Voices from the Field
Reposted from JewishCincinnati.org
My mind is still reeling with inspiration and possibility after the first cohort of Taglit Fellows. The Taglit Fellows program is an intensive, professional development conference for experiential Jewish educators and professionals to prepare to staff Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.
Looking around at the 100 Fellows in my cohort (selected from a pool of 1,000), I couldn’t help but think that if these peers are the future leaders of the Jewish diaspora in America, our people will be in great hands. The program was created by the iCenter, a leader in contemporary Israel education in the United States.
Dr. Zohar Raviv, Vice President of Education at Taglit-Birthright Israel, summed up our purpose last week when he said, "We’ve taught Jews in America how to be Jewish, but we haven’t taught them why to be Jewish.” This quote resonated with me the entire week, and I think it will inspire and change how I view my work at the Federation.
It’s not that our generation isn’t interested in being Jewish. In fact, we’re more proud of our Judaism than any generation before us, as the numbers from the Pew Study show. We just don’t connect to existing Jewish institutions (or any institutions for that matter). We don’t have a sense of obligation for communal sustenance, and we don’t feel the need for a strong Jewish community as a reaction to issues against our people (ie. Holocaust, anti-Semitism, threats to Israel). Because we can’t connect with the existing Jewish narratives, Jewish young adults feel their own Jewish journey isn’t valid or “Jewish enough.” To avoid any discomfort, we simply opt out of anything Jewish. Let’s face it…surfing Netflix is a lot easier than going to a synagogue and being left feeling uncomfortable.
Taglit-Birthright Israel understands this, and their curriculum reflects a modern way of teaching Jewish education and connecting with Jewish young adults. The 10-day trip to Israel is not just an exploration of the land, it’s a program that is learner-centric, experiential, and allows for diversity of thoughts and feelings on Judaism and Israel. Leaders of Taglit-Birthright Israel work to teach Jewish young adults that they are part of the Jewish story, and they can fill that role in the Jewish narrative in any way they feel comfortable. Their Judaism is theirs, and participants should feel empowered to find out what Judaism can give to them. Taglit-Birthright Israel’s goal is to provide a space where a Jewish young adult can discover for themselves why they should be Jewish.
On a side note, I have learned some amazing programs for our trip…get ready Cincy Community Taglit-Birthright Israel!
In my job at the Federation, I hope to be the bridge between a young adult’s 10 days on the trip and their life back in Cincinnati (400,000 worldwide have been on Taglit-Birthright Israel in the last 14 years). It’s important to keep in mind the values of Birthright, create safe and open spaces for young adults to feel Jewish in their own, make them experiential, and give young adults ownership of their Jewish community.
We spent a lot of time sharing our Jewish journeys with each other and developing how to tell our story in a way that inspires. Every single person there had either attended camp or been to Israel (usually both), and those experiences were a lot more informative and inspiring than formal Jewish education (Jewish day school, Hebrew/Sunday school).
I’m coming back to Cincinnati energized for my work to keep connecting Jewish young adults to a Jewish community that has given me so much. I also hope to work with young adults to help them feel confident and proud of their Jewish journeys, whatever those journeys look like. As we said at the Taglit Fellow conference, "Being Jewish is about being the best you…and a part of us.”
For more about Taglit Fellows, please see here.
Sammy is thrilled to be back in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, working in his first professional role in the Jewish community. He is currently the Esther and Maurice Becker Center Networking and Mentoring Coordinator at the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, spearheading a new initiative to connect and engage Jewish young adults to the community, both professionally and socially. He spent the past three years living in New York City and working in the professional theatre industry. A highlight includes an assistant on the producing team for the Off-Broadway production of My Name is Asher Lev. During that time, he had an opportunity to lead two Taglit-Birthright Israel trips, which inspired him to find a career path involving Jewish community. Sammy is graduate of Syracuse University, with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism. At Syracuse, he was the President and Music Director of the Jewish a cappella group, Oy Cappella. Outside of work, he is an indoor cycling instructor, Cincinnati enthusiast, and an avid musical theatre fan!
