New initiative aims to improve Israel experiences, education in Jewish day schools

Israel I Center image
Educators from Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco visiting their twinned school at Kibbutz Eynot Yarden in Israel.

 To help infuse Israel into all aspects of school life and learning, the iCenter, a national Israel education organization, is launching iNfuse: Israel in Jewish Day Schools and announcing the selection of six exemplary day schools from across North America for the pilot program. Each school will create a plan to make Israel education and experiences a more significant part of all aspects of school life, including general -studies disciplines such as science and the arts, Jewish and Hebrew language studies, all-school Israel engagement and Israel travel. The initiative is funded in part by The AVI CHAI Foundation as well as through matching funds raised in the schools' communities. iNfuse is modeled after BASIS, an Israel Education Day School project in Northern California, facilitated by Jewish LearningWorks with funding from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

"From a young age, Israel can be a dynamic and deeply meaningful experience for learners, in nearly all aspects of their learning and school environments," says Anne Lanski, Executive Director of the iCenter. "But in part from past initiatives-and as examined in "Hearts and Minds," the recent study on Israel in Day Schools published by AVI CHAI-we know that infusing Israel across a school and integrating it effectively into curricula is most successful when a school has an articulated vision for Israel education. iNfuse offers the guidance, training, and framework to help schools craft their visions and then turn them into reality."

The six schools selected for the pilot represent geographic and denominational diversity. They include Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, as well as schools in New Jersey, St. Louis, Boca Raton, North Miami Beach, and Miami. 

Representatives from most of the schools, along with their mentors-seasoned leaders in Israel education-will gather in Jerusalem in July to begin the work and create a sense of community among the pilot schools. This will lay the groundwork for learning from and with each other and sharing resources and expertise. The schools will gather again in September for a formal kick-off and to begin the work in earnest.

Along with the in-person convenings, the iNfuse initiative includes site visits from a range of Israel education experts and other specialists, online seminars, and one-on-one mentorship. Significant emphasis will be devoted to working with teachers and educators to introduce content-rich, "cool," and contemporary resources. Teachers will receive ongoing support to effectively integrate Israel into their educational work and to make Israel an intentional part of the whole school experience. As part of this strategy, the initiative frames a school's Israel trip as an integral component of the curriculum throughout students' tenure at the school. A school-appointed Israel Coordinator will oversee both the initiative and support the work of faculty and staff.

At the outset, the schools will closely examine four key areas to understand where Israel "lives" within their broad learning environment: 1) the classroom (general and Jewish/Hebrew studies); 2) the physical environment; 3) all-school and outside of the classroom Israel engagement and, 4) the Israel trip. At the same time, schools will articulate a multi-faceted, rich vision for Israel learning that applies across all grades and school frameworks. Informed by their examination of the four key areas, schools then will implement this vision, seeking to both build on existing effective practices and to address areas that need deepening and enhancement.

Lesley Litman, one of the initiative's designers and iCenter educational consultant, adds, "The goal is for schools to emerge from this 18-month process as exemplars of Israel education in Jewish day schools-where Israel is infused throughout the school, integrated across the curriculum, and aligned   with an articulated vision.

Schools will focus in part on enriching and expanding content in the primary and middle elementary grades (K-5), not waiting until the middle school years to bring in rich content. "Hearts and Minds" affirmed that even young children can build a meaningful relationship with Israel by blending powerful experiences with strong content.   

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan chicago provides some funding to the iCenter.


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