By Janet Harris, Director, Early Childhood Education Initiative
Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in a ten-day study tour of Israel with a group of Jewish resource specialists from five Bay Area preschools. The purpose of the trip was to deepen our relationship, as teachers and Jews, with Israel through getting to know early childhood educators and social entrepreneurs, as well as to explore the land and places we have learned about in the Torah.
We walked through the narrow paths of the Old City of Jerusalem, hiked in the nature preserve of Neot Kedumim, and toured preschools and kindergartens, getting to know their teachers on a first-name basis. Our PJ Library counterpart, the director of Sifriyat Pijama, also helped us see how the PJ Library comes to life in Israeli classrooms.
A highlight of the trip was the opportunity to visit JCF-funded projects in Galil and gain a real understanding of the work we do in the country. Barak Lazoon, our intrepid leader and JCF representative in Israel, took us to the Druze Village of Kisrae-Samea where we visited Early Childhood programs along with the staff of Echad.
One of the projects that JCF has funded was the construction of a beautiful ECE center with wrap-around services (speech therapists, physical therapists, social workers, nurses, etc.) for parents with young children. The impact of this center on the community has been profound. Children are receiving services for special needs, as well as what we consider to be basic developmentally screening. There are language enhancement programs, support groups for parents, and a beautiful play area for families to enjoy.
We also had a private audience with a Druze sheikh – a first for us all. We learned that the Druze hold prayer services only twice a week, unlike the Jewish halachic commandment to pray three times a day, or the Muslim commandment of praying five times a day. He assured us that the Druze were “very lucky” because of that!
This trip was eye-opening and transformational for me, and my fellow participants have expressed similar sentiments:
“For me the excitement began as soon as the land of Israel came in site from the airplane window. Like so many people say, ’it’s like coming home.’ This was not a group trip where a guide toured you through the country giving you historical facts. It was an incredible experience where passionate Israeli citizens embraced us in ways that are indescribable. I am so energized to the potential and possibilities of ways I can bring Israel alive to my colleagues and the children and families that I work with. And I have the desire to return to a place where I only began on what I know is a new personal and professional journey.” – Betsy Surtshin, Teacher, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center ECE program
“I love spending time in Israel, however, this trip was different. I have never seen Israel through the lens of a Jewish early childhood educator. I was amazed at how the children were viewed, considered, and honored. I have been struggling with this epiphany since my return, trying to figure out how I can make sure that the children in my care are guaranteed this same level of respect and dignity. There is a collective story that is Israel; it is both historical and cultural, and this story is a unifying and identify-creating narrative. It is my responsibility to share this epiphany and find like-minded educators, leaders, and parents that want to help me fill the space our children are engaged in. I want to create a richness that is as sustaining and sweet as the milk and honey that flows in the ideal that is Israel.” – Adam Lowy, Jewish Resource Specialist and Teacher, Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco
We would all like to express a hearty todah rabah, or thank you, to the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco for funding this trip. The children will reap the benefit of this amazing journey!