First Person: The impact of learner-centered Israel education

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Other News

Rabbi Gershon Litt in Israel

When I was a child in Jewish day school, we passed around the green, metal JNF box, sang Israeli songs, and watched videos about Israel’s beauty. Israel was our homeland, pure and simple. Since then, things have gotten much more complicated. Young Jewish adults do not have the same attachment to Israel as my generation, mid- to late-1940s, does. Today on college campuses, we need to work harder and harder just to justify to our Jewish students why Israel should remain a Jewish state.

It’s hard work, but it’s worth the effort. How do we do it? What educational methodologies can be used to reach “Gen Z” effectively? We can start by learning how to truly educate the individual student, care for the student instead of just curriculum goals, and diversify educational pedagogies in the classroom and beyond. I’ve been unpacking these methodologies in The iCenter’s Graduate Program in Israel Education, in partnership with the George Washington University. This included a weeklong Israel travel experience that exposed us to varying narratives, new pedagogical tools, and ways of teaching that many of my peers and I had never seen before. I’m recognizing that while I’ve been a Jewish educator for over 20 years, teaching children, young adults, college, and adult students at varying times, I lacked these core principles in my educational approach. As a Jewish communal professional on campus, I tried many programs, social events, movies, and speakers. But if I would have known 20 years ago what I know now, I would have been a much better educator.

On the Birthright Israel trips I led this year, I saw the impact of intentional, learner-centered Israel education experiences. Because I’ve now been “trained up,” the quality of the sessions I led, programming I created, and even how I structured the free time was all improved and more impactful. The way I engaged with the students shifted and the feedback from the students was that the trip was transformative in ways not achieved in past trips.

Any educator can be an Israel educator with professional development opportunities. They don’t need to be experts in the subject matter; they need to be experts in different educational approaches and pedagogies, able to decipher which learners will connect most deeply with which types of learning experiences.

Rabbi Gershon Litt is the director of the Shenkman Jewish Center at William & Mary Hillel.

-Rabbi Gershon Litt