The current buzzword in educational 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 area Jewish day schools by creating the Jewish Day School Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia, and it is an idea with a lot of merit. Pooling resources and increasing purchasing power by negotiating quantity discounts makes sense in this economy. However, I believe there’s another collaboration we do not discuss — the one between Jewish day schools and Israel.
There are several successful collaborations with Israel in our community: The Kohelet Foundation has sponsored Israeli women who work at three different area schools for a year’s alternative to army service as part of the Sherut Leumi program; Abrams Hebrew Academy spearheaded participation by several 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 the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to present an innovative science curriculum designed by Technion professors for Abrams students in grades 6-8.
An integral part of the Abrams experience is our annual eighth-grade trip to Israel. During our visit earlier this month, I stopped at Technion to see the materials for the science program, and I was impressed and excited. Yet I also realized that although long-distance learning is exciting, I don’t think it’s enough. I saw that our students experienced the kaleidoscope of the land of Israel with this visit. 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.
We attended a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game with 15,000 people cheering their support with a spirit that is not felt at an NBA game. The students realized that sports are an essential part of 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 high-tech companies with offices in Israel — Google, Microsoft, Apple — all of whom have a presence near the institution that has contributed more to 21st-century computer technology than any other center of learning. Our students were able to realize that Israel is not a follower, but a leader, in cutting edge technology.
The children had the opportunity to see our heritage in a way that can’t 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, 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 where Abraham walked was one of the most meaningful experiences of the trip. This could never have been felt in any other way but in person.
Finally, we visited Rachel’s grave and looked down on it from the tower that overlooks the city of Beit Lechem. The tomb is now a fortress protected by an installation, but from the tower we could see that she was buried on the road to the city. This moving experience highlighted our nation’s sacrifices and could only be appreciated by 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.