Voices from the Field
Recently, I came upon a video showing non-Jewish people trying “Jewish food” for the first time. Inevitably, aside from matzo ball soup, the food elicited general reactions of disgust and “yuckiness” - chopped liver, gefilte fish and so on. As The Jewish Daily Forward pointed out, this wasn’t really an exercise in non-Jews’ reactions to Jewish food; rather, it tested their reactions to Ashkenazi food; a critical but not unsurprising mistake, to be sure.
As an American Sephardic Jew, I, and others of my background, are used to the masses conflating Ashkenazi traditions with "Jewish" tranditions. As a Jewish educator, I am in the fortunate position to have an opportunity to expand people’s understanding of “Jewish food” and other elements of Jewish culture.
Just as “Jewish food” in reality encompasses numerous categories of cuisine, “Israel narrative” means different things to different people. Often, it depends on one’s background, family history, and unique personal experiences. Educators need the space to explore these stories, learn about others’ stories, and gain the necessary skills to use them educationally. When this happens, learners will experience an Israel education that helps build deep and personal connections to Israel and Israelis.
We, as educators, are now encouraged to embrace our story and life experiences, and allow them to inform our teaching. Ari Naveh, a fellow student in the iCenter Masters Concentration in Israel Education explained how this summer’s events in Israel presented a great opportunity for educators to engage learners in deeper Israel education. But Ari also explained that his perspective on this—and how it translates into his teaching—is greatly informed by his own life experience as a son of a veteran of the Yom Kippur war.
As a Sephardic Jew and the daughter of a Yom Kippur war veteran, my perspective as an educator—particularly as an Israel educator—is informed by my own personal story.
I was born to Moroccan-Tunisian-Israeli parents who always followed the Israeli news and television shows, had Hebrew newspapers and books around the house and planned our next visit the day we came back from Israel. Israeli customs, food, and the Hebrew language were always present in my home. To my family, Israel wasn’t just a place to visit. It was, and continues to be, a part of our Jewish identity and our family narrative. My family celebrates a myriad of North-African Israeli traditions such as the mimouna celebration, which marks the beginning of Spring and the return of eating chametz. My family invites many friends to come eat sweets and mafleta, the crepe like food eaten during the mimouna. We also wear kaftans, traditional Moroccan garb, and belly dance into the late hours of the night.
The iCenter encouraged me to make my story part of my Israel education, and to share it with fellow students. In fact, most exciting about my experience in the Masters program was being among a group of people who didn’t necessarily share the same customs as I did. Yet, they were knowledgeable enough about Israel’s culture to be able to talk about different kinds of Jews in the world and specifically in Israel. I am noticing a welcomed change among my colleagues in this area, the majority of whom are Ashkenazi.
Each person in my cohort had their own Israel narrative to share. As our year of learning progressed we were able to share our stories and learn about each other through our personal connections to Israel. Critically, the iCenter gave us tools to tell our personal story effectively and to “translate it” for an intentional, educational experience. One activity organized us into small groups in which we designed our ideal Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. We were allowed to add, subtract and alter the existing itinerary in any way. This was not my first experience with this kind of activity, but it was unique because I was not the only one in the group suggesting sites in Israel related to the Sephardic narrative.
I felt heartened when others found my personal story to be an important part of Israel layering multiple narratives in one trip. We discussed incorporating sites such as Moshav Dovev, which was established in 1963 by immigrants from Morocco and Iran. The people of Moshav Dovev tell their story about their struggle to adjust to Israeli culture when they first arrived to Israel. Visiting a site like this for an educational experience is an implicit recognition of the many narratives that exist within Israel. As Israel educators, not only do we need to be aware of them, we must help our learn to articulate and share their stories too.
In what ways do you use your own personal stories in education?
For more about iFellows: Masters Concentration in Israel Education
Yael Dadoun is currently the Principal/Educator of the religious school at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, FL. She recently completed her MARE in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. In addition to her studies this past year, Yael worked at different Hebrew schools as a teacher for grades 4-12 and is the Hebrew specialist. She also works as the cantorial soloist at Ohev Sholom in Harrisburg, PA. This past year, Yael served as a NFTY in Israel Unit Supervisor and continues to passionately lead Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.
Most people know that the phrase “Festival of Lights” refers to Hannukah, but it took a special experience in Jerusalem’s central bus station for me to really grasp the meaning. In December 2013, I was at a food court when a man several feet away said ezra b’vakasha, which means “help, please” in Hebrew. I looked over and saw that he was blind and needed assistance at an ATM. We talked a bit as he finished his transaction, then he asked me, “Would you help me run some holiday errands?” I told my friends I’d meet them later and led him to the elevator. He asked for the bakery and bookstore, two neighboring shops near the front entrance. As the man went about his errands (with surprisingly little help from me), I learned that he was fluent in five languages, all self-taught. He was in the bookstore to pick up an audio book to learn French. The more I learned about him, the more interested I became.
