High School Twinning Programs Help Shrink The U.S.-Israel Distance

May 30, 2019

Source: The Jewish Week 


At a time when the rift between many diaspora and Israeli Jews appears to be deepening, “the High School Twinning Program bridges the Israel-diaspora divide,” Isaac Herzog, the Jewish Agency’s chairman, told The Jewish Week. “It’s all the more important because it impacts participants during their formative years and lays the needed foundation for mutual understanding and lasting bonds.”

During the 2018-19 school year, nearly 700 schools with some 55,000 students and 2,000-plus teachers participated in the twinning network (nearly 20 in New York state). Hundreds of additional schools are expected to join the network thanks to an Israeli government grant of $2.5 million, the Jewish Agency announced last summer.

The Global School Twinning Network, which operates on the agency’s Partnership2Gether Platform, “changes the way students and teachers perceive their roles as members of an international Jewish community, fosters dynamic dialogue on Israel and Jewish identity, brings Hebrew alive and more,” according to a press release.

Created more than two decades ago, the twinning program fosters deep ties and community building between partner municipalities all over the world, according to Merav Shany, director of the network for JAFI.

Shany said this is the first time the ministries of education and diaspora affairs are collaborating with the Jewish Agency. “The reason they’re doing this is that they’re looking at Israeli students and want to enlarge their circles of Jewish identity. If you ask a classroom full of Israeli students about their identity, they would talk about their class, their family, perhaps their scout troop or their city. Some will say they’re Israelis. Most wouldn’t talk about being part of a larger world Jewish community, part of something bigger. For many Israelis, Jews abroad aren’t part of their consciousness. They have no experience with the diaspora and often have preconceived notions.”

Yet once they make any kind of connection to diaspora Jews, “something changes,” Shany said. “They want to be involved. They have a sparkle. I’m very proud that the ministries realize this and want to support our twinning program.”

As for some of the thornier issues that divide Israelis and American Jews — pluralism, for instance — Shany says, “It is the educators who decide what to focus on. Some choose history, others religious pluralism, some even choose STEM. But the fact that the Israeli kids are working together with kids abroad is itself pluralism. They get to know that there are other ways of living a Jewish life, and many ways to participate in the Jewish community.”

For diaspora students in congregational and day schools, the program is an opportunity to talk about — and to — individual Israelis, not just the country of Israel.

Read more at The Jewish Week

Updated: Jun. 13, 2019