MOFET International Jewish Leadership Seminars: History, Memory and Heritage in the Jewish Peoplehood Discourse Authors: Perlmutter Tova. Dr. Tova Perlmutter, lecturer and pedagogical tutor in Jewish History at Levinsky Teachers College and staff member of MOFET International's Jewish Teacher Educator Community, shares the rationale and approach of the MOFET Jewish Leadership Seminars in Israel. Every year tens of educators and educational administrators participate in seminars lead by Tova, enriching their professional & personal identities and skills.
In June 2016, a seminar for kindergarten teachers from the Jewish kindergarten system in Pittsburgh was held at The MOFET Institute in collaboration with Classrooms without Borders. During the seminar, the participants experienced a variety of learning settings: visiting and observing Israeli kindergartens as well as other educational institutions serving kindergartens (A House in Nature, Bible House, museums, Ne'ot Kedumim); lectures and workshops on topics such as early childhood education in Israel, early childhood education throughout Jewish history in the Diaspora, Jewish identity in early childhood and the History of the State of Israel and its people. All of the above were accompanied by study-tours around the Land of Israel.
Theoretically, both encounters – the professional as well as the personal encounter between the Americans and their Israeli colleagues, have a common - professional and cultural - basis. In reality, both groups (American and Israeli) discovered that there was a difference between their educational approaches to early childhood education.
I contend that this difference stems from the disparity in cultural environments – the American on the one hand and the Israeli on the other. According to Griswold (2004), human culture is expressed by the following social principles: "stories, beliefs, media, ideas, works of art, religious leaders, trends, rituals, and common-sense". These social components constitute an Israeli cultural environment that differs from the American one. Thus, despite the joint ethnic affiliation (Jews), the educational perceptions regarding the child and the educational approaches of the Jewish education systems in America and Israel differ from one another. Following are several examples to substantiate my claim:
The "junkyard playground" Concept: The seminar participants were exposed to this "novel for them" concept during the tour of Israeli kindergartens and educational institutions. The "junkyard playground" is one of the avant-garde components of the revolution in early childhood developed in the kibbutz movement. The person who conceived and established this revolutionary notion was the educator and kindergarten teacher, Malka Haas, of Kibbutz Sdeh Eliahu. Haas stressed that the kindergarten environment must be a part of the society in which the children live and reflect its customs and values (Haas, 2008).
Piaget describes the development of the kindergarten child's consciousness as being based on the proportion between his experimentation and his activity (Bruner, 1963). The educational concept of the "junkyard playground" puts Piaget's approach into practice. The "junkyard playground" educational method affords and promotes activity and personal experimentation that is interwoven with constant human interaction and joint building. In Israel, the "junkyard playground" approach has influenced the entire late childhood education system. This approach of the education system in Israel in particular and in Israeli society in general nurtures creativity, self-realization and the capability to improvise among Israeli children and adults alike.
"A House in Nature": This is an early childhood enrichment center. Here too, the kindergarten teachers underwent their first exposure to the method of independent learning and individual experimentation of children in an ecological yard and petting corner, as well as cookery, communications, and multimedia workshops (including a computer room, a cinema, and art workshops). The various activities in the House in Nature are governed by the following principles: "Education for independent thinking, love, respect and communal responsibility, meaningful experiential learning in smart, open, varied, learning-and-play environments that are convenient for and accessible to the children (A House in Nature, 2016).
- Involvement of the parents and members of the extended family in the kindergarten activities: This activity, too, constituted a surprising primary source for the American kindergarten teachers since the concept of "the grandpa of the kindergarten" for instance, was unfamiliar to them. Grandpa Joe is "the grandpa of the children" in the kindergarten that the participants visited during the seminar. He has been coming to the kindergarten once a week throughout the school year (for several consecutive years) and participates in the children's activities both in the yard and in the classroom. Grandpa Joe serves as a model of ethical behavior for the children and affords an opportunity for intergenerational contact and development of a cultural-national memory. In addition, the kindergarten teachers heard about the parents' participation in the educational activity in the House in Nature kindergarten. In this field, too, there is a difference between the American and Israeli education systems.
At the conclusion of the seminar, the participants discussed the personal and professional experiences they had undergone; they would be returning to their kindergartens with numerous plans and a keen desire to implement the pedagogical approaches and conceptions to which they had been exposed. Moreover, they expressed a wish to maintain a communication channel and personal contacts with both MOFET and the kindergarten teachers they had met in Israel.
Dr. Tova Perlmutter is a lecturer and pedagogical tutor in Jewish History at Levinsky Teachers College and staff member of MOFET International's Jewish education staff and leader of MOFET's educational seminars in English.