From the Foundation Team

Israel Education at a New Stage

February 7th, 2013

The Jim Joseph Foundation continually seeks to deepen its knowledge of what constitutes effective Israel education. Within the last few months, several of the Foundation’s investments in Israel education have reached new stages of development. As a result, we have a better understanding of ways in which the Foundation’s philanthropy can help to build a bona fide field of Israel Education.

The Foundation’s more than four years of funding for the Bay Area Israel Education Project (known as BASIS) has resulted in the development of an educational model that you will soon be able to access at the Jewish LearningWorks website. This model provides myriad tools for Israel education that day schools – and other educational organizations – can apply to their particular setting.  Among the model’s features are approaches to twinning day schools with schools in Israel; integrating Israel education with learning taking place in general studies courses; and showcasing Israel’s arts and culture so students and teachers are in direct contact with what is happening in Israel today. These strategies and materials are designed to assist schools to enhance what is already in place. The model can also guide an individual school or group of schools through a change process that embeds Israel education in the school’s program of teaching and learning. The Foundation is indebted to Jewish LearningWorks, the 11 day schools which participated in BASIS, and the iCenter (for expert technical assistance) for this pioneering project.

Speaking of the iCenter, it will release a report this spring entitled “Israel Education in Practice:  Growth of the Field from the Educators’ Perspective.”  Drs. Ezra Kopelowitz and Minna Wolf conducted this original research.  The report examines professional activity of 30 Israel education practitioners.  It profiles expert Israel educators and articulates a field-building agenda that recognizes professional training and certification as fundamental to growth. It also offers detailed, tangible findings on the skills Israel educators need to be most effective and engaging with students.

One such finding is that immersive experiences for the educators significantly correlate to their effectiveness as teachers. The Jewish Theological Seminary’s Davidson Graduate School’s Kesher Hadash program offers this type of identity shaping experience. Each year, the program takes ten graduate students in Jewish education and, according to Alex Sinclair and Ofra Backenroth, “provides them with a rich, immersive and compelling educational experience in Israel that gives them the tools to graduate from Davidson as Israel educators ready to take on the diverse challenges of the field.”  For the Foundation, critically examining this program offers additional learning into how extended immersion in Israel education in situ strengthens and amplifies educators’ identities as Jews and improves their teaching skills.

Many of you likely have read the report, “Serving a Complex Israel,” commissioned by Repair the World and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which examines Israel-based immersive Jewish Service learning (IJSL).  Conducted by Rosov Consulting, the study surveyed 332 North American alumni of 12 different Israel-based service learning programs.  Not surprisingly, the survey found that “for individuals systematically experiencing Jewish rituals and rhythms for the first time in their lives, Israel-based IJSL proved to be a significant Jewish experience.”  Furthermore, “the programs’ location in Israel,” as hypothesized by Repair the World, is “a decisive draw in attracting participants.”  Rosov Consulting confirmed that Jewish service learning in Israel is an effective pathway into Jewish life—at least as self-reported by a significant number of individuals who participated in these 12 programs.  Notably, while some Jewish organizations express concern about exposing young Jews to the complexities of Israeli life, experiencing Israel on a personal level—in its richness, diversity, and complexity—appears to compel individuals to feel connected both to Israel and the Jewish people.

Yet another important resource on Israel education in which the Jim Joseph Foundation is taking keen interest is a series of papers emerging from the work of the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE).  The first papers to be disseminated from CASJE’s Israel Education panel feature research into such pertinent topics as:

1) Assessing Outcomes in Israel Education (authored by Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, Theodore Sasson and Steve Cohen);

2) The Israel educator – an inquiry in to the preparation and capacities of effective Israel educators (authored by Alex Sinclair, Bradley Solmsen and Claire Goldwater);

3) Israel education for what? An investigation of the purposes and possible outcomes of Israel education (authored by Lisa D. Grant, Daniel Marom and Yehudit Werchow);

4) The Connection of Israel Education to Jewish Peoplehood (authored by Barry Chazan, Michael B. Soberman and Richard Juran); and

5) The role/contribution of Hebrew in/to Israel education (authored by Sivan Zakai and Sarah Benor)

These papers, accompanied with videos, will be released in online portfolio format later in March.

This scholarship promises to be a boon to the field. It will certainly help the Jim Joseph Foundation in its ongoing effort to conceptualize Israel education thoughtfully; and to position the Foundation strategically to make productive investments in Israel education.