Jewish Values: Education Against Racism
"Jewish Values: Education Against Racism" is an innovative program which equips teachers in religious schools to offer their students civic education for democracy, pluralism and tolerance based on Jewish thought and tradition. Our aim is to make both teachers and students more committed to, and active in their fight against hatred and violence.
A collaboration between Tag Meir and the Center for Educational Technology at the Ministry of Education, the program offers educators the theoretical knowledge on the Jewish tradition of acceptance and respect for the Other, and empowers them to find the emotional strength for bringing up the topic in their classroom and handling honest and difficult conversations.
The program combines meetings and lectures with online mentoring and assignments. Participants are exposed to lectures by leading religious figures in Israel, including: Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg, Racheli Frankel, Bambi Sheleg, MK Yaakov Margi and others. The ongoing interaction and communication (face-to-face and virtual) helps create a community of educators as a support group for each other and as a force for change from inside the religious education system.
The program currently enters its second round of implementation, after a pilot proved highly successful and generated positive and constructive feedback.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
"Jewish Values: Education Against Racism" aims at fostering education for Jewish pluralism, tolerance and shared civic life and teaching against racism, hatred and violence in Israeli schools, in particular in religious educational institutions.
The program's goals are:
Building a strong body of educators within religious (middle and high) schools who are committed to integrating values of tolerance, pluralism and acceptance into the curriculum, are capable of teaching these democratic values through reliance on Jewish traditions and Jewish thought, and empowered to be agents of change within their schools and community.
Driving teachers and students to action - in particular in their immediate environment, within their day-to-day context.
The program brings together religious educators from middle schools, high schools, yeshivas and pre-military preparatory programs, representing different streams in the Jewish spectrum - including ultra-orthodox/Haredi, national-religious to modern orthodox. Most of the teachers are in their 20s and 30s, and majority are women. The teachers attend a program which comprises both meetings and virtual online training over the course of several months, geared towards empowering and driving them to address racism and teach pluralism and tolerance to their students.
In the meetings they learn about ideas of Jewish pluralism, tolerance towards minorities, acceptance of the other and respect for the law through a reading in classical Jewish texts, with a critical component relating these texts to contemporary events. Our lecturers so far include: Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg, author Bambi Sheleg, Racheli Frankel whose son was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas last year, MK Yaakov Margi (Shas party, chair of the Knesset Education Committee) and more. Some meetings are dedicated to equipping the teachers with original and creative means for bringing these topics up for discussion in their classrooms, such as music or bibliotherapy. For example, one workshop was conducted by Yair Harel, founder of Piyut website for musical multi-culturalism.
Teachers are asked to develop educational programs and lessons plans that capture the training material, as it applies to their own - and their students' realities, day to day lives and specific context. Thus, for example, one Haredi teacher chose to focus on Mizrahi-Ashkenazi relations, which involve exclusion and discrimination in the ultra-orthodox education system. Another teacher chose to generate a lesson plan based on students' actual past encounter with Arab citizens during a class trip. Through invoking one's personal experiences as a basis for teaching, we cover a broad range of dilemmas concerning both intra-Jewish and inter-religious tensions, and make the learning more relatable and meaningful.
Our primary beneficiaries are:
a) Teachers and educators in the religious education stream.
In the process of developing their ideas for education against racism, teachers go through a transformative personal-emotional journey, in which they get to know themselves, not only as teachers but as people, and citizens. The professional team of the MATACH (Center for Educational Technology) is instrumental in opening and facilitating discussion about the sentiments which accompany this process. The peer group also plays an incredibly important part in providing ongoing support, as well as feedback on each other's ideas for activities - so that in fact the curriculum building is a cooperative, collaborative endeavor, and the entire project generates a community of educators.
In the coming year we will link our participants with teachers around the world - including the Philippines, Italy and India - through video conferencing, broadening the circle and strengthening a global perspective on shared challenges in combatting public hatred.
b) Students - in particular high-school and post-secondary (Yeshivas, pre-military preparatory programs) students in the religious (orthodox and national-religious) education system.
The students learn to reconcile Jewish values with democratic principles such as pluralism, tolerance and respect. In addition they develop a sense of civic duty and show commitment to turn words into actions. For example, one teacher with her students created a 'performance'/intervention on the light rail train in Jerusalem - a site of clashes between Jews and Arabs - simply by speaking Arabic while riding the train, an act which often generates much suspicion, fear and hostility. The also involved other passengers on board. Other teachers created different 'hands-on' projects for their students, including a mock debate, or write-up of ‘civic vows’ to defend the freedoms of all communities in Israel.
