Jun 06, 2024 JNS

A program that aims to strengthen Israel education reimagines what that looks like and identifies Jewish leaders’ needs in the dynamic and ever evolving reality in Israel and around the world post Oct. 7.

One-hundred graduate students and faculty convened this past week for the iFellows master’s concentration in Israel education, marking the final seminar of Cohort 13 and the launch of Cohort 14.

The iFellows academic consortium is composed of 17 universities across North America and Israel who study Jewish education, rabbinics, nonprofit management and related fields. Following Oct. 7, the initiative expanded to include alumni who are current professionals in the field from these partner universities. This shift comes as educators want opportunities to interact with colleagues from other communities and from Israel to process the impacts of Oct. 7.

“Jewish organizations are navigating increasingly complex realities post-Oct. 7,” said Rachel See, iFellows director for The iCenter. “Campus Hillels, day schools, youth groups, JCCs, camps, synagogues and beyond want to support their learners in every way they can, and a big part of this means having highly qualified Israel educators in this moment who themselves are members of a supportive environment of colleagues and mentors.”

The iFellows program represents a wide range of Jewish affiliations and institutions, and a diversity of perspectives. Cohort members create strong connections based on a shared commitment to and passion for Jewish education and Israel.

“When iFellows come together, the reality of Israel today is always present,” said See. “This past week, North American and Israeli participants engaged deeply with Jewish text, themes of antisemitism, Israeli current events, visioning and education, and strategies for organizational change. Additionally Israeli arts and culture that have emerged since Oct. 7 including music, literature, television and photography were integral to the experience.”

Israeli artists-in-residence Natalie Marcus and Asaf Beiser, the co-creators and writers of the award-winning Israeli satire television show “Hayehudim Baim,” The Jews are Coming, shared with participants the challenges Israeli society faces, how Jewish traditions and history have dealt with tragedies within Jewish communities throughout time, and the role of that arts and artists play in strengthening the resilience of Israelis and Jews around the world.

“A particularly moving moment was a session on telling one’s story,” said See. “The program culminated with one of our iFellows, Elinor Bitton Bariach, sharing her lived reality, surviving the attack on Kibbutz Kfar Aza with her husband and three children.”

These and other sessions strengthened relationships between North Americans and Israelis while preparing participants to integrate Israel into their communities in new and meaningful ways.

The aims of the yearlong fellowship include building a thoughtful and supportive community of Israel educators; developing a shared language of Israel education and deepening students’ understanding and learning about the diverse components of Israel education; unpacking complexities of Israeli society, everyday life and culture; exploring education as a platform of change and strategies to initiate change; and developing a personal vision for Israel education in one’s own work and community.

The master’s concentration integrates rigorous academic study, ongoing mentorship, a learning opportunity in Israel or one-on-one Hebrew, and the creation of a capstone Israel education project, which students present. Throughout the year, 12 seminar days allow students to examine the field’s core issues, including various approaches to Israel education and its fundamental principles in these changing and challenging times.

Program Impact

In 2011, The iCenter created the master’s concentration in Israel education, a new professional development experience in Israel education for graduate students in rabbinic, Jewish education and professional-leadership programs. Over the past decade, 600 students representing 17 academic institutions, including nearly every major rabbinic seminary and Jewish professional studies program, have participated.

The program, which is made possible by the generous support of the Marcus Foundation, is changing the landscape of Israel education. There are now Israel education professionals, educators, and rabbis throughout the Jewish landscape who understand Israel as an integral element of their work and of Jewish identity formation.

The communities iFellows serve are exposed to Israel not as an isolated subject matter, but as the rich culture and society it is today.