Jewish Day Schools should foster collaboration with Israel on every level
By Rabbi Ira Budow
Director, Abrams Hebrew Academy
The current buzzword in education circles is “collaboration.” One hears this term in almost every article and at every conference as part of the discussion about keeping tuition affordable and improving education cost-effectively at private schools.
The Kohelet Foundation has been a leader in promoting this concept among the area Jewish day schools by creating the Jewish Day School Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia (The Collaborative), and it is an idea with a lot of merit.
Pooling resources, increasing purchasing power by negotiating quantity discounts, etc., makes sense, particularly in this economy. However, I believe there is another very important collaboration that we do not discuss, and that is the collaboration between Jewish day schools and Israel.
There are several very successful collaborations with Israel among the day schools in our community: the Kohelet Foundation has sponsored Israeli women who work at three different area schools for a year’s alternative Army service as part of the Sherut Leumi program; Abrams Hebrew Academy spearheaded participation by several area day schools in the Math by Mail and Science by Mail programs in partnership with the Weizmann Institute; and next year Abrams will collaborate with Technion to present an innovative and new science curriculum designed by Technion professors for Abrams students in grades 6-8. While in Israel during the past two weeks I was able to visit Technion and see the materials that are being prepared for the science program, and I was very impressed and excited about the new initiative.
An integral part of the Abrams experience is our annual 8th grade graduation trip to Israel. During this year’s trip, I realized that our students experienced the entire kaleidoscope of the land of Israel while touring with the school. As a result, I am firmly convinced that in order for Jewish day school students to be truly committed Jews, in-person collaboration with Israel must take place. Although collaborative long-distance learning is exciting, I do not think that is enough.
We attended a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game with 15,000 people cheering and shouting their support with a spirit that is not felt at an NBA game. The students realized that sports are an essential part of many Israelis’ lives, and this enthusiasm can only be felt in person.
The students visited Technion, and on the road to the University they saw the myriad of hi-tech companies with offices in Israel – Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc., all of whom have a presence near the institution that has contributed more to 21st computer technology than any other center of learning. Our students were able to witness first-hand that Israel is not a follower, but a leader, in cutting edge technology, and first-hand knowledge is more powerful than mere words on a page.
The children also had the opportunity to see our heritage in a way that cannot be duplicated in books or even via Skype. Unlike many other groups, Abrams takes our students to Hebron and the grave of Rachel. On our last Friday in Israel, soldiers escorted us to the cave of our ancestors, Machpelah, where the beginning of our history lies. We walked to Abraham’s synagogue from Machpelah, and walking through the Arab neighborhoods on streets where Abraham walked was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences of the trip. This could never have been experienced in any other way but in person.
Finally, we visited the grave of Rachel, and looked down on her grave from the tower that overlooks the city of Beit Lechem. The tomb of Rachel is now a fortress protected by an installation, but from the tower we could see that she was buried on the road to Beit Lechem. This moving experience that highlighted our nation’s sacrifices could not be appreciated without actually walking through the streets with the spirit of our ancestors surrounding us.
As a result of this most recent trip I am convinced that we need to collaborate with Israel on every level – in education, science, technology, sports, and most importantly, heart and soul. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and our Israeli brethren.
(Rabbi Ira Budow is the director of the Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley)