PEDAGOGY OF HOPE—EDUCATION THAT TRANSFORMS AND INSPIRES
May 06, 2022 eJewish Philanthropy
By Rabbi Yehudit Werchow
Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of working with the gifted Israeli activist and poet Eliaz Cohen while teaching his poems to North American and Israeli educators. Some of Eliaz’s most inspiring poems relate to the transformative work he and his Palestinian neighbors have been doing together for more than a decade. These poems portray so vividly the depth of everyone’s pain and, at the same time, the magnitude of hope that emerges from the sacred work they are doing together. The thoughtfulness with which they treat each other, the sensitivity towards each other’s loss and pain, the respect and tremendous commitment for each other’s well-being are only a few of the inspiring qualities that are at the heart of this unique partnership they’ve built over the years.
Eager to learn more about interfaith and shared society initiatives and the qualities that contribute to the success of this work and can contribute to the educational work we are doing at The iCenter, Eliaz and I began studying with Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum and Sheikh Dr. Eyad Amer, who are each leading local communities in Jerusalem and Kfar Kasim and doing transformative educational and communal initiatives throughout Israel. One purpose of the educational work we are doing together is getting to know each other, the stories, traditions, people and values that our lives are made of and connect us to this land. We also share the sources that inspire hope in each one of us. We are co-creating an authentic shared language that can connect our learners and bridge the gaps between them. Like the words of the Israeli poet Zelda remind us, “our personal peace is tied with a thread to each other’s peace.” We are already witnessing how these threads are impacting us and the educational work we are doing, and we are also exploring what it might be like when more threads like these are created between educators from all faiths across Israel and North America.
We are dedicated to learning about the everyday challenges the teens, parents, educators and communities we belong to and lead are facing, and how to address them. Resilience and compassion, courage, reciprocity, fear, hope and leadership are some of the terms we study, as we share what threatens us from within, as well as from external forces, and most importantly what it means and how to affirm with actions our understanding that we are indeed our brothers and sisters’ keepers. One of the things that most inspires me about learning with this group is that our work strengthens my belief that education is a platform for change. As poet Rachel said, is there anything more powerful than “a unified stubborn effort, awake with a thousand arms…to roll the stone from the mouth of the well?” And as we learn from each other’s work, there are many stones that seem to be piling up on the mouth of our wells. While our educational work is rooted in traditions, we work towards a present and future that embody and are inspired by the qualities we value greatly, and the threads that the educators we work with will weave together.
I believe that education is an act of transformation. Interfaith and shared society initiatives are teaching us that having an affirmative vision of an alternative reality to move towards can inspire and encourage people to act together and impact change. This becomes even more relevant for those of us deeply invested in the well-being of our learners, Israel, the Jewish people and the field of Israel education. Our role as educators is reimagining and creating with our learners’ affirmative visions and desirable realities. Our commitment for increasing literacy and embracing critique are important components of our work but we must aspire for more.
This time of year, we are immersed in messages of freedom and liberation, leadership and faith, while Muslim communities are commemorating the month of Ramadan. I am thinking of one of Sheikh Dr. Eyad Amer’s teachings about the blessings of Ramadan. “There is generosity in Ramadan, and even greater generosity in God,” says Sheikh Dr. Eyad Amer. When people get closer to God, God replies to the effort by getting even closer to them. This is a powerful metaphor and a measure for the educational work we are committed to doing together.
We hope and believe that getting to know, becoming intimate, with each other and the realities of our lives, as well as the communities we belong to, is a transformative and important step for us all. Real proximity and mutuality will strengthen us and enrich our lives. For the last couple of years, The iCenter has been building partnerships with and learning from organizations and professionals such as the Inter Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, Mekudeshet and more. We are learning from the work that has been developed, increasing our literacy in this area, and together we are developing this important element of Israel Education.
The iCenter’s Rabbi Yehudit Werchow was born in Argentina and grew up in Israel. She holds a BA in political science and literature from the Hebrew University and a M.A. in religious education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. She was ordained at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem. Previously, Yehudit served as the director of Israel engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism in North America, as the Jewish Agency’s senior shlicha for the Reform movement in North America and the U.K., and as the director of Education for MASA.