Small Places, Educational Giants: Israel and Rhode Island work together

The world is gathering, linking arms and marching to show that the renewed march of a 7th century Islam must be stopped. As we march and stand with persons of integrity and courage we can look to what individuals working within institutions of higher learning are doing to fight lies with truth, darkness with light. One of the best ways to overcome fear, violence and hatred is with opening up the mind and letting it fill with knowledge. A recently concluded conference at Beit Berl and Oranim Colleges on how to teach, reach and include educators, students and all those interested in providing positive and proactive solutions to social and human relations issues through education is a prime example of Israel and the United States working together.

This is a story you won’t find on the mainstream media front pages, talked about by the “hosts/personalities” or whatever they call themselves. Any reasonably informed person will admit that what we used to call the press is now a corporate owned, propagandized mouthpiece for shadowy special interests with malevolent agendas. At the top of their list is attacking Israel. The real news is made by real people, and this is a story about real people from two nations, and three colleges that are working together to overcome the boundaries that separate people of differing cultures, languages and beliefs and help them find common ground, good ground.

Today it seems to be popular among some academic groups and even church denominations in the USA to issue boycott and divestiture declarations against Israel for fabricated and outright false accusations of oppression against Palestinians. The mainstream media is mostly to blame for this. Not to mention some serious shortcomings in students, professors and church-members’ ethics about seeking facts and truth. Fully informed persons place no value in their prejudiced and slanted “reporting”. Looking beyond the soundbite media into real news the picture is vastly different. Collaborations, communications and consortia are being formed and producing dramatic results with Israel and USA college groups being the leaders.

Rhode Island is the smallest State in the USA. With a population of 1,052,000 and a land mass that is a dot on the map it somehow has more colleges than you can imagine. One of these colleges is the State Teachers’ College, Rhode Island College. Founded in 1854 it was the first public college in Rhode Island (the first college was Brown University). The College taught the State’s teachers to teach and today education is one of the mainstays of the overall curriculum. Besides having an extraordinary educational department it has produced a list of graduates with successes in theatre, film, nursing and communications (your truly, Class of 1980). There are over 50,000 alumni worldwide and current enrollment is over 5800. 68% of these are female and 32% are male. But this small college in the smallest State has become a partner with two teachers colleges in one of the world’s smallest nations and the results are dramatic and hold long term benefits for many.

Beit Berl College was founded in 1979. Located on the outskirts of Kfar Saba, Its graduates go on to succeed as teachers, administrators and other service professionals. Jewish, Arab and other students are welcome and thrive here. Over 11,000 students are enrolled and served in many programs. There is a Faculty of Education, Faculty of Society and Culture and a Faculty of Arts. The Arts program has a unique feature of specializing in a very Israeli form of art, Ha Midrasha. Using native materials in innovative design this art concept makes a statement about the frugal nature of Israel and how a little can become much.

Oranim Academic College of Education is 20 minutes drive east of Haifa. Founded in 1951 it is Northern Israel’s largest and leading college with multiple curricula and over 5500 enrolled. It has an extensive outreach program for service to the community at large and Israel’s citizens of all origins and languages, Jewish, Arab and all the people who comprise the Nation.

The Rhode Island-Israel College Consortium (Project RIICC) began with a trade mission trip to Israel with former Governor Lincoln Chafee and RIC President Nancy Carriuolo in 2011. She spoke with several Israeli administrators and faculty members on how a collaboration could be developed share research and results. In 2012 a contractual relationship was developed and by 2013 eight RIC faculty members traveled to Israel to meet face to face and friend to friend with their counterparts in the faculty at Beit Berl Academic College and Oranim Academic College of Education.

The Conference entitled “Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)” Inter-Cultural Inclusion in Educational Systems and Society was recently concluded at Beit-Berl College and Oranim College January 7-9, 2015. The overall goal is to discuss, formulate and establish inter cultural relations that enhance learning at colleges and schools. Developing a knowledge of other cultures, world views of students and educators and sharing these techniques will be a desired outcome as well. Papers have been called for and sessions were conducted in Hebrew and English at the two Israeli colleges. Participants included other colleges, teachers, administrators, practitioners and students. A publication of selected papers from the conference is planned. Israel’s complex mix of peoples, cultures and languages makes her experience in educating and motivating a Nation a model for those who wish to promote understanding. Funny, you don’t see this happening in the neighboring countries do you?

The mix of cultures that makes Rhode Island’s ethnic and cultural playing field successful, and the world of cultures and languages that make Israel unique are combining well here. The mutual work and research can be used as a model by nations that seek to successfully provide a productive and promising quality of life for their citizens.

One of the most noble callings is to be a teacher. Giving others the training and opportunity to advance in their society is a selfless and genuinely altruistic profession. Israel’s teacher colleges offer the benefits of higher education to those who seek them, irregardless of culture, language or religion. Those who avail themselves of these institutions of learning will make a better life for themselves, their families and Israel. I am very proud as an alumnus of Rhode Island College to see my school in a position to work with Israel on these worthy goals.

While we hear of boycotts, divestiture and such from churches and academics worldwide, the real news is being made at grass roots ,people to people meetings and collaborative efforts. Israel is a leader in these efforts and so is my home State of Rhode Island and my alma mater. This conference is a part of the real support for Israel that is a part of American life that does not get an inch of print or second of air time in most media. Real partnership is always grass roots and very effective, such as this conference and the growing list of collaborations in many fields from education to high tech.

For more details and information please contact:Professor Ezra Stieglitz, PhD.

About the Author
Tom Brennan is a former museum curator, library adminstrator, small business owner, sheriff's deputy, Arabian Breeding Farm Manager, cowboy, farmer and author. He writes for