Tal Grinfas-David of the Centre for Israel Education speaks with educators at Vancouver Talmud Torah last month. (photo from VTT)
Educators at Lower Mainland Jewish day schools had the opportunity to consider the relevance of Israel literacy last month, when Tal Grinfas-David, the Centre for Israel Education’s day school specialist, was in town the week of Feb. 18 to deliver a talk on the subject and work with local teachers and administrators. Her keynote speech, titled Teaching Modern Israel – Challenges and Opportunities, was part of a community professional development day.
The CIE, which is based in Atlanta, Ga., received a grant for a three-year initiative to work with nine Jewish day schools across North America and help them enhance their Israel education efforts. Vancouver Talmud Torah and King David High School are two of the nine schools and Grinfas-David spent a day coaching educators at each of them. She will return for the next two years to reinforce the changes CIE is promoting.
The issue, she said, is that, across North America, many graduates of Jewish day school education don’t have enough Israel literacy to grapple with the world, to justify a strong connection to Israel and to inform their Jewish identity.
“The concept we’re promoting is to turn Israel education into something all teachers can support, not just Jewish studies faculty,” she told the Independent. The desire is there, she added. “The Vancouver community is very supportive and wants to see Israel education boosted and incorporated into different subject areas. But it’s going to be a long-term process.”
No stranger to education, Grinfas-David comes to her role with a PhD in curriculum and instruction and 25 years as an educator in Israel and the United States. Over the next three years, she will move between Jewish day schools in Denver, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Jersey and Vancouver, coaching their educational teams.
“We’re thrilled to have this grant to visit the individual sites and get to know the different schools’ cultures,” she said. “Each school is different and unique, with strengths and challenges, and this grant allows us to customize and tailor our offerings to specific communities.”
The goal of Israel literacy is to graduate Jewish students who understand the relevance of Israel in their lives and feel confident in their knowledge. They need this, she said, because understanding Judaism means understanding it’s not solely a religion.
“It’s also a belonging to a peoplehood, a nation with a Jewish homeland,” she said. “To understand modern Israel today, we have to see it as a continuation of our Jewish history.”
Grinfas-David said she would need three days to address all the ways that Israel literacy counts significantly in the life of a Jew.
“Israel impacts how Jews live in other countries, like the U.S. and Canada, where we are free. Students at our Jewish day schools have never experienced powerlessness or persecution, as they have the good fortune of being born here and now, with many freedoms. But that’s all the more reason to have them understand it was not always like this for Jews.
“Being part of a nation means there is an obligation to support your people, because of your fortune,” she continued. “There’s a calling to engage and to reflect on what Israel means for these students in their lives. Israel literacy is about having a repertoire of primary sources under your belt, so that when students leave the school setting and hear different narratives, they’ll be critical consumers of information, and they’ll know the facts they need. At CEI, our goal is to give them the ability and the opportunity to have the confidence to be critical consumers.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.