For Preschool Teachers, an Israel Immersion

March 18, 2014

Source: The Jewish Week 


The opportunity to exchange ideas with Israeli educators is a core component of a 10-day trip organized by the fledgling Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute, known as JECELI. Part of a 15-month program, the goal of the Israel visit was to enable educators to explore the role of Israel in Jewish life, think about new ways incorporate Israel education into their curriculum and gain new perspectives on Jewish early childhood education.


Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Jewish Theological Seminary launched JECELI together in May 2012. The nondenominational program brings together new and aspiring preschool directors from across the U.S. for mentoring, professional development and community building. The group of 15, which recently visited Israel, is JECELI’s second class of students. A third cohort will begin in May 2014.


JECELI engages selected new and aspiring directors in intensive Jewish learning, inquiry and reflective practice, leadership development, and community culture building. Jewish learning provides the foundation for all of the areas that are studied. Participants work on discovering meaning in texts and ritual; understanding leadership and relationships through Jewish perspectives; fostering spiritual development; integrating Israel into the life of the early childhood program; and facilitating the development of identity.


The goal of the Israel trip is to deepen participants’ connection to the Promised Land and discover new ways to bring Israel into the curriculum.


One of the Israel Seminar participants recently posted on the JECELI Blog.

However, I know for myself that there is a great deal that I am still unpacking from my experiences. The thoughts and feelings that I took with me were gathered from both our engagement with historical/geographical sites (like Independence Hall, Yad Vashem, and the desert), but also from the many early childhood programs. Some of the tightly packed ideas that I will be unfolding include:

  • Leadership in service to a powerful community vision in contrast to leadership that aims “to get a job done”
  • Relationships that are intentional both because of a culture of love of others and a history of loss
  • Inclusion of the other and what it means to try to identify the self AS the other
  • The integration of culture into the self in a way that supports independence and risk-taking while remaining within the bounds of the society

We can’t always take the children and their families on a field trip to Israel. We CAN let them participate in our own unpacking of the ideas, feelings, and expressions that we are carrying home with us. I believe that, already, some of the values that were so strongly exhibited during our time there are becoming a part of who I am as a Jew. These values, and how we value Israel every day through our tefillot (prayers), Torah stories, and holidays, can make Israel present in our early childhood programs.


Read more at The Jewish Week

Updated: Apr. 23, 2014