Walking into the Haifa Expo at Temple Emanuel, the first things I heard were laughter and the squeaking of sneakers on floorboards. Looking around the room, along two walls were the Temple’s Hebrew school students, sitting proudly next to their presentations. This was the day in which the students were to present to their parents and other guests what they had learned about different elements of the city of Haifa. So, on card-stock posters propped up on easels and laid out on tables, on laptop screens set to brightly colored slideshows, the students had their presentations at the ready.
Things kicked-off with a welcoming introduction from the Temple’s Hebrew school teachers, who framed the context of the Haifa Expo. They spoke about how and why the students were learning about the city and explained that the students had developed a pen-pal relationship with fifth-grade students at the Zichron Yosef school in Haifa as part of Boston-Haifa Connection through CJP. Through the connection with their pen-pals and learning about Haifa, the students had the valuable opportunity to be familiarized with Israel as more than simply a place on a map, and rather a place that is meaningful to the Jewish people and was home to their new friends! As a result of the pen-pal relationship, we learned that the Israeli students at Zichron Yosef were inspired in their own Judaism, based on their connections with the students at Temple Emanuel.
After the guests were introduced to the plan for the Haifa Expo, we got to visit with students and learn about their presentations. One of the students, Megan, had a poster board highlighting the nature of Haifa as a coastal city. As I learned from Megan, “Haifa is one of the main ports in Israel” which she thought was “really interesting!” Walking around the room, I had the chance to speak to Yael, an aspiring flautist who spoke about the music scene in Haifa. She spoke about how many of the old warehouses by the port have been transformed into music venues for independent artists. It turns out that this is another element that connects Boston and Haifa, both have fantastic arts scenes, and the coastal nature of the cities play large roles in the identities of these cities.
“They’re the best team in the league!” Hearing this, I naturally thought that a young Patriots fan was speaking about the pride of New England! As I turned around to where the voice came from, I met Shmuel, who as it turns out was proudly speaking about his presentation on the Haifa sports scene. The team wasn’t the Pats but rather the Haifa Underdogs, a team that definitely lives up to their name, not having gotten to the Israel Bowl championships since 2007. When I asked which team would win in a game between the Pats and the Underdogs, Shmuel still sided with the Pats. His friend Meir who was presenting next to him was speaking about the Technion (one of Israel’s premier technical colleges), and showed off colorful photos of laboratory spaces on an open laptop. “I want to be an engineer one day, and it would be really cool to study at the Technion”, Meir remarked.
After the invited guests visited the student presentations, it was the students’ turn to learn from each other. So, while the guests reconvened to learn more about Boston-Haifa Connection and the Zichron Yosef partner school in Israel, the students took turns teaching, and learning from their peers. It was a fantastic morning full of learning at Temple Emanuel, and it’s great to know that programs like this build real relationships that last, both between students in our community and with their friends in Israel.
Temple Emanuel is one of 27 school-to-school partnerships between Boston and Haifa supported by CJP through Boston-Haifa Connection. For the past eight years, Temple Emanuel has been partnered with the Zichron Yosef school. Through this partnership, Temple Emanuel has been fortunate to host visiting elementary school principals from Haifa, in support of enhanced pluralistic avenues of Jewish education in Haifa schools.