A delegation of Tucson educators representing Jewish organizations experienced Israel in a meaningful, weeklong cultural exchange during rodeo school break in late February. Jeanette Butcher (Tucson Jewish Community Center), Nicole Chorny and Kim Spitzer (Congregation Anshei Israel), Allie Silber (Temple Emanu-El), Jill Sobieszyk (Congregation Or Chadash) and I were selected from synagogues and Jewish schools in the Tucson community to strengthen our connection with Israel through the Partnership2gether program.
Sponsored through the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson J, the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2gether school twinning program pairs Tucson schools and communities with Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon near Israel’s border with Gaza. Through twinning, students and teachers are able to connect, engaging in activities to broaden their global outlook on Jewish life.
The trip was to provide educators with the opportunity to learn, experience, and observe the Israeli educational system, and to explore the potential for an enriching and beneficial school twinning relationship. Sharing the experiences of being Jewish and learning about life as an educator in Israel provided an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives.
“The distance between our two countries and the language barrier will no longer divide us. Being face to face with each other sparked new ideas and creative ways for us to teach and to connect all of our students together,” says Spitzer, a Sunday school teacher at Anshei Israel and co-chair of the Tucson/Israel
Participants were welcomed with homestay hospitality that opened the doors for true friendships between participants. “Staying with a host family led me to experience Israel through an Israeli’s eyes, the way I would want someone to experience Tucson through my eyes,” says Butcher.
This is the second consecutive year for the Tucson/Israel teacher delegation trip. Last year the delegation visited Israel during a tumultuous time in the partnership region. Teachers could neither visit the schools nor see the children and at the conclusion of the trip, felt as if they had not fully met their mission. During this trip, teachers were able to spend significant time in the classrooms and schools. As THA’s kindergarten teacher, I spent a morning in my twin class, where I was greeted and welcomed by teachers, students, and parents. The support and gratitude of the Partnership2gether program was authentic and humbling.
The delegation also traveled to iconic Jewish heritage sites including Masada, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Experiencing the shuk (markets) was a highlight for Or Chadash educator Sobieszyk. Tucson and Israeli teachers explored the Old City of Jerusalem together and went to the Kotel, the Western Wall, for a special Kabbalat Shabbat. The group of teachers had a meaningful Shabbat as they embraced in the rain with songs and prayers in front of the holy wall.
The teachers participated in workshops to plan for future trips and deeper connections. Collaborating in a visual thinking workshop, they drew pictures to communicate what lacked in spoken words. The idea of expressing thoughts through images helped unite the group to find solutions in connecting people-to-people.
As the Partnership2gether program grows and the communities become closer, the delegation of teachers is committed to strengthening those connections. Through global learning and communication, teachers can help children to take pride in their identity and feel supported by their worldwide Jewish connections.
Danielle Weiss is a kindergarten teacher at Tucson Hebrew Academy.