Israel as Text, Tutor, and Classroom

New York Area Educators Study and Bond at Learning Institute of Congregational School Educators Israel Seminar

"I felt truly privileged to learn from educators who are innovators, from exceptional administrators, and from creative thinkers and people who are making a difference in small and large ways. I take away from the trip practical ideas on how to enhance communication and learning in the classroom and interaction between staff and synagogue professionals. The program also renewed and reinforced my desire to be an educator and administrator who makes a difference."

—A LICSE Israel Seminar Educator

With inspiration and enthusiasm to spare—that's how this New York-area synagogue school educator and her forty colleagues, mentors, and program administrators returned from February's ten-day Israel seminar. Sponsored by the Learning Institute of Congregational School Educators (LICSE)—a continuing education program guided by the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the New York School of Education of Hebrew University College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), and funded by UJA-Federation of New York—the goal of this professional development trip, according to LICSE Program Director Dr. Evie Rotstein of HUC-JIR, "was to deepen the educators' connection to Israel and help them frame goals for Israel education in their own congregational schools."

Dr. Rotstein pointed out that effective Israel education was at the heart of the curriculum, examining how educational leaders can make Israel a relevant and vital component of congregational schools. Participants were encouraged to experience Israel through three lenses: self, educator, and leader. The theme of the seminar was Shema' Yisrael: A Meaningful, Multilayered Approach to Israel.

The LICSE group traveled, lodged, and enjoyed meals together; began each day with a key theme and concept such as kelal Yisra'el, Torat Yisra'el, and Eretz Yisra'el to explore; engaged in creative and in-depth text study that included "walking Beit Midrashim" and looking closely at the meaning of song lyrics; heard lectures by prominent Israeli educators such as Dr. Rachel Korazim and scholars such as JTS's Dr. Alex Sinclair; and toured three schools, including a "green" school in Jaffa during the holiday of Tu Bishvat, where even the four-month-old LICSE baby, who accompanied his mom and dad on the trip, took part in the tree-planting ceremony. Also shared by the group were the b'not mitzvah of three of its members, and the rollercoaster impressions and emotions of one educator who had never traveled to Israel before.

"An additional highlight of the seminar was visiting Yeruham and being invited into people's homes," said Dr. Rotstein. "A program called the Culinary Queens of Yeruham is a small aspect of a larger, multifaceted program called Atid Bamidbar, which was created by Debbie Goldman Golan, an American woman, who's been living in Israel for twenty-five years. Debbie has organized a group of women in the community who invite guests into their homes as a way of supplementing their income to cook for them and share their stories about how they came to Israel in the 1950s from Morocco. Many people living in Yeruham are of Moroccan descent."

The Israel seminar is part of a two-and-a-half-year program, during which LISCE fellows study together and develop professional and personal relationships; participate in two ten-day intensive summer seminars; and join in eleven one- or two-day symposia. An integral part of the program is the mentor-fellow relationship-fellows make contact with their mentors twice each month. Mentors are veteran educators who work in congregations themselves.

Dr. Barry Holtz, dean of The Davidson School, said that "this program reflects our commitment at The Davidson School to the ongoing importance of congregational education in the life of the American Jewish community. It is still true that most of our children get their Jewish education in the context of congregational schools; if we cannot develop the next cadre of exciting and visionary leadership for these schools, we will be shortchanging our kids and their families. The LISCE program is a serious and profound effort to upgrade the quality of educational leadership in the contemporary congregational school."

Lesley Hoffman, a graduate of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies of JTS and The Davidson School, and currently the educator of the Jackson Religious School at Sutton Place Synagogue in New York City, also has high praise for the program. "LISCE has completely exceeded my expectations. The community of colleagues who understand the field and especially the particular challenges of the field in the New York region, the mentoring, people like Evie, always leave me feeling inspired."

To qualify for the LICSE program, educators must have a minimum of two years' experience in leading a congregational school and have the support of their congregation's leadership. Most important, said Dr. Rotstein, is the applicant's willingness to learn and be open to growth and change.

Information regarding a new cohort for the LISCE program is available by contacting Dr. Rotstein at (212) 824-2248. For information on The Davidson School, contact Dr. Ofra Backenroth, assistant dean, at (212) 678-8812.