During the winter of 2020, a large group of volunteers met (on Zoom) from the peoplehood committees of CJP’s Israel and Global Jewish Citizenship Initiative in order to brainstorm about what programs they could develop in order to maintain strong connections between the communities. An idea that gained immediate support was the establishment of a pilot mentoring program in which Boston volunteers would dedicate time each week to teaching English to Haifa high schoolers for whom an oral proficiency test in English is a mandatory part of the Bagrut (matriculation exam).

The Haifa volunteers and education professionals identified four local high schools with the greatest need for English teachers, while the Boston volunteers sent out a call for participants. In parallel, both sides together also met with the directors of various existing programs among other U.S.-Israel partnerships. Ultimately, they decided to build their program by consulting with and commissioning a set of webinars from Haifa’s Hanny Fuks of Oranim College.

In February 2021, about 16 mentors from Boston and Haifa trained via intensive live webinars and arrived at the exciting moment in which they met several grateful Haifa teachers, who described the students and their needs. Each mentor took on two to three students from four Haifa high schools: Alliance, Ironi Aleph, Ironi Hey and Ironi Gimmel. Meeting weekly from February until May, the Boston and Haifa mentors and mentees worked together to improve the students’ oral English proficiency through a series of activities, exercises and assignments, all of which engaged both groups in lively and deep conversations. Some mentors went above and beyond their commitment to meet for 45 minutes, offering additional and longer sessions.

The pilot mentoring program was a wonderful success, bringing together committed Bostonians, Haifa community members and thankful high schoolers. The students expressed their deep appreciation for the program in written and video messages to the mentors.

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“For us, it’s going great; we are really having fun. We’re getting better and we’re learning new words. We gain confidence and feel better about speaking in English,” said students Tomer and Noam.

Sharing their observation that the program exceeded their expectations and in terms of content and structure, more students commented on their “wonderful mentors who inspired us and expanded our knowledge” and asked to participate again in the future.

The Haifa teachers, meeting with the mentors on Zoom to celebrate the program, remarked on the “tremendous efforts” of the mentors and offered lovely praise for the work accomplished: “As a teacher I can say that it was apparent my students received a priceless gift. You gave them, above all, a big boost of confidence through your devotion and endless patience…you treated our students as your private children.”

Boston and Haifa are looking to expand the program in 2021-2022. Those interested in participating as mentors should contact Dr. Jennifer Lewin at jlewin@staff.haifa.ac.il.