TESTING OUR BEST
What does Israel education look like post-Oct. 7?
The day after Oct. 7, all of the Israel educators and engagement professionals were left asking: What is the Israel story we tell now?
As a nonprofit organization that has sent more than 25,000 rising leaders in the fields of business, public policy, STEM and law on Israel Treks — tailored educational experiences in Israel — we at itrek knew we were not alone in grappling with this question. To begin to answer it, we focused on our greatest asset: our itrek tour educators.
Tour educators are at the forefront of every group travel experience in Israel. Their knowledge is powerful and their life experience even more so. It is crucial that we continue to partner with them, as we have for years, and center their voices in how we educate about Israel. The work of the tour educator can have a lasting impact on group participants and ripple effects beyond them as participants share their experiences back home.
“After Oct. 7, it was clear to me that I will never guide the same familiar sights in the same way again,” itrek tour educator Hadara Arbel told me after a guided tour of the Gaza Envelope that our organization facilitated in December. We felt it was important to provide tour educators with the opportunity to visit the region and space to process their own experiences of Oct. 7. Given that many of our tour educators had not visited the area since that horrific day, we quickly organized the tour to hear from those affected most — and to help our tour educators consider how they will guide diverse audiences at these same locations in the near future.
“While it wasn’t my first time visiting these sites, it was the first time I was there as a student, not a teacher — and with my colleagues, not my clients,” Arbel reflected. “For the first time since the war started, I found myself beginning to process my feelings, and think through my professional insights. It got the ball rolling on what I know will be a long process to come.”
Given the disruption to tourism caused by the ongoing war, itrek has offered tour educators up to $2,500 in “Emergency Israel Education” funding toward new experiences that meet the needs of the current moment. Our tour educators have shown their ingenuity in creating authentic Israel education experiences that do not require boots on the ground. The projects have been extremely impressive. For example, two tour educators partnered to organize a Zoom seminar series for foreign audiences of all ages and religions to hear from Israelis affected by the attacks on Oct. 7. Participants learn about the personal consequences and impact of the attacks directly from Israelis instead of the media. A different project features social media content that delivers clear and pinpointed messaging from an informed perspective.
We also just concluded a two-day conference in Jerusalem with 38 tour educators as part of the ‘itrek Academy’ program. With new conference sessions such as “Processing Israel Post-October 7th” and “The Roots of Animosity Toward Israel on Campus,” the agenda was dedicated to helping tour educators effectively address key issues in the wake of current events and to engage in deep learning about the ramifications of Oct. 7 on Israel, Israelis and the region.
It’s been nearly four months since Oct. 7 and I think all of us in this field can agree — none of us have figured out the “right” answer to the question of what Israel education should look like now or in the future. At the same time, we have a responsibility to actively grapple with this topic, and to continue elevating and investing in the voices of our Israeli educators as we craft a new approach together. In teaching about Israel today, they are balancing multiple factors: the weight of unfolding events on both our participants from overseas and the people of the region; the change in the educators themselves; and the need to remember and convey that Israel’s story is far larger and richer than just the events of the past few months.
Gil Galanos is the co-founder and CEO of itrek.