Posted January 7th, 2013
By Dan Kassner, Israel Teaching Fellows
Education is something that is experienced and shared universally.
Yet, education means very different things to different people. It can be used for good, to create discussion and to challenge opinions, or it can be abused and used for hate.
My interest in education is what first inspired me to enroll in Masa Israel’s OTZMA Israel Teaching Fellows, a 10-month Teach for America-style program in Israel.
Not only was I excited to become absorbed in Israeli culture, but I was also looking forward to experience teaching in a foreign classroom.
When I first entered the Naomi Shemer Elementary School in Petah Tikva in October, I almost felt like I was walking into East Elementary School in Sharon, Massachusetts, the school that I attended as a child.
Art projects lined the walls, kids ran through the hallways, and teachers yelled at kids to pick up their belongings from the floor.
But as the year went on, I began to realize how different education is in Israel.
Israel, like other countries in the Middle East, has a peculiar dichotomy between secular and religious education. Some Israelis focus their studies on science and math in schools, while others focus on Torah and Jewish law.
The impact that this type of education system has on society takes a large cultural, social and, of course, political toll.
Experiencing the depth of opinions and the strength of beliefs present among Israelis has inspired me. While I volunteer at an extremely secular school, I often have Shabbat dinners with a modern Orthodox Jewish family.
One weekend, I headed to Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank, to experience Shabbat there.
While enjoying the Friday night dinner, I couldn’t help but wonder, Why would the family live in such a controversial area? Why would they raise their children in a place that has the potential for hostility from their neighbors?
For my host family, the answers were obvious.
“This is where I grew up,” the father of my host family said over servings of potatoes, couscous and chicken. “This is where my ancestors lived. This is where my father moved to give us a better life. Why should I move just because some people don’t think Israelis should live here?”
Although I have my own opinions, it was eye-opening to finally understand his point of view.
Because so many people are educated differently in Israel, the people have diverse ways of thinking and, more importantly,expertise in problem solving.
Israel has overcome many difficult situations and still has much more work to do. Though much about Israel’s future is uncertain, I am sure that education will determine where the country will be in one year, five years, and ten years from now.
The opportunity to see first-hand how great an impact education can have on a society has led me to pursue a career as a high school history teacher.
This fall, I will begin a graduate program in education at Northwestern University.
I have no doubt that I will use what I have learned in Israel to open my students’ minds to the larger world that awaits them.