How to Bring Israel "to Life" in the Classroom
by Talia Shir
American support for Israel is essential to strengthening the political, economic, and military ties between the two countries, providing Israel with diplomatic backing, financial aid, and access to advanced military technology. However, a Gallup Poll from 2019 found that support for Israel among Americans was at its lowest point in a decade.
In light of this, it becomes imperative for parents and educators to instill in our children a deep understanding of Israel's significance. We need to communicate that the continued existence of the Jewish people hinges on prioritizing Israel. By engaging children in meaningful and stimulating ways, we can inspire them to become enthusiastic advocates for Israel and embrace their roles as future Zionists.
Here are some effective strategies for connecting children in the diaspora with the land of Israel.
Take a Mock Trip to Israel
Take your class to Israel for a day! Provide children with a passport template like this one, that they can personalize with their name, a self-portrait, and a space to reflect on the destinations they "visit".
Ask your students to rearrange their classroom furniture into an airplane, with two pilots and two flight attendants leading the way. Students can role-play as flight attendants by checking passports, with pilots announcing e take-off and landing. Upon landing, the students will retrieve their passports and pencils and begin their virtual tour.
Virtual tours offer an excellent way to transport children to Israel's iconic landmarks and historical sites. Utilize resources like Google Earth to create a virtual tour itinerary. Take them to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, float in the Dead Sea, explore the ancient city of Masada, or take a stroll through the vibrant streets of Tel Aviv. Encourage children to document their observations and illustrations in their passports.
Create Connections with Pen Pals
Establishing a pen pal program provides children with a wonderful opportunity to learn about Israel in a personal and meaningful way. Whether through exchanging letters, emails, or video chats, connecting with Israeli children allows children in the diaspora to gain unique insights into growing up in the Jewish homeland.
This firsthand interaction enables them to explore the similarities and differences between their own lives and those of their Israeli pen pals. Discussions about daily routines, traditions, hobbies, and aspirations provide a deeper understanding of Israeli culture. Through these exchanges, children may discover surprising aspects, such as Sunday being a school day or how secular Israeli children experience Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.
Moreover, the pen pal program can inspire a genuine curiosity to learn more about Israel's geography and cultural heritage. By creating human connections through a penpal program, they'll have the opportunity to learn about what it's like to grow up in the Jewish homeland... and perhaps a new friend for life!
If you are interested in initiating a pen pal program, here are some tips for getting started:
- Contact your local Jewish Federation, synagogue, or other Jewish organization to see if they have any existing partnerships or contacts with schools or community organizations in Israel.
- Once you find a partner, discuss the details of the program with them. How often will the children write to each other? What language will they use? What topics will they cover? How will you monitor and facilitate the communication?
- Inform the parents of the children involved and get their consent and cooperation.
- Assign each child a pen pal based on their age, interests, and preferences. Introduce them to each other and provide some icebreaker questions to start the conversation.
- Encourage the children to write regularly and sincerely to their pen pals. Help them with grammar, spelling, and vocabulary if needed. Remind them to be respectful, curious, and open-minded.
The Kibbutz Movement
In the 15 years I spent teaching an Israel history class to 5th graders, the kibbutz movement was perhaps the most captivating topic. Their favorite activity was designing a map of their dream kibbutz.
You can begin by offering some background information by searching for YouTube videos documenting life on a kibbutz. Later, students can apply the knowledge they've gained to design a map of their ideal kibbutz. They'll be required to make decisions regarding various elements such as the inclusion of children's houses, the types of businesses they would like to establish, and the range of recreational activities they envision for their kibbutz. This exercise will allow them to exercise their creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills as they imagine and shape their own unique vision of an ideal community.
Finally, consider inviting a guest speaker who grew up on a kibbutz to share their experience.
Israeli Culture Day
Promote cultural exchange activities that give children a firsthand experience of Israeli traditions and customs. For example, children can learn how to prepare delicious dishes such as hummus or an Israeli salad, using fresh ingredients and simple techniques. Plan a Hebrew movie night by screening an Israeli original or American motion picture in Hebrew! Set up a concession stand with traditional Israeli snacks like Bissli or Apropo.
They can also enjoy listening to Israeli songs and learning about their meanings and origins. These activities are not only entertaining, but also interactive, allowing children to actively engage with Israeli culture and deepen their connection to the country.
Teaching children about Israel is a responsibility we undertake to cultivate their love, understanding, and support for the land and people of Israel. By adopting engaging and immersive teaching approaches, such as mock trips, pen pal programs, exploring the kibbutz movement, and Israeli culture days, we empower our children to become ambassadors for Israel. Together, we can nurture a profound and unbreakable love for Israel, ensuring a new generation of passionate Zionists.
So, what are you waiting for? Let's bring Israel to life in the classroom!
Submitted from Alef Bet Games
Talia Shir is an experienced educator, contributor to the Jewish Education Project, and the founder of the Jewish educational site Alef Bet Games, a platform dedicated to creating educational resources for Hebrew, tefillah, Jewish holidays, and Israeli