Jun 27, 2024 eJewish Philanthropy

By: Ari Feinstein, Mikayla Laufer

The need for Jewish educators to transform moments of uncertainty into educational opportunities has never been as pressing as it is today in the aftermath of Oct. 7 and the ongoing war. At the same time, educators who feel they lack a foundational knowledge base and cannot provide sufficient context for the complex times we are in may be overwhelmed when engaging in conversations about the conflict, or avoid them altogether.

As Jewish educators, it is our responsibility to develop the confidence and skills needed to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with our learners. Educators in all settings need new skills to adapt to new realities and develop confidence in engaging with complex, fraught topics even when they are not content experts. Conflicts of Interest, a signature learning experience from The iCenter piloted over the course of 2023-2024, reimagines how to help educators do this effectively with their peers and learners.

The result of a year-long research process which began in 2021, Conflicts of Interest is organized around a set of core pedagogies, content areas and points of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The program enables participants to gain confidence, core competencies and content knowledge they can use to bring meaningful conflict education to their classrooms and communities.

In the pilot implementation year, The iCenter facilitated four cohorts, each of which was surveyed by an external evaluator. Participants were asked to rate themselves on their perceived growth and change as a result of the program, including their confidence and skill in engaging learners in conversations about the conflict, and their ability to hold multiple perspectives when discussing the conflict. Results show measurable growth among participants in all cohorts, with large gains reported in every area measured.

Below are some insights gleaned through the evaluation process that can be useful to any organization looking to provide high-quality, effective professional development at this moment.

Learners’ relationships to Israel must be at the center of the experience.

A core philosophy at The iCenter is the importance of nurturing the relationships of North Americans and Israelis to Israel and to one another. This philosophy is a central component of Conflicts of Interest, where we aim to nurture the interrelationship between one’s lived experience and one’s knowledge acquisition.

Our participants’ relationships with Israel are central to the Conflicts of Interest experience, as we understand that they influence how each individual approaches any consideration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The program focuses first and foremost on how each participant grows personally and navigates the nuances of their individual relationships with Israel, giving them space first as learners before developing their skills as educators. Indeed, nearly 85% of respondents found this approach to be “very” or “extremely valuable” and appreciated the time they got to be nurtured as learners. The nuanced and multi-faceted relationships of the participants themselves—in conversation and in collaboration—are what make the program experience all the more compelling.

View full article on eJewish Philanthropy.

Ari Feinstein leads The iCenter’s Conflicts of Interest program, which is now accepting applications. Mikayla Laufer is the director of customer relationship management and data analysis for The iCenter.