The Teachers’ Lounge: Advancing Tolerance in Jerusalem and Rikma: An M.A. for Change - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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The Teachers’ Lounge: Advancing Tolerance in Jerusalem and Rikma: An M.A. for Change

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dr. Michal Muszkat Barkan

The Teachers’ Lounge: Advancing Tolerance in Jerusalem

The Teachers’ Lounge, in memory of Shira Banki, is a program for Muslim, Christian, and Jewish teachers from all over Jerusalem. It was devised, developed, and is run by the Education and Professional Development Department at HUC-JIR's Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem. The program is rooted in the belief that teachers are key figures, cultural heroes who lead by example. They impact on their community and beyond. It is also based on the notion that in order to build the kind of society we dream of for our children’s generation, we have to promote a process of knowing “the other.”

Against a backdrop of intolerance and prejudice in Jerusalem and surrounding it, teachers possess the ability to make real change in the way their students regard and treat those they see as “the other”.  Throughout the training, teachers will experience a personal encounter with men and women from social groups with which they would usually not interact. We have found that this first-hand experience helps create an awareness of their own prejudices. This in turn is instrumental in promoting tolerance. Teachers cannot ask students to do that which they are not prepared to do themselves.  

Since its inception in 2015 the program has graduated 135 teachers, and at the start of the 2018-19 academic year 60 participants have been recruited. A number of key institutional partners have shown interest and given support to the program, and today it bears the name of the late Shira Banki, a young Jerusalemite fatally stabbed while attending the 2015 Jerusalem Pride March. Her family sponsors a number of initiatives designed to foster understanding, and Teacher’s Lounge has become one of the most successful. The earliest origins of what became this city-wide program were within the HUC-JIR community, when employees from different religious and national backgrounds sought ways to get to know each other in deeper and more resonant ways. From those early steps this program is now in full stride. 

Dr. Michal Muszkat-Barkan shared information and takeaways from this program on an AlumniLearn session with the HUC-JIR alumni community. Visit the AlumniLearn Access Recordings page to view the video.

A photographic exhibition about this program, consisting of seven panels each measuring 17" high by 48" wide, is currently on view at HUC-JIR/New York. If you would like to bring this exhibition to your venue, please contact museumnyc@huc.edu or 212-824-2218.

Rikma: An M.A. for Change

For ten years the Education and Professional Development Department has run a program in pluralistic Jewish education, including an MA in Jewish Education offered by the Melton Center for Jewish Education and the Seymour Fox School of Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We have re-branded and re-focused the program. Along with our erstwhile partners at the Hebrew University we have launched Rikma – An MA For A Change thanks to co-operation with the Israel Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency for Israel. This cohort’s generous scholarship program is funded by the Azrieli Foundation. Together, this has enhanced recruitment and enrollment.

Rikma is the Hebrew word for tapestry, and the program emphasizes the ways in which diversity and mutual responsibility are intertwined. 

The program educates leaders to take responsibility for the renaissance of Jewish culture; the anchoring of education in communities; and the strengthening of ties between different sectors of Israeli society and within the Jewish people. At the heart of this program is the building of bridges between education and society, between Israel and the wider Jewish world, between individual Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood.

The present cohort consists of 16 with a record of achievement and commitment to the field.  The participants occupy key positions in both formal and informal educational settings.  A number of the new cohort have recently returned to Israel after extended periods abroad acting as shelichim, emissaries in a variety of frameworks. 


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu