Five Jewish-Canadian educators from Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal were in Israel from July 8-12, to attend the first Global Jewish Education Summit, which was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
The conference, which brought together 150 Jewish educators from the Diaspora and about 30 of their Israeli counterparts, demonstrates Israel’s revived commitment to Diaspora communities, and specifically Jewish day schools, said Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: The Center for Jewish Day Schools, who also attended the summit.
“In a period when some would argue we have seen our relationships weakening … they (the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and its minister, Naftali Bennett) are turning around and saying that it’s really important that we are together and that Jewish education lies at the heart of succeeding in creating that unified Jewish future,” said Bernstein, who participated with the Canadian educators in a conference call with The CJN, while they were in Jerusalem.
Israel has traditionally promoted broad Jewish engagement, with programs such as Birthright, which brings young people to Israel for a free 10-day trip. Bennett, who is also the education minister, is intentionally focusing on day schools now, according to Bernstein.
“This is turning round and saying deep Jewish knowledge, experience, learning, through a strong Jewish education, such as at a Jewish day school, is absolutely essential to the future of the Jewish people,” Bernstein said. “The Israeli government saying that and believing that is a really strong statement.”
The ministry has begun working with local communities, particularly in Europe and Latin America, to provide funds and expertise to help schools flourish, Bernstein said.
One reason Canadian educators attended the conference was to encourage a similar investment and partnership in their own schools, Bernstein added.
About 80 per cent of the attendees at the conference came from schools outside North America, said Lori Binder, head of school for Winnipeg’s Gray Academy.
Deep Jewish knowledge, experience, learning, through a strong Jewish education, such as at a Jewish day school, is absolutely essential to the future of the Jewish people.
– Paul Bernstein
Binder said that one highlight was when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked the attendees for their contributions to Jewish education around the world.
“For me, as someone who’s an educational leader in the heart of the prairies, very far away from another community, I actually got quite emotional,” she said. “Being in an environment with people throughout the Diaspora reminds me of the context of what we are doing and why we are doing what we are doing.”
While she and Joyce Kerr, the elementary principal at Gray Academy, were in Israel, they also visited their partner high school in Kiryat Shmona, which has had an exchange program with the Winnipeg school for more than 20 years.
Making those kinds of personal connections for both students and educators is crucial to strengthening ties between the Diaspora and Israel, Bernstein said.
Being in an environment with people throughout the Diaspora reminds me of the context of what we are doing and why we are doing what we are doing.
– Lori Binder
Renee Cohen, the principal, and Jonathan Levy, the head of school, at TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto, said there is an eagerness among Israeli educators to work with and learn from their colleagues in the Diaspora.
“Another area that the Israeli administrators brought to the conference was the idea of professional development for Judaic studies teachers and the willingness to share those resources and for our teachers to be part of their network, because they have a huge supply of resources that they want us to be part of,” Cohen said.
The task for Israel is particularly challenging, said Abba Brodt, director general of Montreal’s Hebrew Foundation School. “There are 31 different countries here (at the conference), each clamouring for their own attention from Israel and wanting their own relationships. Israel has to learn about so many more different types of Jewish communities and needs than we do. So I have a fair bit of empathy for what Israel has to do. It’s reaching out to so many different communities across the world.”