Israel Education Standards and Benchmarks: Which waze do we go?

IMG_2282By Dr. Lesley Litman and Anne Lanski

Yedida Bessemer asked eJP readers to think about what excellent Israel education looks like and called for field-wide standards and benchmarks to determine whether efforts are effective. We at the iCenter want to share our experience from seven years of  building this field and working closely with schools, camps, synagogues, Israel travel experiences, and other educational and communal settings to help learners, in any environment, develop meaningful relationships with Israel, the land, and its people.

While much work lies ahead, we offer a range of approaches, resources, specific programs, and more from which educators can draw so that all kinds of learners – regardless of personal interests, level of previous knowledge, Hebrew language skills, travel in Israel, or other factors – will engage in outstanding Israel learning experiences.

As educators continue to seek help infusing Israel into their learning environments, a good starting point is the iCenter’s Aleph Bet of Israel Education, a set of 12 core principles, approaches to content, and essential pedagogies that together constitute the building blocks for the field. Sections of the Aleph Bet include: “Israel as a Cornerstone of Jewish Identities,” “Eretz, Medina, and Am Yisrael,” “Modern Hebrew,” “Israeli Arts and Culture,” “Relating and Relationship-Building,” and “The Educator,” among other principles.

We recognize that principles do not alone build a field. Yedida is right in calling for educational standards and benchmarks. How do we go about developing them and ensuring their productive use? Whether in schools, camps, or other communities, we see the greatest success when each institution decides on its own standards and benchmarks with the buy-in of its faculty, staff, and other key leaders.

Day schools can look to three related models to help guide development of their Israel education standards and benchmarks. On a spectrum from the systemic to more focused approaches, we invite day school educators to explore BASIS from Jewish LearningWorks, iNfuse, and Hearts and Minds, initiatives either designed, implemented or supported by the iCenter. Common among these models is allowing space for lay leaders and professionals, in a guided manner , to engage in rich and productive conversations about Israel in their school. We again see success in schools that, prior to adopting or articulating Israel education standards, take time to think deeply about and articulate an overarching vision for Israel education. This vision then serves as the criteria against which standards and benchmarks are developed.

You can learn more about – and maybe even adapt – the rich set of standards for Israel education recently developed by the iNfuse schools by emailing us at infuse@theicenter.org. We also are accepting inquiries for the next group of schools that will take part in our day school initiative, which you can learn more about by emailing infuse@theicenter.org.

If you’re not a day school educator, we have myriad other resources. For summer camps, we work closely with leaders and educators to help map where Israel currently exists in the camp environments – and how Israel can be more deeply integrated into all camp activities. The Goodman Camping Initiative has been a vehicle for more than 50 summer camps to implement a systemic integration of Israel throughout the camp and to be positioned to make real change. The activity database and planning tool are available for anyone to access.

Along with these initiatives, in our work with thousands of  Jewish educators through numerous programs and frameworks we have been struck and inspired by the passion they share to become effective Israel educators. Whether they are enrolled in institutions of higher learning, are part of Birthright Israel Fellows, or engaged in the day to day work of Israel education in a multitude of educational settings, every educator needs principles to guide and inform the Israel education experiences they create.

We want to broaden the access and reach of our resources, to welcome more people into the conversation and process about how we can both initiate and then further develop the relationship between learners and Israel. Developing the right standards and benchmarks for every single institution is integral to this conversation, and to the iCenter’s work.

Dr. Lesley Litman is the Director of HUC-JIR’s Executive MA program in Jewish Education and a consultant to the iCenter.

Anne Lanski is Executive Director of the iCenter.