Israeli couple brings ‘fountain of blessings’ to Tucson Hebrew Academy

Netanel (left) and Eden Achituv, Israeli teachers new to Tucson Hebrew Academy this year, at THA’s all-school Thanksgiving lunch on Nov. 24. (Alix Cramer/THA)

Netanel and Eden Achituv are the first Israelis to join Tucson Hebrew Academy as part of the World Zionist Organization’s Morim Shlichim (teacher-emissary) program. WZO and the Weintraub Israel Center helped THA recruit the Achituvs, who bring rich experience to the day school’s Hebrew and Judaic studies programs. Coming from the town of Retamim in the middle of the Negev, both are former tour guides for Israeli students.

The Achituvs interweave Hebrew classes with the weekly Torah portion and the geography of the Middle East, so THA students “can see where Abraham walked,” says Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, THA director of Judaics and Hebrew studies.

While THA has successfully brought in other Israeli teachers, the Achituvs were the first to arrive as a family unit. With two young children, a suitcase and a backpack, they came to Tucson this summer to start a totally new life for one to three years.

“Their positive attitude is contagious,” says Lewkowicz, noting both parents and students are thrilled to have this direct connection with Israel. “There’s excitement in the community to have these resourceful educators and role models among us.”

Eden, 30, teaches THA’s lower division classes and includes Hebrew slang as well as modern songs. Netanel, 31, teaches upper division, but they share the goal of introducing students to the life, culture, geography and history of Israel. They also connect THA students to Israel through the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2Gether program. Using Skype, Eden — along with THA teachers Nancy Young, Emily Ellentuck and Melissa Truelove — has linked second and third grade students at THA with their Israeli counterparts to collaborate on a variety of projects.

Breanna Yalen, a seventh grade student, says, “We have the freedom to say anything we want, as long as it’s in Hebrew! I am learning even more Hebrew this year than I have in the past.”

Jon Ben-Asher, head of THA, used 2014 survey data from the school’s strategic plan initiative to identify a need for refinement of the Hebrew and the Judaic studies curriculum. Thus began the long process to find the best candidates. Fortunately for the Achituvs, Eden had a year’s experience teaching in Chicago at the Hillel Torah Suburban Day School.

After her year in Chicago, Eden returned to Israel for her second year of national service, met Netanel, and started a family with him in the middle of the Negev. They enjoyed their life in this very dry part of Israel, says Netanel, describing Retamim as “warm, slower paced than in the cities, and more of a spiritual place.” The Achituvs were the 28th family to move to the former kibbutz and help establish a new town. Although Netanel and Eden had never been to Arizona before joining THA, they find Tucson to be similar to their former home, “only with more rainfall.”

Oshrat Barel, director of the Weintraub Israel Center, played a crucial role in the recruitment process by first meeting with the Achituvs in Israel. Their tour guide experience distinguished them from other candidates. Eden explains that she would bring the Tanach (Hebrew bible) with her when leading hikes, so she could say to her Israeli students “it happened right here.”

“When we arrived in Tucson, many people from THA and the Jewish community welcomed our family and helped us find a place to live,” says Eden. To further spread their outreach efforts, Netanel teaches at Tucson Hebrew High in addition to THA. After three months in Tucson, the pair still are excited about their new home and work.

“The Achituvs inspire, teach and educate,” says Lewkowicz. “They believe in their mission and give body and soul; they enhance THA like a fountain of blessings.”

Ed Leven, Ph.D., is a freelance writer, former coordinator of JFSA Pride, and a retired professor of health care administration in Tucson.