First, the development of the program is a result of several important actors in the field of education recognizing the need for Jewish education for pluralism and tolerance. For example, while in office, former Education Minister Shay Piron expressed interest in working with Tag Meir to develop an anti-racism curriculum for high school students. This was one of the steps that eventually lead to our current collaboration with the Center for Educational Technology (MATACH). Teachers receive 30 points of professional training (which qualify for their promotion benefits) from the Ministry of Education for their attendance and participation at the program.
Second, we conduct pre/post surveys with our participants, and gauge oral feedback through focus groups at the end of the program as well. Our participants' feedback reveals that religious educators feel conflicted about addressing questions of pluralism, tolerance of others or racism. First, because these topics are volatile in the current atmosphere, and teachers are therefore hesitant about potential negative reactions which may arise from bringing them up in class, so they avoid discussing them at all. Second, religious teachers often feel that their commitment to Jewish tradition sometimes comes in conflict with democratic values, since Jewish texts are laden with sectarian sentiments. Finally, teachers prefer to teach the pluralist and accepting messages of the Torah and Halacha as detached from contemporary life, in order to avoid what might seem as 'judgement' on current social or political affairs. These insights reveal that teachers are in need of both theoretical grounding in the pluralist tradition of Judaism, and of personal empowerment and emotional support for handling any negative repercussions in class and at school. Typical quote from our feedback survey: “No one in the school broaches this issue. From now on, we’ll deal with it more”.
Third, we look at response rate to the training. Now in its second phase, we see more demand for the training program. Some of our current participants are returnees - which indicates that teachers choose the training not only for the theoretical content, but also for the personal journey that it offers, and the holistic experience they go through. A few survey quotes reflect that as well: “I enjoyed learning about the topic as a person and not only as a teacher", “An experience that moved me personally”, and so on.
a) No. of participants: in the first cohort participated 30 educators from 19 different institutions. In December 2015 we opened the second cohort, and we hope to train a total of about 60 teachers this year.
b) Building a diverse community of educators reflecting different religious streams who all share a commitment to fighting racism and promoting tolerance and understanding - such that the group of program participants reflects Jewish pluralism at its best. In our first cohort, teams working together included, for example, an ultra-orthodox man with a religious woman in pants. The facilitator for the first cohort on behalf of MATACH (the Center for Educational Technology), Shula Mula — herself member of the Ethiopian community in Israel — is an expert on diversity education and multicultural Judaism. These former participants remained in touch with each other, strengthening their community ties as educators for pluralism and inter-religious understanding.
c) Students have taken what they've studied out of the classroom, by running their own creative projects (speaking Arabic on the train, and so on) and by joining Tag Meir events.
d) Collaborations fostered: we have been privileged to host some of the most notable leaders among the religious community in Israel nowadays, including Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg, Racheli Frankel, Bambi Sheleg, MK Yaakov Margi and others.
How do you measure the success of your program?
a) Indicator: Demand for our educational programs and participants' feedback. Results: Our educational programs are in high demand. We concluded a pilot project (30 teachers from 19 institutions) and began a second cohort of teachers' training with 23 additional participants. We are planning to have about 60 teachers participating by the end of the year (in the spring term, over the summer, and in fall 2016). Our participants are enthusiastic about the program. One quote, for instance, says: “A window was opened for me to issues that we don’t discuss in religious studies. It is so right to open this". Some of the participants are returning participants - they chose to join our program again because it was a significant personal experience for them.
b) Indicator: Teachers attending our training carry out the lesson plans they develop during the training and implement what they've learned . Results: Teachers expressed commitment to raise the topic of religious hatred in front of their students, and showed enthusiasm about addressing the issues in the classrooms, regardless of the class topic. We have had not only civics and history teachers but also teachers of English, Music, Geography, Chemistry, Hebrew and Bible address the topic. If there was no room to bring it up during their professional class, they designed special projects at school.
c) Indicator: Students participating in our educational program take direct-action against racism, hatred and violence. Results: In some schools, students were driven to action and took initiative following their participation in our program. For example, in one school launched a campaign to legitimize the use of Arabic in the public sphere, by speaking the language and teaching passengers on the Jerusalem light train - often a site for ongoing tensions. In another school, students painted a mural celebrating diversity on the school walls.In sum, we consider this program to be very successful after less than a year since we began our pilot.