Educators on a Mission: Lauren Chizner ‘97 and Rachel Barnehama ‘18, on Witnessing, Learning, and Teaching in Israel Amidst Crisis

Amidst the turmoil and uncertainty in Israel, a group of 30 Reform Jewish Educators embarked on a transformative journey, fueled by a shared commitment to solidarity and understanding.

May 8, 2024

Led by Lauren Chizner ’97and Rachel Barnehama ’18, the group of 30 Reform Jewish Educators united with HUC-JIR students and faculty in Israel.

Led by Lauren Chizner ’97 and Rachel Barnehama ’18, the group of 30 Reform Jewish Educators united with HUC-JIR students and faculty in Israel.

In November, we were at an Israel Solidarity concert and found ourselves in conversation about how we could get to Israel. There had been post after post about missions for clergy and lay leaders, and we knew in our hearts that we needed to travel there as well. Following a post in the Association for Reform Jewish Educators Facebook group inquiring about missions available to any non-clergy the idea for a “mission specifically designed for educators” took off. In partnership with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Education Alumni Association, the Association for Reform Jewish Educators, and with generous support from the Lieberman Fund at HUC-JIR’s School of Education and the Jim Joseph Foundation through the Jewish Education Project, we brought 30 Reform Jewish Educators to Israel to hear, to hug, and to help. We spearheaded this mission from dream to reality. In two weeks, an idea in a Facebook group became a full trip with 30 participants and a waitlist.

This mission fulfilled a desire for educators to join their colleagues in traveling to Israel to bear witness and support family, friends, and colleagues. Our itinerary was unique to our group’s purpose. During our time in Israel, we visited various educational institutions, from grassroots schools for displaced students from the north run by principals and teachers who jumped out of retirement, to the Yad B’Yad School in Jerusalem for Arab and Jewish children. We heard from Reform movement leaders, alongside Reform movement victims and survivors, and we learned about the continued struggles for justice being led by the Israeli Religious Action Center. We prayed at Hebrew Union College, studied with current students, and got our hands dirty sorting tomatoes and preparing them for distribution. We met with camp shlichim and former shinshinim to hear their stories and to hug them. We were asked to share messages of hope and that peace is not lost; we just have to work harder to achieve it. The feeling of gratitude that we felt by every person we met was overwhelming.

Opening our mission with Shabbat in Jerusalem and having the opportunity to pray at HUC-JIR alongside first-year Rabbinic, Cantorial, Education and Israeli Rabbinical students was powerful and emotional. Rabbi Reuven Greenwald, Director of the Year-In-Israel Program, helped us frame the current situation using poetry. Throughout the mission, we shared our joys and sorrows; and in the embrace of one another, we found comfort, courage, and a sense of belonging.

Participants of the program stand together for a photo.

Participants of the program stand together with united purpose.

By going on this educator’s mission to Israel during this critical time, we all became witnesses to the horrors that Israel and the Jewish people went through on October 7th and the days and weeks that followed. Upon our return we took on the enormous responsibility of educating others to Never Forget.

We returned from our experience with a great sense of hope and a true purpose. Mission participants have delivered sermons, taught sessions for parents and students, and continue to find ways to teach about Israel and the war and share the stories we heard. Most of all, through our first-hand experiences, we can provide support for our students during these difficult times.

Thank you to HUC-JIR, ARJE, and the Jewish Education Project for supporting us in making this dream a reality.

Note: This post was written by Lauren Chizner ‘97 and Rachel Barnehama ‘18