Eight Israeli teachers have come to Pittsburgh for pedagogical instruction. The hope is that they leave with a renewed purpose.
Between Oct. 11 and Oct. 20, the Israeli delegation will partner with local educators to explore best practices in teaching about racism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
Ran Inbar, of Classrooms Without Borders, was spurred to organize the visit following the shooting at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018, which came just two months after he’d arrived in Pittsburgh with his wife, who is completing a postdoc at Carnegie Mellon University.
“The first thought was, ‘Let’s go home, there is no anti-Semitism there. There are many other problems, but no anti-Semitism.’ Then the second thought was, ‘No, let’s do something here that can make a difference,’” said Inbar, who’d been a history and civics teacher and vice principal of a school near Tel Aviv. “I thought about how can we make a difference. And the one place where you can really make a difference is education.”
Inbar reached out to Tsipy Gur, of Classrooms Without Borders, and Israel’s Ministry of Education, and together they created the Israel-Pittsburgh Joint Teachers Seminar, with the goal of getting teachers out of their usual environments.
“Sometimes they don’t get to observe other classrooms, even the ones next to them,” said Inbar. The Israel-Pittsburgh Joint Teachers Seminar is an opportunity to not only watch other teachers, Inbar explained, but to work with them.
The current group of Israeli teachers have already spent months communicating online. Now, spending time in the physical presence of American teachers and students should “give a different perspective,” said Gur.
The seminar will place the eight teachers with American counterparts in four local high schools — Pittsburgh Allderdice, Shaler Area, Avonworth and Winchester Thurston — where they’ll co-teach classes on racism, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
The engagement will afford greater opportunity for “real life experience,” said Inbar. Whether it means Israeli teachers will better understand diversity, or American educators and students will reap a greater appreciation for Israel, the opportunities are vast, he noted. “At the end, each can be an ambassador to his or her own classroom.”
There will be other opportunities for the Israeli and American educators to connect as well, such as during visits to local educational institutions like Community Day School and Carnegie Mellon University. And each school can take advantage of the Israeli teachers’ presence with the creation of their own projects. At Pittsburgh Allderdice, for exampe, the Israeli and American educators will “teach both African American and Jewish students together about racism in American society in the 1930s and in Germany,” said Inbar. Hopefully, after hearing students describe their lives here, the Israeli educators will be able to take knowledge about “segregation, racism and hate” and apply it when discussing “current American life and politics.”
A project in Avonworth will allow participating teachers to create an exhibit about the Warsaw Ghetto to educate students about bystanders and upstanders, thereby demonstrating that history should not repeat itself, he explained.
Program participants will also have the opportunity to travel together.
Two days after the Israelis arrive, all of the participating educators will head to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to take part in an Oct. 13 workshop on teaching together and using primary sources in the classroom. On Oct. 19, the group will travel to Washington, D.C., and visit both the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Visits to these museums should compliment the educational goals of the seminar, explained Inbar, as “they can understand what diversity really means. … When we see others, we can understand better.”
Since conceiving the seminar idea nearly a year ago, Inbar has gotten his own education in Pittsburgh.
“As an Israeli, speaking for myself, I almost never really engaged in deep conversation with people from different cultures or countries,” he said. “From coordinating this seminar, I know much more about this city and multiculturalism.”
Inbar said there have even been talks about having the American teachers make a reciprocal visit to Israel in March.
Educators teaching together, learning from students and one another — it all has value beyond the classroom, Gur said. “If we are going to fight anti-Semitism, then we’ll do it by educating teachers and students.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.