One of the reasons I love working at Shorashim is that I get to work on cool projects in addition to Taglit-Birthright Israel. One of them is called Classroom to Classroom: an initiative to help Hebrew high school classrooms and religious schools make their Israel curriculums more innovative using social media. Through a fellowship sponsored by the iCenter and the Jewish Education Project called Project Incite, I was coached through creating a brand new educational project that will rock the Jewish world, and most importantly to our organization’s mission: connect Americans and Israelis.
With the help of Shorashim’s Executive Director Adam Stewart, we designed a pilot social media platform and invited classroom teachers to join us on a trip to Israel to meet with other teachers from Kiryat Gat to be trained on the program and put their already existing curriculum to use.
The trip, thanks to our P2K hosts Niva Vollman and Susan Peled, was a success beyond my imagination. The teachers from the Chicago area (Hanna Pashtan—Highland Park High School, Semadar Siegel—Evanston Township High School, Ezra Balzer—Congregation Am Yisrael) hit it off with the four teachers from the Kiryat Gat high schools and picked up the program quickly.
After follow up visits to most of the schools, the program was launched and the students from the Chicago area and Israel were connecting with each other within (and sometimes outside) the framework of the Classroom to Classroom platform. Perhaps one of the most poignant exchanges came from the following question: What do you think is the hardest thing about being a teenager in the United States and Israel?
One Chicago area teen wrote: We have many pressures on us. Most of us are involved in many after school activities. It is very hard on American teenage students to manage our time. A typical school week day for me is going to school, staying three and a half more hours for dance rehearsal, then going home to do all the homework I have that night. The homework level we get can be very stressful. As a junior in high school, another pressure is the ACT, which is a standardized test. All colleges you apply to look at your ACT score to help them determine if you should be accepted or not. Many students spend a lot of time studying and practicing for this test throughout the whole year. It adds even more pressure than just keeping up with school activities and homework.
Another Chicago area teenager wrote: The hardest thing about being a teenager in America is the constant fake personalities of people and the nonsense that people say to you to try and make you feel bad.
An Israeli teenager wrote: I think that the hardest thing of being a teenager in Israel is the wars, for example ‘Oferet yetzuka.’ We were supposed to stay at home all day long, afraid from the missile, even very late at night! But despite all the pain and fear we are proud to be Israeli teenagers. In times like this, it's important to support each other and be united.
Another teenager from Israel wrote: For my opinion, the hardest thing of being teenager in Israel is to be able to manage all the hatred and hostility from the world ...it took us so long to build this whole state, why can’t we just live in peace without all the wars and the fear in our eyes? Although it sounds very depressing, I wouldn't change my origin for any penny in the world! It who I am, who we are, the Israeli citizens... and we have our special quality.
Shorashim’s mission is our belief that students (and adults) best learn about Israel from her people, and that the same is true for Israelis learning about American Jewry. While the absolute best way is to visit Israel until a student can get to Israel, perhaps Classroom to Classroom is the second best way.
If your school or congregation in interested in participating in Classroom to Classroom 2.0, email me at email@example.com.