You are hiking in the woods. You hear hundreds of noises, but above all of them, you recognize the definite gurgle of a small stream. There is a bottle of water in your backpack but suddenly, you can’t wait to drink the fresh water right from the source. You are drawn to the cool spring to quench a thirst you didn’t even know was there.
In the world of Zionist Jewish education the wellspring is unmistakably Israel and getting water from the source is not that difficult. The World Zionist Organization (WZO) is dedicated to promoting zionism by facilitating the presence of Israeli teacher emissaries in Jewish schools throughout the world. At first glance, it looks like a win win situation. Both, the Israeli teachers and the Day Schools can benefit from the arrangement. Israeli educators can specially be a great asset in areas where the Jewish community is small and Jewish schools struggle to find qualified Hebrew and Judaic Studies teachers.
But not all Jewish communities share this initial enthusiasm towards bringing in Israeli teachers emissaries (Morim Shlichim). During my work at a Jewish school in South Florida, I have become aware that there are ambivalent views concerning the hiring of Morim Shlichim. In order to enhance and deepen our connection to Israel, it is important to explore the challenges and opportunities that come with bringing Israeli educators into communities with a large concentration of Jews and Israelis.
Supply and Demand
With more than 600,000 Jews, South Florida has the third largest concentration of Jews and Israelis following New York and Los Angeles. Among the Israelis living in these cities there are many individuals with degree in education who fill the positions of Hebrew teachers in the various Jewish schools. These locations also attract many Yeshiva University and Rabbinical school graduates who hold positions as Judaic Studies teachers and administrators. It seems that from a logical business point of view hiring a local teacher is cheaper and easier, but in the long run, investing in educators who are trained as emissaries has an unmatched value. They are able to capture the students’ minds and hearts in ways other teachers can’t.
Beyond a mere connection with Israel, Morim Shlichim represent Aliyah, immigration to Israel. They transmit the message by sharing their feelings of total pride in Israel and by going back to the land that is always in their heart at the end of their term of Shlichut (mission). Aliyah is a core value of most Zionist Jewish schools and communities, and we know that teachers have the ability to shape and inspire children beyond the subject they teach. Therefore, bringing to the school influential and life changing role models as the Israeli teacher emissaries is the best way to instill the desire to make Aliyah in the hearts of the students and their parents.
Long Term Relationship
According to the WZO “The shlichut is for a period of two years with an option for an extension for a third year if mutually agreed upon. In rare cases a request for an extension for a fourth year may be submitted and is subject to approval by the Ministry of Education”. Contrarily, a locally contracted educator can stay in the school for as long as needed. Thus, parents and board members may argue that it makes more sense to hire educators who do not have an expiration date and can stay in the school for extended periods of time. However, it is important to remember that when evaluating our children’s education we must make quality our top priority.
In the Long Run
It is true, the Israeli teacher emissaries have a time limit for their stay but their influence and connection do not end when they leave. During their short stay in our communities they are able to build and foster long term relationships with their students and the families who host them. Many Morim Shlichim keep in touch with their former students and host them when they visit Israel. Consequently, it is worthwhile to invest in developing this partnership between the Israeli educators and our Jewish community as it may well continue for many years.
Investment and Return
When hiring new teachers, the school must invest time and money in training them in order to equip them with the policies and procedures that are necessary for smooth functioning within the school. Like all new teachers, Morim Shlichim must be given time to adjust to the school norms and and Israeli teacher emissaries need to adapt to the American culture. It might seem that investing so much money, time, and effort in Morim Shlichim is not worth it but I would like to argue the opposite.
Jewish schools in large Jewish communities should make the effort to hire Israeli emissary educators because they are far more connected to Israel and Israeli culture than the local Israelis and Jews. Therefore, they are able to offer the students and community a direct link to everything that is Israel and create a bond that is fresh and continuous. Having just come from Israel with a specifically defined mission, they are full of energy and have the full support of the WZO education department and access to the latest educational materials such as books, maps, computer programs and more. All Jewish communities, large and small can benefit from the breath of fresh air they bring from Israel. That freshness starts to expire after 2 – 3 years and that is the time to get new Shlichim.
Bringing Israeli teacher emissaries into a school does requires work and commitment but their added value in all communities can not be matched. Morim Shlichim come to us like pure water gushing from the source. Let us take advantage of this opportunity and support it ideologically and financially so that our children can absorb through them the love for Israel.