How many North American high school students can say that they have been in David Ben-Gurion’s office? Thanks to a great combination of technology and Jewish education, students from all over North America were virtual guests of Mr. Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency.
Yesterday, close to 3,000 Jewish students, had the opportunity to learn first hand why Israel is so important to every single Jewish person in the world. My educational organization, Bonim B’Yachad, arranged for Isaac Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency to deliver an online webinar to students from more than 25 schools, spread out across all corners of the US and Canada. The webinar was entitled “connecting students to Israel.” After a brief introduction about the role of the Jewish Agency and about some of the work that the organization is doing, students had the opportunity to ask Mr. Herzog questions on a wide variety of subjects, including Aliyah, politics, life in Israel, and his personal influences. Mr. Herzog did an amazing job engaging the students and answering their questions. The most amazing thing though, was how excited the students were to participate in this event. For the average middle or high school student, participating in an online webinar would not necessarily be the highlight of their day. In this program though, all of the students were eager to ask questions and were anxious to hear what Mr. Herzog had to tell them. There were so many submitted questions, that even after an hour long “Q&A,” there were still questions remaining. Not to worry, as Mr. Herzog’s office has already offered to host another session.
This was an extremely valuable learning opportunity for all of the participating students. It is not every day that they have the chance to speak to someone like Isaac Herzog, who has dedicated his life to serving the State of Israel. It was also evident however, that these students are hungry for knowledge and that they want to be more closely connected to Israel.
Last week, my colleague and I participated in the Prizmah 2019 Jewish education conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Together with more than 1,000 Jewish educators and service providers, we had the opportunity to discuss and present on a wide variety of educational challenges, including Israel education. Some schools are offering courses and many have Israel action clubs/committees. Yet, the challenges of maintaining strong feelings and in keeping up with all of the facts can at times be extremely challenging.
This year, Bonim B’Yachad offered several new programs designed to help students and schools develop a deeper connection and appreciation for Israel. New courses have included Israel Advocacy, science and innovation, and several Ulpan classes. Our goal has been to help schools infuse a bit more Israel into the students’ daily lives. While these pilot programs have been extremely successful, yesterday’s Herzog webinar reminds us all how much these programs are needed in our schools.
It was especially interesting that most of the questions asked yesterday were of a more personal nature. While a few students were curious about the current political climate, many of the submitted questions were about topics that were clearly on the minds of the students. Some students wanted to know how they should prepare for their own Aliyah journeys, while others asked how they could help Israel, even if they did not want to live here. Mr. Herzog was impressed how much thought the students had given to their questions. It was clear that Israel was on their minds.
Our main goal for this webinar was to provide the students with a personalized forum to learn more and to be able to ask questions, that they may not otherwise be able to ask. Thanks to Isaac Herzog and his team at the Jewish Agency, every student left the session grateful for the opportunity and happy to learn more. Hopefully, this program will help each student and school to be able to strengthen their connections to Israel.