“Sababa!” (“Awesome!”)

by Lisa C. Klein

Six Catholic high school educators will be bringing Israel back to their classrooms this fall, now that they have returned from a remarkable trip there with JUF's Israel Education Center.

They'll also be bringing a new word that came to define their experiences - "Sababa!," the Israeli version of "Awesome!"

The teachers' journey was part of a unique program, developed in partnership with the Archdiocese of Chicago, that integrates Modern Israel into Catholic school curricula. This was the fourth cohort of teachers in a program that began in 2007 and now is being implemented in 17 Catholic high Schools across the Chicago area.


The intensive, one-week trip begins at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and ends with a visit to the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, where Israeli Jews and Arabs attend bilingual school together. In between, the teachers met with professors and journalists who discussed the upheaval in the Middle East, the role of Iran in funding terrorism and its development of nuclear weapons, the Jewish roots of Christianity, Israel's contributions to technology, security issues, the Israeli democratic system, immigration and absorption, and Jewish peoplehood.

At the Hand in Hand school

Whether walking along the Golan Heights; visiting the Yarden Winery; floating in the Dead Sea; taking in Yad Vashem, the Rabin and Peres Centers and the Supreme Court; touring JUF's Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir - where they visited an absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants and met with Israeli teachers; or having Shabbat at the homes of Israelis, every moment made an impact and helped bring the curriculum alive. "Sababa!"

With their previous knowledge of Israel based primarily on news reports, the vibrant reality proved to be very different. As De La Salle Institute teacher Michael Dieter said, "I felt safer in Israel than at my own school." Visiting cafes filled with Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem or walking along the busy streets - "Sababa!" Tasting tomatoes grown on a moshav using drip irrigation and the latest in computer technology - "Sababa!" Hearing about the rescue of Ethiopians and of Jews from the former Soviet Union - "Sababa!"

Because of the intense nature of the trip and the relatively small group, discussions were thoughtful and deep, with teachers questioning everything they thought they had known about Israel and the misinformation their students and fellow teachers have been fed by the media. Even after a day that often began at 6:30 in the morning and lasted until 10 at night, the teachers would go back to the hotel and, over a glass of wine, sit and discuss their impressions and ideas for integrating what they had learned about Israel in their schools.

The next steps are for JUF staff to work with the teachers on curriculum development and to follow up on connections made with Israeli educators. There will be professional development throughout the year.

Recruitment for next year's program begins in August.

In addition to reaching thousands of students at Catholic high schools, JUF's program reaches their families and friends, as well, multiplying the impact of these trips.

Bringing Modern Israel into the classroom - "Sababa!"

For more information and funding opportunities, contact Lisa Klein at lisaklein@juf.org

Lisa C. Klein is JUF's Associate Vice President for Campus Affairs and Student Engagement.

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