BHC Elementary Educators Mifgash- Monday, June 1

Our next Mifgash Blog entry was written by Ilana Snapstailer, the Executive Director of Kesher Newton.  Although Ilana is not new to the city of Haifa, she is new to our partnerships.  The Kesher – Ehud partnership is an emerging partnership.  Ilana and her Ehud partners, Sofia and Sara, have spent many hours together this week, in Haifa and Jerusalem, and are creating both a strong friendship and an interesting joint curriculum.


This morning I entered the Ehud School, Kesher Newton’s new partner school for the second time. After my first visit and a meaningful Shabbat with my partner teachers, I already felt like I could proudly call it “my school.”

When you walk into the Ehud School, you know yo immediately know you are somewhere special. The vision of the school which learly embodies a love for Jewish and Israeli heritage, is displayed prominently when you enter. The main hallway doubles as a “Jewish heritage museum” full of the ‘artifacts’ brought in by the students. An old sewing machine, tefillin from Europe, liras from Israel’s earlier days, a vintage radio and more are accompanied by stories written by each family about their object.  Edna, who became the principal of the Ehud school 5 years ago, told us how special it was for the students to have a “part” of their own backgrounds in the school.

The motto of the Ehud School is that the students should be constantly learning, even when they are outside of the classroom.  In addition to beautiful student artwork, the walls, ceilings, and even stairs are covered with historical timelines, biographies, famous sayings from literature and the Tanach and more.  Students learn by traveling in the hallway or walking up the stairs.

At Ehud, they believe that learning should be hands on and experiential. Every Sunday morning the students “start with a smile” by having an elective with an educational twist. They could have a cooking class which relates to a Jewish holiday or a sports elective with the instructions in English. I can’t help but get chills when I learn about this – that is exactly the kind of teaching style, and those are the exact kinds of electives we have at Kesher! (Our sports directions are in Hebrew).  Additionally, just like we do at Kesher Newton, their students often act out stories from the Tanach or learn their new language through songs.

Today I had the privilege of speaking to the 6th grade class at the Ehud School.  I showed them pictures of Boston, the city, the Charles River, the USS constitution.  They especially love seeing pictures of snow piled high from this past winter.  “What fun!” they exclaimed.  (I explained to them how shoveling 3 feet of snow when you are late to work is not so much fun).  We officially made their teachers into Boston Red Sox fans by giving them the gift of baseball caps.

I showed a video of the Kesher students singing “Eretz Yisrael Sheli.” The Ehud students were so impressed to see American students singing in Hebrew.  I asked them if they also sing in English. Of course they did!  (“All You Need is Love” by the Beatles).

Perhaps the most significant part of the day was when they got to ask me questions. Although they were nervous about their English at first, they soon developed confidence and were so excited to learn more about my school in Boston.  I felt like a celebrity being interviewed by the paparazzi! They started off easy: “How many kids go to your school?”  “How many times a week do they go to your school?”   “What do your students like to do for fun?”  Then I got the big one:  “Is there a lot of anti-Semitism in Boston?” I was fascinated that a 6th grader in Israel would even have that topic on his radar. I answered him the best I knew how: “no, there is not a lot – I feel completely safe and free to practice my Judaism, but like any place on earth, Boston is not free of occasional prejudice or hateful acts.”

There were many other highlights of our day. Pam Weil, who was with me at the Ehud School, and I got to join an Israeli Dance class.  (Pam knew all of the dances already, I knew some and caught on).  Needless to say, the students were impressed.

Later in the morning we visited the Ironi Hey High School where they have a partnership with Gann Academy.  We met with a group of students who will be visiting Boston soon. They asked us questions which showed a maturity beyond their years. One student asked me the classic “if you are so connected to Israel, why don’t you move here?” Other students asked my colleague about her opinion of American politics. During the session it became evident that the students have difficulty understanding the education situation for American Jews. What is the difference between Jewish Day School, Hebrew School, and Religious School?  Do students go to Hebrew School every day? How much money does it cost to go to each?  Which do you think is better, day school or supplementary school?

Our visit at Ironi Hey ended with a presentation about the Shiluv vocational program for their Ethiopian immigrant population. We then spent the afternoon working with our partner schools on concrete plans for the year.

In the evening we visited Kehilat Moriah, the only Conservative Synagogue in Haifa. We heard from a panel of Reform and Conservative Israeli Rabbis. I was fascinated to see how they are trying very hard to create a new kind of “Israeli Progressive Judaism” which caters to their population (rather than just carbon copy the American equivalents of those movements). I was also saddened to hear that while “chiloni” Israelis often have a bar mtizvah for their boys, bnot mitzvah for girls involving a torah services (rather than just a party-or as one Rabbi put it, a “bat mitzvoosh”).

We ended the day singing “oseh shalom” with two Rabbis and one Rabba.  It was at this moment that I realized I was witnessing history.  There is a slowly growing renaissance of sorts where Isarelis who identify as “secular” are discovering that there are multiple ways to practice Judaism; that Judaism does not belong to the orthodox alone.  I am proud that the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection, of which I am now a part, is having something to do with it.

As I walk back to our hotel, I think about my school back home, Kesher Newton; our pluralism, our dedication to experiential education and hands on learning, our focus on conversational Hebrew and connecting to our brothers and sisters in Israel. We could not be more fortuitous, to be entering such a partnership, with such a school at such a time.  I am bursting with excitement about the endless possibilities which lay ahead. I cannot wait to get back to the US and put this partnership in motion!

Ilana Snapstailer, Kesher Newton