Creating a link between Jewish children growing up in the Diaspora and the Jewish homeland is something that many organizations work tirelessly to achieve, but none has the impact of a Jewish educator and none more so than a teacher from Israel itself.
Morim shlichim, or teacher emissaries, are sent to all corners of the Jewish world by the World Zionist Organization (WZO) to teach Hebrew, Judaism, the history of the Jewish people and of Israel, Israeli music and dance, Israeli culture and more.
“The aims behind the WZO’s Morim Shlichim program are to foster a deep love of the land, connect Jewish children outside of Israel with their Jewish heritage and strengthen the Hebrew language,” says Diti Bechor, North American coordinator of the Morim Shlichim program. “The shlichim dedicate themselves wholeheartedly not only to teaching, but also to fostering relationships that can last a lifetime.
“We have teachers who bring their own personality, their knowledge, and their proficiency as teachers, and they come here with shlichut (a special mission or ‘calling’) in their hearts and minds, to connect with the children and with the school community,” she says.
Reaching all corners of the Jewish world
Every year, the WZO sends morim shlichim from Israel to the Jewish schools abroad for a period of two or three years. Currently, there are about 200 shlichim in more than 100 schools around the world. The number remains more or less the same each school year as some end their shlichut when others start, however, the WZO aims to increase this number over the next few years.
The largest concentration of teachers is in North America – two thirds versus a third in the rest of the world. The program reaches schools in places as far as Helsinki, Finland; Perth, Australia; Rio de Janiero, Brazil; Monteray, Mexico, Port Elizabeth, South Africa and Hong Kong.
“We send shlichim to public schools (non-Jewish), Jewish community schools and the Jewish day schools of all the streams – Reform, Conservative and Orthodox,” says Itzchack Shtiglitz , executive director of the Teaching Emissary unit of the WZO. “Unfortunately though, we don’t reach enough of the schools who need our services. For example, there are around 1,000 schools in North America and we are touching only 10% of them.”
Shtiglitz believes there’s a big difference between being taught by someone who lives in the Diaspora and someone who comes from the place about which he’s teaching. Who better to learn from than someone who speaks the language, knows the history, lives the culture and has experienced the country in a way no visitor can?
“We are talking about the connection to Israel, the connection to Zionism and to Jerusalem and the best way to show this connection is by being a role model,” he says. “If you are a role model as an educator, it gives the students the feeling of a circle that starts with theory and ends with reality, and the kids are the first people to feel it deeply. If this kid knows, feels that his beloved teacher, after two or three years, left to go back to Eretz Yisrael because it’s his homeland, it’s the best message.”
A family affair
More often than not, the teachers who are chosen to go on shlichut are part of a husband and wife team. This means that both of them will be guaranteed work while they’re abroad. In addition, the entire family takes part in the shlichut, including the children, who host friends and other students on Shabbat and during the holidays – and impart their own knowledge about their homeland.
“Usually their house is open for everybody, and when they go back to Israel, they become your friend in Israel,” says Bechor. “And another wonderful opportunity that is given to the students is a connection between the students of the teachers in that country and the students of the same teacher back in Israel. This connection takes place on Skype, in video conferences, emails, sometimes they do projects together, and when the kids from the school abroad go to Israel, they visit their pals and their old teacher. So he’s still their shaliach, but back home in Israel.”
The Shachor family is one such example. Rabbi Dov Shachor (30), his wife, Adi (30) and their four children aged between six months and nine years, have been on shlichut in Beachwood, Ohio, since September 2012. Both Dov and Adi teach Hebrew, Zionism and Judaic studies at Fuchs Mizrachi School.
Asked why he chose to become a moreh shaliach, Shachor said he wanted to teach in a great Jewish community in America and at the same time, give his family a wonderful life experience that they wouldn’t ordinarily have had.
“From the personal aspect, it’s a once-in-a-life time family experience,” he says, “but more importantly, there is the added value of coming from Israel and bringing all aspects of Israeli culture, language and experience and sharing it with wonderful students from very Zionistic families.
“I try to teach how the written texts can be practical in our everyday lives and it’s very rewarding to see the students growing up with Israeli culture, history and language around them. A highlight is being able to help and support the students who choose to spend a year in Israel after they finish school,” says Shachor.
The teachers on the Morim Shlichim program become completely involved in the community in which they work. They connect with the parents, the children and other teachers. They’re involved in programming in the school, events, religious and Israeli national holidays, they open their homes to the students and much more.
“I am very proud of my teachers,” says Bechor. “I hear them, I see them, I see them in their work, I hear from parents everywhere that they are amazing and I know how much everybody loves them. I can see the impact they have on those around them.
“I believe every child deserves to be exposed to a shaliach from Israel during his learning years, and a teacher from Israel who teaches the various subjects in fresh and new ways, and in Hebrew, is good for everybody for many years to come,” she says.