Cohort will visit Israeli education programs, engage with education leaders
Sixteen Jewish early childhood education directors and master teachers, along with their mentors and the director of the Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute (JECELI), are participating in a ten day intensive Israel Seminar February 20 – March 2, 2014. JECELI prepares Jewish educators to be leaders, to help families develop stronger connections to their Jewish communities, and to nurture children’s Jewish growth, including by engaging in Israel education.
The Israel Seminar, a critical component of the 15-month JECELI professional learning program, offers educators ways of understanding the role of Israel in Jewish life—past, present, and future. Through visits to education programs in Israel, dialogue with their Israeli counterparts, and opportunities for reflection, the cohort of educators gain new perspectives on Jewish early childhood education and a better understanding of how to incorporate Israel education into their programs. This will be the second JECELI cohort to participate in the Israel Seminar.
“For many early childhood programs, engagement with Israel is confined to tasting fruit on Tu B’Shvat or taking a pretend ‘plane trip’ to visit a replica of the Western Wall and snack on falafel,” says Lyndall Miller, director of JECELI. “But to create a deeper education experience, the educators themselves need to have a fuller understanding of Israel and build personally meaningful connections to Israel and to Israelis. The JECELI Israel Seminar invites educators to observe and hypothesize about what is important to Israelis, along with the opportunity to witness Israeli early education programs and experiences. In doing so, we also are learning about what it means to be a member of the larger group – the Jewish people.”
JECELI is a joint program of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), in consultation with Bank Street College. It is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, as part of its Education Initiative. JECELI Cohort 2 includes educators from across the country, representing various types of Jewish communities and all major denominations of Judaism. Cohort members, who have spent the last few weeks preparing for the seminar, will visit both the HUC-JIR and JTS campuses in Israel.
“I’ve been learning about Israel with my own class of three and four year-olds for the past few weeks in preparation for my Israel departure,” says Abby Mars, Lead Teacher/Teacher Mentor at the Bar Nimoy Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA. “Along with numerous hands-on activities, we’ve looked at pictures of Israel to help identify some of the places I will be visiting. But our work can't stop here. What we don't yet do as an institution—and what I hope my seminar experience will help change—is to underscore the reason why all this ‘Israel Talk’ is important anyway. We need to begin to ask ourselves and our students, ‘Why is Israel such an important place for the Jewish people?’ We need to offer an education experience to families that incorporates Israel into our exploration of history, the generations of Jews celebrating holidays, and Jewish modern contributions.”
The Seminar’s varied itinerary helps educators think about their own relationship to Israel and to their work as educators, while also understanding the Israeli early childhood education experience through teachers and families. In the Negev city of Yerucham, for example, the cohort will visit early childhood education programs, will engage with teachers, and will have the chance to meet with community leaders. The cohort will visit numerous other education programs and major sites throughout the country.
Adds Miller, “The Seminar prompts as many questions from educators as it does provide the answers—and that’s a positive outcome. Through this process, educators begin to teach not just about Israel, but rather through the Israel experience. The presence of Israel can be made explicit to parents, and become a recognized part of the Jewish early childhood education program in ways not previously explored.”
To learn more about JECELI please visit www.JECELI.org.