What Is Jewish Solidarity?: A Joint Learning Opportunity for North American and Israeli Education Students - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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What Is Jewish Solidarity?: A Joint Learning Opportunity for North American and Israeli Education Students

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Students in Cohorts 7 and 8 of the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education had the opportunity to go beyond the typical meeting between North Americans and Israelis through a deep arts-based encounter with students in the Rikma program at the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem in January 2020. Through the lenses of their roles as educational leaders in Israel and North America, they explored their shared values and their distinct perspectives through a collaborative creative project with world-renowned collage artist, Hanoch Piven. 

The Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education, designed for leaders with at least five years of experience in a Jewish educational leadership position, offers a rigorous academic program designed to expand students’ learning and education while enabling them to continue building momentum in their current role. Students expand their capacity for imagination and risk-taking by stepping outside their daily world. They activate their creativity, deepen reflection, and broaden repertoires of thinking and educating through creative and artistic mediums. As part of their two-year curriculum, Executive M.A. students study in Israel for ten days, weaving together their personal and spiritual journey.

Rikma is a specialized program focusing on educational leadership with an emphasis on pluralism and community. Rikma, which means tapestry, 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. Rikma students welcomed Executive M.A. students to the Taube Family Campus for this collaborative workshop.

Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, Taube Family Campus, and Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the School of Education, began the learning session and set the tone for the joint journey. Following their opening, Piven led a workshop where he challenged students to create collages that answered the question, “What is Jewish solidarity?” To explore this question, small groups of Executive M.A. and Rikma students investigated various answers while creating a common language between participants.

“In so many ways, the joint learning program with Executive M.A. and Rikma students represents the best of what we are striving for as an institution. I am grateful for the vision, initiative, creativity, and collaborative spirit of our students and faculty – not only in this one program, but day in and day out,” stated Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost.

“We created a serious opportunity for students, who are educational leaders, to develop a shared language,” stated Dr. Michal Muszkat-Barkan, Rikma Director, Head of the Education and Professional Development Department, and Associate Professor of Jewish Education (parallel track).  “They discussed shared values and ideas, gaining depth, knowledge, and mutual understanding. They had the opportunity to get to know each other personally and professionally, leading to increased motivation for future collaboration.”

Dr. Lesley Litman, Director of the Executive M.A. Program, together with Dr. Muszkat-Barkan, crafted this unique experience to bring the two cohorts, Executive M.A. and Rikma, into meaningful dialogue. “The Executive M.A. students were deeply moved by the experience," stated Dr. Litman. "They capped their ten-day journey exploring the breadth and depth of Israeli society by processing their experience with their Israeli counterparts.  It was powerful and profound.”

Hannah Kearney, a student in Cohort 8 of the Executive M.A. Program and Director of Havayah, the Teen Community at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA, shared, “Learning with Hanoch Piven and the Rikma educators allowed me to take a step back and embrace the experience of being a participant in an arts-based program,  a space where so often I am the facilitator. As a participant, I found I was able to play, create, experiment, and communicate – all through objects and stories. Each item we picked up held a different meaning to each one of us, and as we explained those meanings and stories, we found a shared language. Through those visual conversations, we were able to wrap our heads around a shared vision for Jewish connection, spanning different cultures and educational milieus!”

Susie Wexler, a student in Cohort 7 of the Executive M.A. Program and Early Childhood Director at BJBE Early Childhood Program at the Chava Center in Deerfield, IL, added, “A highlight of the trip to Israel was spending the morning with Israeli Rikma participants engaged in a collaborative, hands-on experience. Under the guidance of Hanoch Piven, our hands were kept busy, allowing the conversation to flow, and leading to the creation of a work of art that reflected our visions of Israel Education.”

Rikma student Michal Abramoff, Director of the Jerusalem District of Noar Telem – the Reform youth movement in Israel, reflected, “The workshop was a great opportunity to build a real dialogue with the Executive M.A. students – to get to know them on a personal level and find mutual challenges and experiences we share in our everyday lives. These initial connections are a great foundation for more collaborations that I look forward to building in the future. As a Jewish educator working with teen and young adults in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, I was inspired by the people we met, the content we discussed as a global community, and the experience as a whole.”

Rikma student Opal Arbel, training and educational coordinator of the Gesher organization, continued, “I was a bit hesitant before we met. How can we bridge our worlds in such a short time? I was surprised at the depth of conversation. I met wonderful colleagues—we spoke seriously and laughed a lot. It was a great experience.”

Dr. Stern stated, “Our work on each continent and in each country certainly has important distinctions and nuances; and yet, we are all motivated by a ‘pedagogy of responsibility,’ a set of shared values that animate our Jewish educational work and our aspirations for the societies and for the Jewish people whom we strive to strengthen.”

Rabbi Samuel K. Joseph, Ph.D., Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish Education and Leadership Development, added, “The experience of North American Executive M.A. students partnering with Israeli Rikma students was incredibly powerful. The result was an unforgettable educational encounter that built trust, community, and mutual learning.”

The School of Education – students and faculty alike – looks forward to more encounters and opportunities to come together to build bridges and strengthen bonds of friendship and partnership across Israeli and North American communities. Learn more about the School of Education.

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