I have just spent a week in Melbourne, Australia, on a lecture tour of the Leibler Yavneh College presenting workshops on Israel education and advocacy. My audiences during the week ranged from students, Rabbis and teachers, parents and Israeli shlichim (emissaries).  Whilst I came to teach, I received a master-class on highly effective informal Israel education Ozzie style.

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Tuvia with some of the Israeli Shlichim at Yavneh, Melbourne

There is a very strong bond between the Jewish community in Australia and the Jewish State.  I experience it on every visit to the antipodes.  In the rarefied atmosphere of Yavneh I felt it very strongly.  The school not only has four wonderful Sherut Leumi girls (“Sheruties”) doing their second year of national service for the State of Israel, but also four amazing young men on the Torah Metzion program, who have volunteered to come out and spread the light of Torah from Zion after they have already completed their military service serving in front-line combat units in the Hesder program.  This is in addition to not one, but two Rabbis and their families from Israel.  The school’s website describes the goal of the informal Israel education department as:

To increase [the student’s] knowledge and awareness of upcoming Chagim (festivals)and events in Israel. The students look forward to Shabbatonim, Zionist camps and Hadracha (leadership) seminars run by [the school’s] capable, fun and vibrant informal department.

This is an example par excellence of an effective “Mifgash” program.  “Mifgash” is the loosely translated Hebrew word for a “meeting,” that is in this case a direct physical encounter between Israeli and Diaspora peers.   The Mifgash enables Israelis and non-Israeli Jews an opportunity to spend time getting to know one another in both formal and informal settings.  This is a crucial aspect of Israel education.  The Mifgash is an uniquely effective pedagogical tool for increasing the participants’ understanding of one another.  It is a structured encounter between individuals and also a meeting of two worlds.

The Mifgash counters stereotypes which are caused by casual meetings.  Researchers Ezrachi and Sutnick argue that one of the reasons that learning about Israel is so difficult is that it is a “theoretical process” in which the learners are geographically removed from Israel, especially in Australia!  They call this phenomenon “Israel-once-removed.”

Yavneh should be justly proud of its informal education program. The presence on campus of these special Jewish young people who come to give and not to take, and who represent all that is good about the miraculous times we live in ensures that each student has the opportunity to experience the bringing of Israel into Yavneh. Chazan and Saxe write that an educationally effective Mifgash should consist of, “viewing Israel from within the heads and hearts of Israeli peers.” The program gives students an opportunity to increase their Jewish learning and Israel knowledge and facilitates the forming of timeless bonds with these wonderful young role models.

It is heart-warming in these times to encounter such a mutual outpouring of love for all that connects us as Jews wherever we live: our tradition, our peoplehood and above all our land.  Kol Ha kavod to Yavneh for being a world leader and showing us the way it is meant to be done!