Partnership2Gether: Bridging the Gap between America and Israel
“It’s a game changer,” says Oshrat Barel, Israel’s Tucson community shlichah (cultural ambassador), as she muses about our Partnership2Gether program. “It brings in both the local and Israeli community. It enhances the academic program. It brings Israel to the classroom. It personalizes Israel. It’s not some abstract concept of Israel on the map... It’s their teachers, their students. It’s the lives and places of the people there.”
Parthernship2Gether is a collaboration bringing together in a profound way the communities of Tucson and its partnership region, the city of Kiryat Melachi and the municipalities of Chof Ashkelon. From preschoolers to seniors, Tucsonans from all walks of Jewish life connect with their counterparts via a range of programming. Across Tucson’s Jewish agencies and synagogues, P2P unites the Jewish community here and bridges the physical and cultural distance between America and Israel.
At the Tucson Hebrew Academy, the P2G school twinning program takes on a powerful significance. From ages 5 to 14, students connect by mail and Internet with their peers in Shikma, the region’s main public school. In eighth grade, THA students travel to Israel and meet their friends in person.
As with all great programs, planning is key. Oshrat and her team help get us organized. After goals are set, teachers at the two schools are identified for the program. Internal planning at both schools takes place, and the teachers collaborate together between schools via email, Skype and Whatsap. Although the time difference is a challenge, technology provides the solution to communications between continents. Once the relationship is established between teachers overseas, it often continues into the next year and the collaboration builds and builds.
The students collaborate on a variety of activities during the school year. These include pencil and paper writing, drawing pictures and sharing photographs and arts and crafts projects, which are literally transported back and forth between Israel and Tucson, by visitors or mail. Classes swap stories of themselves, and relationships begin to form. Student work from Israel is posted in Tucson, and vice versa. Thus, the new friends develop a tangible presence in each other’s classrooms.
Literature is another vehicle that connects participants. A shared text, The Same Moon, is read in paired classrooms, helping students understand that even though Israel is far away, we share many things in common. Students participate in activities together through Skype, including Jewish rituals such as menorah lighting. The same students whose art, stories and pictures hang in our classrooms come to life over the Internet. Younger students sing together, while older students discuss academic topics and learn about each other’s lives.
Students have responded the most to the personal relationships that are established through the program. Group experiences are powerful as well, but as students begin to engage directly with individuals, real friendships begin to emerge. Supporting Israel is one of our school’s six core values. Israel and Israelis come to life as relationships are built, experiences are shared, and friendships are made; this program broadens and deepens the appreciation, understanding and support of Israel and has a huge impact on this essential goal.
It all comes together when eighth graders finally meet in person. Our 24 hour visit with our partner school seems to pass in an instant, as the students work, learn and have fun together. Outdoors course training, making personal pizzas, sleeping at their friend’s homes, putting up tiles at the Peace Wall and digging together at an archeological site—they cannot get enough. We are greeted like family, and we feel like family together. When we part ways, tears flow and laughter bellows as Israeli students pretend to sneak on the bus. Throughout the rest of the trip the students are in constant touch, and I know those conversations continue, and will for many years to come.
The school year is underway and it’s game on for P2P! I yearn to return in May, see how my counterpart Moti is doing and watch this year’s graduates fall head-over-heels in love with Israel and forge connections with their friends in this far away land that is so close to our hearts and souls. Together, we are enriched both as individual Jews and a collective community, here and abroad.