Israeli college students are in Atlanta this semester to study at Kennesaw University and student teach at The Epstein School. It’s the fourth year of the foreign partnership between Epstein and Haifa University in Israel in which students attend classes at Kennesaw and intern at Epstein twice a week to engage in teacher training and professional development with middle school students. The Israeli students arrived in early August and will finish their studies in December.
Officially named Ruach Hacarmel, meaning “The Spirit of Carmel,” this year’s program brought seven students between the ages of 25 and 30 to Atlanta, all native Israelis who have completed service in the Israel Defense Forces.
As the only schools in the state to partner with Haifa University, Kennesaw and Epstein began the initiative based out of the belief that the Jewish education field suffers from a lack of qualified Judaic studies professionals. Aside from the cultural and educational benefits for the Epstein students, the program also aims to invest in young, capable teachers with the knowledge and cultural background to inspire students. Each of the Israeli student interns has a mentor with whom they shadow and observe pedagogy such as lesson plans and the developmental needs of the Epstein students.
Hadas Sadero is Epstein’s Hebrew and Bible department chair and the coordinator of the program. “It’s absolutely a goal to recruit teachers who are already prepared through Epstein and educated in Jewish studies from living in Israel back to our school,” she said. “Aside from that though, the program allows us to bring in other young people who speak Hebrew to show our students that the language is alive and well. Here’s a group of young Israeli students who develop personal relationships with our kids. Last year, for example, we had an Israeli young lady here who worked with us. When she left, she and our kids stayed in touch via social media. They all follow her on Instagram. Now our class is visiting Israel in May, and they’ve made arrangements to meet up with her. It’s wonderful.”
The college students currently visiting from Israel are reaping the benefits as well. Becoming familiar with the American system of education and how Judaic studies are taught in the states are specifically enriching for many Israelis, and the Epstein and Kennesaw communities have welcomed them.
“In our country, everyone is Jewish, so you don’t necessarily feel that warmth of a smaller community like we did when we first arrived in Georgia,” explained current exchange student Diana Davtian. “It was a pleasant surprise when I arrived.”
Fellow student Yossi Yeger said, “It’s also very challenging to be teaching and learning in a different language. But that’s what makes the program even better because we’re able to practice our English. In every sense, we’re adapting to a whole new system we’re not accustomed to. Everything is different, and we welcome it.”
The program is made possible by donors Stan Sunshine, Michael Merlin, Norman Radow and Ramie Tritt. “Stan has welcomed us at several parties and really made us feel at home,” Yeger said. “We’re so grateful for him, the rest of the donors, and the schools involved for making it possible for everyone involved to get a better education. We really learn from each other.”