ED-AJA Advocacy

The AJA Upper School’s Israel Advocacy Club this spring.

Atlanta Jewish Academy’s Upper School has been selected by the Avi Chai Foundation as a participating school in its Applying Hearts and Minds Project, whose goal is to change school practices in Israel education by deriving new ideas and applications for Jewish day schools from the report “Hearts and Minds: Israel in North American Day Schools.”

That report, issued in April 2014, had five key findings:

  • Israel is the glue that holds Jewish day school communities together, especially in schools that aren’t strictly Orthodox.
  • Regardless of denomination, about two-thirds of educators who teach about Israel do so as exemplars, sharing something about themselves, while the rest, called explorers, instead encourage students to learn about Israel through their own inquiry and study.
  • Students feel a stronger connection with Israel if they develop connections with other groups of Jews around the world.
  • Students feel a stronger connection with Israel if they see their parents engaged with Jewish communal life, regardless of whether the parents are active in Israel advocacy. Parental involvement in Jewish communal life is a stronger predictor than travel to Israel of a student connection to Israel.
  • Across denominations, between 25 percent and 50 percent of day school students are detached from Jewish life and Israel, and schools should focus on engaging those students to have the greatest impact.

As part of this initiative, AJA Judaic studies teacher Rabbi Reuven Travis will attend an intensive workshop in the fall to delve into the report and its implications for practice and gain clarity about how the Upper School can deepen its Israel education.

As many as five content experts will join the workshop participants to help them sharpen their ideas.

After the workshop, participating schools will be grouped into learning partnerships. Each learning partnership, or hevruta, will be assigned a content expert for the duration of the project.

The learning partnerships will meet monthly through January to share their thinking about their action areas, expand their expertise in their areas of focus, receive feedback on their plans, and report on the processes they are using to engage the school community in the work. These meetings and discussions will enable schools to develop action plans for applying findings from the report to their work.

Based on AJA’s participation in the Hearts and Mind Project, the school will launch an initiative for instruction on modern Israel next spring. AJA will also use this project to develop and launch the Israel Advocacy yearlong senior seminar that has been built into the Upper School’s new dual Judaic studies tracks, planned for the 2018-19 school year.