By Rich Walter

Educators in the growing field of Israel education face a lack of excellent, high-quality teaching materials. Existing curricula or learning plans tend to be for high school students or exist alongside Israel advocacy programs, often focusing exclusively on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Rich Walter (left) joins members of the first cohort of the Certificate in Israel Education Program during June’s CIE summer workshop.

Rich Walter (far left) joins members of the first cohort of the Certificate in Israel Education Program during June’s CIE summer workshop.

Yet, if we are to truly change the way that Israel is taught and learned in Jewish and non-Jewish schools, we need to develop more sophisticated, learner-focused, content-rich materials for students of all ages.

In January 2016, the Center for Israel Education launched the Certificate in Israel Education Program (CIEP) with 12 educators from across the country. Participants in this first cohort sharpened their knowledge of Israel and Zionism through special seminars with CIE staff at the Jewish Educators Assembly annual conference and the CIE weeklong summer workshop. Staff placed special emphasis on connecting new content with innovative dissemination approaches.

The core of the certificate program requires each participant to develop and field-test a curricular project in his or her respective work setting. These projects included a New York scavenger hunt that explored how Israel is portrayed in the American public domain; an arts-based, multisensory approach to Israel education for second- to fifth-graders in which students explored Israel through cooking, music, dance, literature and visual arts; an experiential learning unit about LGBTQ rights in Israel and how they have evolved over time; a student-led Yom HaAtzmaut program with a student-created Israel museum in which each grade represented a different aspect of Israel; and an early childhood education project that used sensory materials and basic science projects to engage learners.

One member of the first cohort said the program “rejuvenated my passion for creative, innovative Israel education for my students. The collaboration with other educators and mentors provided incredible input for my project, and I’m walking away with an extensive list of educational lessons, resources, and programs for my institution. … This program has raised the bar for the field of Israel education.”

Last month CIE launched a second cohort composed of 16 educators. It includes eight classroom teachers in congregational schools in addition to full-time Jewish educators.

Both cohorts have included Atlanta-area Jewish educators as participants: Debbie Deutsch, the director of education at Congregation Etz Chaim; Rachel Herman, the director of education and youth activities at Congregation Or Hadash; Rhonda Povlot, a teacher at Temple Beth Tikvah; and Rebecca Tullman, the religious school principal at Temple Kol Emeth.

CIE’s Certificate in Israel Education Program is the only North American project-based initiative for achieving standards and excellence in the teaching of Israel for professional Jewish educators. The program participants represent 27 institutions in 11 North American communities, including Mexico City, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Austin, Texas.

Pending future funding, CIE will engage a third cohort next fall. For more information about the Certificate in Israel Education Program and for examples of the first cohort’s projects, visit israeled.org/certificate-israel-education-program.

Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).