A group of four educators from New Orleans and four from Birmingham were guests of the Israeli City of Rosh Ha'Ayin as part of the activities of "Partnership 2000" (P2K), a joint venture conceived by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), to match Israeli and American cities for their mutual benefit and promote understanding between Americans and Israelis.
The possibilities for P2K are boundless. From cultural to economic exchanges, the only limit on the programs is cost. Fortunately, when this teacher exchange needed funding, New Orleans Jewish Endowment Foundation (JEF) stepped in with a $10,000 grant that allowed the program to be implemented.
It was Carole Neff, President of New Orleans Jewish Endowment Foundation, who suggested that JEF might be able to help out. “Many of our donors strongly support Israel and programs that educate Americans about the efforts and accomplishments of Israelis in all aspects of their lives. When I learned that the P2K educators exchange needed additional funds, I suggested the Federation make a request to our board,” says Neff. “Community relationship building between Israelis and Americans is one of the things JEF does; it turned out to be a good fit.”
The teacher exchange began in June when the N.O. and Birmingham teachers visited Rosh Ha’Ayin. As one participant put it, “By being in their classrooms, we gained a better understanding of their system, their issues, and how their situation differs from ours. The children in Rosh Ha’Ayin dress more informally and have a shorter school day, but they have a greater sense of parental and community support.”
JAFI’s Education Department created a detailed itinerary for the American educators, which included speaking with Rosh Ha'ayin Mayor Sinai, the Head of the education department and the Head of the schools department; visiting archeological sites to study the history of the area; meeting an Ethiopian youth club, a Russian youth club and a Yemeni traditional house, and touring Rosh Ha’Ayin elementary and middle schools, as well as a nearby Arab school in K’far Kassim.
Members of Rosh Ha’Ayin’s P2K steering committee, English teachers from Rosh Ha’Ayin schools and a scholar in residence accompanied the New Orleans and Birmingham teachers throughout their visit. Towards the end of the visit, teachers from all the three cities began to collaborate on an academic program on the theme of diversity. This collaboration will continue when Rosh Ha’Ayin educators visit New Orleans and Birmingham.
The four New Orleans teachers chosen for the P2K Exchange Program are Gail Silverstein, Joel Colman, Tony Behan, and Jennifer Kitner, all of whom demonstrated an interest in learning about other cultures. They really got a sense of the community and the educational system in Rosh Ha’Ayin, a town with three major groups of residents: Yemenites, Ethiopians, and retired military personnel.
By having both Jewish and non-Jewish participants, the educators were able to get a better sense of the diversity issues they wished to address. It added to the trip as a whole, since the group visited Christian sites and attempted unsuccessfully to visit Muslim sites. Gail Silverstein commented, “Because we were with Christians, I was able to feel their sense of spirituality when we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was similar to the awe I experience when visiting the Western Wall.”
For Tony Behar, on his first visit to Israel, he was surprised at how difficult the political situation was for Israelis and at how the news we hear in America misrepresents the facts. Overall, Behar describes the visit as "amazing" from visiting places he teaches about--such as Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, to becoming a part of team of teachers with the common goal of promoting understanding. Behar expressed his gratitude to everyone who made this program possible. It reinforced his belief that "you need to know Judaism to understand Christianity." and that "the State of Israel has much to teach Americans about overcoming racial and cultural differences."
New Orleans’ P2K educators will continue to collaborate with their counterparts in Rosh Ha’Ayin and Birmingham to create an academic program on diversity.