International Education: On Location in Israel:
Planting the Seeds for a Better World
Upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport in the Tel Aviv suburbs, I was impressed by Israel’s efficient use of land. It seems that every vinkl, or nook, has been planted with a commercially viable crop, such as citrus and almonds. Along the roadsides, though, I felt a connection with both my zeide and suegro, both of whom love to work with the earth. Grandpa read about plants in his native shtetl Shershev (today in Belarus) and was able to procure an agricultural visa to Argentina before settling in Brooklyn with a small plot of land. In Florida, my father-in-law has been experimenting with varieties of bougainvillea, which when left to grow on their own, become thorny and entangled, yet whose flowers delight the eyes with vibrant colors when the weather turns warm and sunny. Some of our bougainvillea, or veranera, flowers exhibit pentacolor hybrids having been created from cuttings spanning lilac, orange, pink, purple, burgundy, violet, white, and yellow hues.
The creation of modern Israel is synonymous with the veranera. Today the nation is interwoven with the experiences of sabras and immigrants, intersecting ethnicities and religions forever studied under the world’s microscope. Secular, religious, and ultra religious Jews—Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, Teimanim, and then broken down into subgroups, many of which overlap—live alongside secular and religious Sunni Muslims, Druze, Bedouins, Baha’i, and diverse Christians, among them Armenian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Maronite, Coptic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean, Melkite Greek, and more recently, Mormons. There are now small communities of Buddhists and Hindus. Even more recently, a huge influx of Russian Jews and smaller waves of Ethiopian Jews arrived. Compelling stories emanate from refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Sudan along with workers from the Philippines, Colombia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and others.
But just as intertwined and complex, modern-day Israel also equates to practicality, directness, and the ability to focus on a problem and resolve it. Israel has no other choice. She is a nation that is small in territory — about the same acreage as New Jersey — and is able to support a large population despite the fact that it has fewer natural resources, especially lack of water, than most locales. Israel’s most important assets are its intellect and creativity. Just as important, it is a nation of laws, and has built a system that can criticize itself constructively without tearing itself apart, which is very uncommon as a society throughout human history.
A group of U.S. school superintendents witnessed this incredible human experiment from November 17 through November 23 first hand. The delegation, sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), met with students, faculty members and administrators of K-12 institutions and universities along with expert analysts in history, security and government. The group was led by Dr. Charlotte Frank, senior vice president of research and development at McGraw-Hill and chairperson of the executive committee of the superintendents listed above.
Here are a few of the participant’s perspectives:
Dr. Sichel: The thing I wanted to take back with me, more than anything, is that the friendliness, the openness of the culture and the blending of religion and cultures. It’s so diverse here. And when we talk about diversity in the United States, we really don’t have a finger on what the diversity is. I see here that it works really well. I hope that will continue. On an educational perspective, here the people are dealing with the same things we’re dealing with. We have high ability students, we have lower performing students, and we have students in-between. And we’re all trying to find ways to reach these students. It was good to see the cooperativeness that was just so special to me. We talked so much and we heard so much, and it is so important, especially now, to share ideas.
Dr. Salmon: It was life-changing especially my perception of Israel. My views were so shallow. Now they’ve deepened and I have many things I need to think about, to read more about so I have more knowledge when I talk about Israel. I am very interested in sending students to the YASE program. I want to talk about culture shock, applications, and how to get the process initiated. I wish my own daughter had had this opportunity before she graduated high school.
Dr. and Mrs. Berg: We were impressed with the Holocaust Museum and the fact that history is repeating itself with the experiences of the refugees coming into Israel from Darfur via Egypt. The Center doesn’t let the collective voices of the Holocaust die.
Dr. Domenech: Superintendents make outstanding ambassadors. Through their exposure to programs such as the one AIFL offers, they are able to bring back new perspectives to their communities. [Ed: When Dr. Domenech was at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) he saw that people were placing small folded pieces of paper with their hand-written messages. He wished peace and health for his grandson Robby, who was born during our week in Israel.]
Over the following months, please visit www.educationupdate.com for in-depth descriptions and analyses on topics pertaining to Israel and AIFL.#