Online Israel: Teaching With Passion
By Laurie Rappeport
Thirty years ago, learning and teaching about Israel was a very different reality than it is today.
After completiing my teaching degree in 1980, I spent a few years working for the Detroit public schools before I made the decision to change my life and make aliyah. Since then, I've worked in a number of positions in Israel, but I’ve always dreamed of returning to the classroom.
When the opportunity came up to join JETS Israel, an online education organization, I found myself combining two of my passions -- teaching and promoting Israel to American youngsters.
The growing acceptance of online learning in both day schools and afternoon schools, as well as for the adult community, is indicative of the power that distance learning can offer. Hundreds of Jewish educators from around the world connect through social media and other Internet groups to collaborate on ways to create and present Jewish learning in a 21st century milieu. And we do our best to provide for our students of all ages the framework, focus, and interactive experience that suits their interests.
Online learning has become an integral component of Jewish day and afternoon schools across the spectrum of the Jewish community, including in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community school frameworks. Even Jewish Educator Awards have begun to take a teacher's usage of e-learning tools into consideration when they consider their award citations.
And the success of Israel Forever is a strong example of the potential of online engagement for a more personal connection with the many dimensions of the Jewish state.
I have been teaching a class to a Chicago-synagogue school which meets at 7:00p.m Chicago-time (meaning that I have to wake up at 3:00a.m. to teach!). I’m fortunate to be teaching them a 10-week unit on Israel, which gives me an opportunity to introduce the kids to the "real Israel."
One of the most interesting benefits of the online format is that, quite simply, I'm in Israel. The kids are enthralled with my Israeli dog who snoozes on the couch behind me while I teach, fascinated by little vignettes that I share about day-to-day life in Israel and enthused when I share information about my soldier-son, my high school-aged daughter and especially about my hometown, Safed (Tzfat).
Copyright © Photo courtesy of Real Life Israel
The current session I’m teaching focuses on Jewish diversity in Israel. When we began the unit the kids were as clueless as I had been at their age about the different Jewish ethnicities.
I asked the kids to describe their own family's history and share some of their family’s customs and traditions with the group using an online whiteboard.
Each student is asked to study a different Jewish ethnic group that have settled in Israel throughout the generations -- Persian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Polish Jews, Indian Jews, and even Chinese Jews -- via a variety of videos, articles and other online materials. The students created a collaborative online Wiki where they reported on the historical origins of these groups, their language and legends and some of their unique traditions and customs.
One student challenged me by asking me to present information about the homosexual community in Israel, I was able to locate information in a matter of minutes and directly address the issue -- we screened a short clip about gay rights in Israel and I showed him a chart that summarized the legal standing of Israeli homosexual couples. The boy's curiosity was satisfied and he felt that we validated his concerns and interest.
Getting up to teach a class at 3:00a.m. isn't the easiest thing that I've ever done but, from what I've seen, programs such this one offer knowledge and a sense of community to young students who are exploring their own connections to Judaism and to Israel.