What does it look and feel like when Jewish educators from a diverse range of backgrounds, denominations, and current affiliations are brought together to learn how to be Israel educators? When done with intentionality, this can be a transformative experience.
I felt this affect in The iCenter’s year-long Masters Concentration in Israel Education, which convenes graduate and rabbinic students from a broad spectrum of 13 institutions. We came together to develop ourselves as knowledgeable and passionate educational leaders committed to the integral role of Israel in contemporary Jewish life. I applied to this program as someone who has many educational pet projects, yet is not able to devote years of academic time to these ideas. And I have struggled deeply with the distinction between education and advocacy, education and learning, and other false dichotomies. In the Jewish professional space, I have grappled with the distinction between Israel studies and Israel education. The Concentration was the time and environment to think about all of these critical questions.
Much of my learning, the “key takeaways” as an iFellow, were inspired by sessions at the various Concentration seminars — immersive experiences, with Israelis, where I had the opportunity to be in conversation with my own educational philosophy and Jewish ideological beliefs. Moreover, being a member of a cohort of students pursuing varying degrees from many different institutions around the country enabled me to familiarize myself with other curricula and other life experiences.
One of the most valuable aspects of being an iFellow is interacting with Israeli educators serving as Jewish Agency shlichim. The Concentration thoughtfully engaged the Israelis in conversation regarding the American Jewish community. During our second seminar in Chicago, for example, Fellows participated in an open dialogue with shlichim about their experiences in the North American Jewish community and how it will influence their practice upon return to Israel. Understanding this unique perspective from the shlihim in our cohort was enlightening, and having this understanding and this dialogue are essential elements of Israel education.
I also deeply appreciate the intentionality of The iCenter team to transform space. From Israeli snacks, to incredible quotation napkins, a mug wall, Hebrew stickers on popcorn bags, and an Alivebrary, the inspiration in the seminar space is palpable. This intentionality is profound and it will inform my work as educator and as a professional. How might we think about using the spaces we are in to create transformational experiences for our learners? Our board members? Our families?
On a lighter level, my time with The iCenter has been fun. I choose the word “fun” intentionally because fun is an underappreciated element of adult life. The iCenter seminars have offered me a chance to interact on a different level with my peers at other institutions.
All of these elements of the program helped me clarify what my educational philosophy is in regards to Jewish education and Israel education. I was supported and enriched in these efforts by my thought-provoking dialogues with education experts Shalom Orzach and Barry Chazan. Sometimes it has seemed as though my values of secular and Jewish (and by extension, Israel) education were in tension. Tension is not necessarily a bad thing, but it most definitely is an uncomfortable position to be in.
As an undergraduate I pursued a BA in Psychology and Education, with a specific focus in self-directed learning and progressive education. My interest in this field was nurtured through more than a decade of day and residential camp programs that were primarily Jewish in their content and environment. After graduating, I made what I often identify as a “sharp right-hand turn” from my days of thinking, writing, arguing, and discussing the nuances of educational philosophy, to an MA/MBA program. Now, as I move forward into the next stage of life post-grad school, I will take several pieces of what I have learned at The iCenter with me. As a hopeful summer camp professional, I will have the opportunity to work with shlichim and non-Israeli staff, crafting transformative educational programs for young people. Opening up previously-ignored conversations regarding the Jewish American communities they are experiencing is a priority for my work. I will also focus on the transformative power of intentionally planned spaces, using what is around us to inspire and educate. Y’alla!
Rose Levenson is a south Central Pennsylvania native, hailing from the sweet town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, with a degree in Psychology and Education. Through a process of self-directed learning and progressive education, Rose found the bridge between her academic work and her passion: overnight Jewish summer camp. Rose is currently a second-year MA/MBA student at Brandeis University in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program and is a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar.