Israel, it’s personal

Courtesy AMHSI via Facebook

By Leor Sinai

Most of us would agree that education is a life-long process. It is a part of living a full life, and a continuous trajectory of exploration and revelation. My focus is a bit more specific: Israel Education. It’s the field that explores the story and ongoing history of Israel that can be heard beating in the hearts of our people.

I took on the role as co-CEO of Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) several years ago. The program affords us the opportunity to combine love of history, education and experiential learning. It has been a very fast moving ride in the five years since JNF USA merged the Alexander Muss High School in Israel under its vast umbrella. Along the way we’ve effectively altered the way we “teach” Israel, into a continuous trajectory of learning and engagement, what we call the “Israel Continuum.” As strategic as the merger was, and still is, the realization of the Israel Continuum continues to provide opportunities for collaboration with partnering agencies resulting in positive outcomes with every passing year.

The JNF Israel Continuum is not just about the programs, but the trajectory of life-long learning and experience. Perhaps that’s why some refer to it as “From the birthing room to the board room.”

On the heels of Yom Ha’atzmuat, as we celebrate Israel’s 70 years, and as the academic year ends, we take stock. As a result of our integration, we’ve refined and developed programs to further connect the dots and the phases of personal growth. We launched “Roots Israel,” a community-service learning program for teens bridging experiential history lessons through AMHSI with the volunteer projects of Jewish National Fund’s Alternative Break. We have also set up a mentorship program that pairs Jewish college students with AMHSI-JNF alumni still in high school, to help prepare them for Jewish life on campus. Finally, the JNF Campus Fellows program has successfully integrated AMHSI-JNF alumni, forging a true path of Jewish leadership for the future.

Our objective is to systematically engage the full age range of American Jewish youth from kindergarten to college through adulthood, maintaining Israel and Peoplehood as the common denominator. This is what we set out to do and we take that work very seriously – and personally. After all, if we don’t take Israel personally, how can we expect our children to? We are role models.

The paragraph that follows the Shema states, “… and you shall teach your children … when you are sitting at your home, and when you go on a journey, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” In essence, our tradition instructs us that children are similar to sponges; thirsty for knowledge. Further, the hallmark of this line is the idea that children learn from us all the time. They learn as they watch us, whether at home, at the supermarket, in our interactions with others, and in practically every aspect of our lives. Upon introduction into the world children know nothing and, as they grow, they seek experiences and knowledge. We are their teachers, their role models, their future selves.

The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin teaches: “… anyone who teaches another’s child, it is as if he/she delivered him/her…” Now, clearly this is not to be taken literally, but the message does indeed reflect the power and impact one could have on a child’s life, specifically in the field of education. Don’t we all remember a lesson an educator taught, or a lecture they gave, that made us go, “a-ha” and changed our life?

Can you pinpoint when Israel became personal to you?

Israel may have become personal to you when the stories you learned in school came alive as you visited the locations where those stories actually took place. Israel became personal when you discovered the strength and perseverance of our people throughout history, may I add despite history. And maybe, just maybe, Israel became personal when you first landed at Ben Gurion International Airport as your soul fluttered, as you had been there before. Those emotions are made possible by the education we receive, by the role modeling we provide.

Many of us wonder if our own children will care about Israel. Or will they care ‘enough’ about Israel. The answer is YES. When we care, our children care. As we hand off the mantle of Jewish continuity, as our ancestors have done from time immemorial, we will find a willing and able next generation eager to carry the mantle forward. We just have to show them the way.

Rabbi Leor Sinai is co-CEO of Alexander Muss High School in Israel.