Deepening Israel Education
Israel education consultant spends time at FJA and Hillel.
Michael Jacobs Special to the Jewish News
A consultant visiting Detroit on Oct. 10 helped with the effort to boost Israel education for day school students.
Dr. Tal Grinfas-David, a day school education specialist for the Atlanta-based Center for Israel Education, planned to spend two days working with teachers at Frankel Jewish Academy and Hillel Day School as part of CIE’s three-year initiative to bring resources and expertise to a national group of select day schools seeking more depth in their teaching about Israel.
CIE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, independent institution committed to using primary materials to teach students, educators and the public broadly about modern Israel.
Because most Hillel students go to FJA for high school, “you’re able to look at the long-term experience of the students and think about the different areas that we can get to, the depth and the rigor in terms of Israel literacy, and how we can use that to actually address community needs and long-term needs,” Grinfas-David said. “That’s exciting.”
A grant from the Legacy Heritage Foundation enabled CIE to launch its day school initiative last year. Frankel, which had sent educators to the Atlanta center’s weeklong summer workshops on Israel education, was selected to participate.
Seth Korelitz, FJA’s director of Jewish studies, jumped at the opportunity, which includes the use of CIE curricular materials and a grant of up to $2,500 per year to help the school meet its goals in Israel education.
“CIE is just a tremendous resource,” Korelitz said, citing its summer workshop, its curricular resources and Grinfas-David’s creativity.
The initiative’s timing was fortuitous because, in the curriculum cycle of implementation, review and revision, FJA had reached the preliminary stages of a re-evaluation aimed at making Jewish studies more meaningful for students. “I think the Israel piece is just critical in general, but also to who we are as a school,” Korelitz said.
Frankel entered the initiative from a position of strength, including a college-level 12th-grade course incorporating CIE resources to produce graduates who are knowledgeable about modern Israeli history, Grinfas-David said.
But the high school saw a need to bring that history teaching to earlier grades — enabling students to delve into the complexities of Israeli culture, democracy, diplomacy and conflict — and to integrate Israel across the curriculum, Grinfas-David said.
She visited Frankel for two days last school year to meet with administrators and teachers, including those serving on a special Israel education committee, and to lead an hour of professional development for the faculty.
“How do we start thinking about integrating Israel into what we’re already teaching in other subject areas, and how do we ensure that the Israel education we are providing these students is what they need before they graduate from a Jewish setting?” she asked about the focus of the initiative at Frankel. “Are they Israel-literate and ready for the campus and beyond?”
She and Korelitz are in continual contact about the ideal student experience — what classes, what grades, what depth, when to take the traditional class trip to Israel. They are, Grinfas-David said, “looking at making everything spiral in a very deliberate way and sometimes providing electives for students who want to go deeper into learning about Israel.”
First Year for Hillel
Unlike Frankel, Hillel Day School didn’t join CIE’s initiative last school year. It’s one of three Jewish day schools joining this year and thus cramming three years of work into two school years.
Hillel learned about the program when two of its teachers attended this June’s CIE summer workshop.
“It was beshert,” said Saul Rube, Hillel’s director of Judaic studies. “It’s a great time to take a qualitative leap forward.”
Yifat Golan, the school’s Israel coordinator, said the school started talking with students and faculty last year about how Hillel alumni view Israel. That effort contributed to the portrait of a graduate as someone who has developed “a deep connection to and the ability to advocate for the State of Israel.”
“We want kids who have a very strong commitment to Israel and Zionism from a position of knowledge,” Rube said.
He said CIE is the perfect partner for the heavy curricular lifting needed to meet that goal.
As a first step, Golan has launched an eighth-grade course to teach Israeli culture, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish peoplehood and other Israel-related topics with more depth and nuance. The bigger effort, Rube said, is to integrate Israel education throughout the curriculum.
The work at Hillel could help schools across the country learn how to apply CIE’s document-based, context-heavy educational approach from kindergarten up. “How do you take some very sophisticated ideas and primary sources and make them age-appropriate and friendly for kids?” Grinfas-David asked.
She split her time between the schools during her two-day trip. After her visit, the two schools plan to meet to discuss an organic continuum of Israel education from kindergarten through 12th grade, Rube said.
Korelitz said it’s too early to project the outcome of the Frankel-Hillel conversations, but the schools have a good relationship and try to talk frequently.
“This partnership is a great example of making the most out of Jewish educators working together,” Rube said. “We could try to reinvent the wheel, but we probably couldn’t make it as round or as good as somebody’s already made it, and it would take us a lot longer.”
Michael Jacobs is the communications director for the Center for Israel Education.