ECE-RJ Israel Experience is the Conference of a Lifetime
By Jennie Rubin, President of ECE-RJ
On February 18th, 2018 I embarked on the first Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) conference in Israel. To say that this was a dream come true, is really an understatement. From the inception of the organization, it has been the goal of every ECE-RJ board, to be able to have a conference in Israel. In honor of our 18th year, it was my privilege, as President of ECE-RJ, to be part of the team that made this happen.
I was joined by 40 educators (31 directors, 9 teachers), from across the United States. Like me, they signed up with hopes of gaining professional and personal knowledge, inspiration, and connection. The itinerary was carefully crafted to ensure that specific enduring understandings were achieved, and essential questions would be answered. Learning in Israel, whether it was the first time or the 14th time, impacted each participant in ways that will not only affect their teaching, but the Reform movement as a whole. For most of us, we are the first connection that people make within a community. We are the ambassadors to Jewish life for families with young children. Bringing Israel into the knowledge base of our educators allows them to make connections between these families and Israel too. Guiding families as they make choices on their Jewish journey is one of the best parts of the sacred work we do. Creating opportunities to help these families see Israel as part of their journey is poignant, and gratifying.
Every step along our journey highlighted the role that children have played in Israel’s past, present, and future. The value placed on education, resilience, and creativity is evident whether you are in a school or in a cultural institution. The next generation has always brought hope in Israel, regardless of the time period. I found that as I travelled from place to place, my personal connection to the land, the people, and the history grew exponentially, and the resources that I obtained, to share with my community grew accordingly. The ideas of how to co-construct strong educational pieces that could be shared amongst my local and national colleagues crystallized into solid plans.
We are responsible for engaging the next generation of Jewish people, and being able to engage in a much richer dialogue is a benefit all the participants received. This occurred from the unique opportunities that were presented to us. Through meeting with our IMPJ colleagues, seeing the peace work that is being done from birth through adults, engaging in meaningful discussions about the challenges and successes of Israel early childhood, observing the impact art and music have on expanding educational experiences, the group was inspired and uplifted. We visited early childhood centers that lived within synagogues, schools that were part of the public system, the gans with junkyard playgrounds on kibbutzim, and innovative, experimental programs that are looking to bring children of different backgrounds together. These schools provoked our ideas of what can be, and were the springboard for meaningful, big picture conversations about educational philosophy, and Jewish life. It challenged me to look at the ways the best principles and practices of our Israeli colleagues can be integrated into my own program. It empowered me to share this with my colleagues who did not have this experience.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “What we need is not more textbooks. We need more text people.” If the text is Israel education, than this trip helped to create more text people. There is no better way to learn about a country than to have your feet on the ground in the place. I watched the transformation of my colleagues as we unpacked the learning each day. I heard the word “connections” repeatedly, as it related to the participants, and the material we were studying. I witnessed a group of strangers come together and create a strong, vibrant learning community, that feels like family we can rely on across the country. The professional bonds created are the beginning of the ripples that will change the tides throughout our country. It is these teachers and directors who now have great power through experience to share Israel through the early childhood lens. I am grateful for the incredible opportunity to learn with my peers, and to be part of this incredible, life changing experience.
Read more at the ECERJ blog.