While at the bookstore, I bought a copy of a children's storybook called Menorah Under the Sea. It is about a Jewish marine biologist who was on a scientific mission to Antarctica to study sea urchins that live in the freezing water at the bottom of the world. His mission took him to Antarctica during Hannukah, which presented two problems: 1) the sun shines a full 24 hours a day at the south pole that time of year, and 2) he was far from his family during the holiday. How would you light candles in the darkness if it never got dark? To solve this problem, he dove to the bottom of the Antarctic ocean to arrange sea urchins and starfish in the shape of a hannukiah. He then shined his flashlight on them to illuminate the scene.
After the bookstore, in an act of gratitude, the man bought me a sufganiyah to enjoy. “Take a bite,” he said. “The jelly inside is the best part,” as if I had never tasted a sufganiyah before. Of course, I’d been eating these since I was a kid, but at that moment I pretended it was my first bite.
During my time with this man, I had been patting myself on the back for doing a mitzvah. My new friend, though, didn’t see the relationship as such a one-way street. Here he was, welcoming me, inviting me to celebrate our traditions, teaching me something new. I answered his request for help, and I was instantly a part of his family - after all, who else would you trust with your ATM transaction? He was able to develop relationships and communication with so many around him in personal and profound ways, that suddenly I asked myself: Which one of us was truly living in “the dark”?
Following both my experience with this man and reading the story of the marine bioligist, I started thinking about the phrase “a light in the darkness." Darkness and illumination, I had discovered, were relative. “We all experience our own darknesses, and each of us is blessed with a unique set of lights we are able to shine on the world and ourselves."
With the tragic events that have transpired in Israel over this past year, there has been much darkness. How can we, together and as individuals, use our own "lights" to illuminate amidst darkness?
!חג חנוכה שמח
For some additional Israel-centric Hanukkah books, please see:
Alex’s passion for Israel began in childhood during his education at Solomon Schechter Day Schools in Chicago’s northern suburbs. After a family trip to Israel, summer programs in high school and college, and graduating from Northwestern with majors in Jewish Studies and Psychology, Alex was ready to spend an extended period of time there. He joins the iCenter after a year in Rishon LeZion where he taught English to Israeli elementary school students through Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellowship program. Alex is thrilled to be a part of the iCenter team and looks forward to helping nurture ahavat Yisrael throughout the North American Jewish community.
On Tuesday, November 18, terrorists attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, brutally murdering five men and injuring others. Shalom Orzach reflects on the timeless lessons in the wake of this shocking and devastating event.
On day’s like today, it is difficult to speak. There was silence on the streets of Jerusalem and across Israel that was almost deafening. The expression on people’s faces says it all: we are hurting. As in an intimate relationship, things do not need to be said, we know, we feel, we empathize, and we get it.
As educators and as parents, however, silence is not necessarily the most effective response. Our role is to enable people -- our students, our children -- to “make sense” of these harrowing events, to bring them into broader contexts, to learn from them. We must serve as a moral voice, to reinforce, and sometimes introduce, the core values and the essence of who we are.
What are some of the things that need to be said to link these time-related events to the timeless values of our people and our story? We are hurting first and foremost because we are family. On day’s like today, the concept of being part of a people -- the Jewish People -- should be reinforced and revisited.
The attack took place in a synagogue, a place that is deemed holy. What is the significance of space, of “sanctuary,” of being in a safe place? In many ways, the story of Israel is the story of finding and establishing a “safe place” for all of its citizens.
There are large theological questions begging to be addressed, and there are many ways to approach them. The daily ritual of gathering in prayer gives expression to who we are as Jews, and the horror of today’s events can provide opportunities for us to consider how we bring holiness and meaning into our daily schedules. Our timeless values find expression in timely, daily acts and ritual behaviors.
These broader issues are not an effort to avoid or belittle the enormity and horror of the attack in Jerusalem today, but to contextualize them in a framework that can help us and our learners understand, gain strength and deepen our knowledge and commitment to our shared core values.
With prayers for better days, comfort for those mourning and speedy recovery to those injured.
For more from Shalom and timeless reflection, please see the Educator's Backpack, "Discussing Tragedy in Israel: Timeless Reflection"
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has a rich background in camping, running various camps in England where he grew up and later serving as the Education Director at Ramah Poconos. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom has a strong passion for teaching, feels privileged to live in Jerusalem with his family and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.