussion-based curriculum that includes a game, Kesher, to engage students. The lessons are done collaboratively as a class.
“The curriculum is incredibly flexible, using a flipped model (an alternative to the traditional classroom lecture format) with part completed at home, that can be spread out over several years,” Rush explains. “Each student should walk away with a personal Israel connection so that they can say ‘Israel matters to me because ____.’”
A year-long pilot program in 20 Jewish day and supplementary schools across the U.S. was completed last July. Follow-up studies showed increases of 45 to 78 percent in knowledge and understanding in five categories: Israel’s history, geography and demographics, diversity, humanitarian efforts and technology.
LINK recently received a major four-year grant from the Jonas Family to expand into Jewish schools in the Midwest. Rush has contacted 16 supplementary and five day schools in the Detroit area, encouraging them to apply by April 25 in order to receive the LINK curriculum, teacher’s guide and other classroom materials at no charge through the Jonas Family grant.
Her goal is to sign up at least 10 local schools to receive LINK. Beit Sefer B’Yachad in Grand Rapids is the first Michigan school to register for the program.
Learn More Before April 25 Deadline
Jewish school representatives can learn more about LINK at IsraelLInk.org and register online at IsraelLink.org/EttaJonas. The registration deadline for the next school year is April 25. Mina Rush will visit Detroit during the week of April 23 for LINK teacher training in conjunction with Vida Velasco, SWU Michigan director. Rush can be reached at email@example.com.