Also featured in eJP
On October 16, 1973, as Jews all over gathered together to ask for redemption, the world changed. That evening, Egyptian and Syrian forces led surprise attacks on the Northern and Southern borders of Israel, beginning the war that would change the scope and perspective of Israeli society in ways that we are still feeling to this day.
The war, especially the nature of its unforeseen attacks, left a nation that so joyously celebrated a victory just six years earlier reeling, anxious, confused, and disappointed. While Israel was eventually victorious in the Yom Kippur War, somehow this victory felt different, pyrrhic.
Given the unfortunate circumstances that unfolded this past summer, it is safe to say that many of those same emotions have resurfaced. Once again, we find ourselves wondering if ‘victory’ can even be achieved, and what – if at all possible – it will look like.
As Israel educators, it is events like those of this past summer that make our work quite challenging. Too often, it seems, our sole role is to immediately be on the defensive, to affirm Israel’s basic right to exist safely and securely. Frankly, playing that role is exhausting – and what kind of solid education can be done on the defensive, anyway? It is time for us to realize that that form of ‘education’ must be avoided.
The big question, then, looms largely over every lesson taught: how do you teach about Israel in the constant specter of crisis? Truly, if anyone has the magic bullet answer to this question, please let me know.
The organization that comes closest thus far, however, is the iCenter. For the past year, I’ve had the distinct honor of learning with the iCenter, quite literally sitting around the table with absolute masters in the field of Israel Education and soaking in information. The iCenter approach is not agenda-based but for the understanding of the integral nature of Israel education within any and all Jewish learning. This may sound like a given: “Of course!” you may think, “all types of Jewish educational learning experiences should involve Israel.” Undoubtedly; however, what characterizes the iCenter philosophy is its appreciation for the need – and in many ways the imperative – to dig deeper, to find avenues of engagement previously unexplored, and to give voice those with a myriad of connections to Israel.
I mentioned the Yom Kippur War because, as a child of a veteran of this war, it is one of the key lenses through which I view, connect with, and relate to Israel. Israel after the war became a much different place than it was before, with more and varied voices coming into the forefront that spoke to the collective feeling of brutal loss and alienation. Through my work with the iCenter, and my final Capstone project in its Master’s Concentration in Israel Education, I was able to explore many of these varied voices and apply them to a wide range of educational opportunities: I’ve used some of the poetry from the post-‘73 era as tools for further reflection at important sites on Taglit-Birthright Israel visits, showing that the beauty of poetry is its ability to capture a moment in time while simultaneously being able to transcend it. I taught film from that era in classes at the synagogue at which I interned this summer. More important than the content of these lessons though, was the opportunity to expose students of all ages to lessons on Israel that focus far more on how Israeli society reacted to specific events and the outgrowth of Israeli culture from them than the details of the events themselves. These are some of the lessons of the iCenter: versatility, an appreciation for the multitude of voices, and an imperative to find – and teach – the deeper meaning.
As leaders within the Jewish community, we are tasked with plugging our students into the perpetual conversation between the generations of the past and the voices of today. This conversation is so richly informed by a deep, true, and curiously engaged relationship to Israel. Educators like me need the tools and resources to share all of that with students, whomever and wherever they may be.
Ari Naveh was in the recent cohort of the iCenter’s Master’s Concentration in Israel Education, which has certified 79 individuals from seven different institutions of higher education as Israel educators. He is in his final year of the rabbinic program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
Ariel Naveh graduated with a degree in Judaic Studies and English/Creative-Writing from SUNY Binghamton. Upon graduating, Ariel spent two years at the Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow at the Hillel at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. Ariel’s strong connection to Israel and Judaism stem from Jewish upbringing and Israeli father and family. Ariel is currently pursuing his rabbinic ordination at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati.
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