Focus on Issues Joint Program for Jewish Education in the Diaspora

“The Joint Program for Jewish Education in the Diaspora” exhibits two rare and remarkable qualities which would make it worthy of attention even if it had no educational achievements to boast of.

Firstly, the program is not spending all, or even nearly all, of the budgets that the Israel government and the World Zionist Organization have made available for it. And secondly, the program, since its inception more than a year ago, has been an area of total harmony and cohesion between the government and the WZO.

So many institutions and projects in Jewish public life plunge ahead with money-spending that it is unique indeed to find a program, commanding $5 million annually, deliberately spending much less than its allocations during its initial stages of development.

And so many areas of joint government/WZO/Jewish Agency cooperation have been the subject of rancor and discord of late (particularly areas involving the aliya department and the absorption ministry), that it is welcome news to see WZO chairman Leon Dulzin and Israel’s Education Minister Zevulun Hammer both deeply involved in the Joint Program — and never a cross word between them.

Together with Morton Mandel of Cleveland, Ohio, chairman of the Council of Jewish Federations, as chairman of the steering committee, Dulzin and Hammer have invested the time, energy, brainpower and resources to ensure that this ambitious program gets off to a solid start.

NOT A FLY-BY-NIGHT VENTURE

There is nothing fly-by-night about the Joint Program, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned a year ago in an initial interview with top WZO executive Haim Zohar. A follow-up session recently with Zohar and Daniel Tropper, top education aide to the minister, reinforced the impression of quiet, painstaking, unhurried ground-laying that could, in time, build up a veritable revolution in diaspora Jewish education.

“Five million dollars is a drop in the bucket,” says Tropper, when set in the context of all the monies spent on Jewish education the world over. Indeed, the Joint Program has set itself the goal of making its “drop” concentrated and potent.

Jewish communities and Jewish schools funnel money into buildings, into salaries, into schoolbooks. The Joint Program does not seek to enter into any of these fields. Its purpose is to provide what the schools and the communities cannot provide for themselves long-range planning, curriculum development, new methods of child- and adult-education.

Above all, the Joint Program seeks to use what Tropper calls “the huge amount of talent, expertise and methodological know-how available in Israel” for the benefit of Jewish education in the diaspora.

APPLICATION ON SEVERAL LEVELS

This theme is already being applied by the Joint Program at several different levels (in many instances still in the planning or testing stages): elementary school syllabuses; high school courses; adult education, drawing from Israel’s enormously successful open university; and educational theory and administration, drawing from the experience and professionalism of the ministry and the departments of education in the country’s universities.

The program is not rushing ahead to spend its money because, says Tropper, it wants to spend “meaningfully.” Despite the caution, however, some impressive ideas have been adopted by the program’s supervisory board (comprising Israeli and diaspora educators) and are being acted on. Some examples:

A series of 10 subject-books for teachers, each accompanied by a pupil’s workbook, is currently being published on central themes of Judaism. The first, “The Book of Jonah and Yom Kippur, ” rolled out of the presses in September.

The books, prepared by Hebrew University education specialists, are based on meticulous field work carried out at the Tarbut Jewish School in Mexico City. The series is called “Teaching Jewish Values,” and the books are intended specifically for non-religious (i.e., non-Orthodox) schools. But Tropper and Zohar, themselves both Orthodox, feel most of them would be acceptable in Orthodox institutions, too.

They draw on a very wide range of Jewish and modern Hebrew source material, from the Pentateuch to Bialik and current poets.

The Joint Program allocated $150,000 to developing this project. There will be further testing and culling of feed-back reactions before final editions of these books are issued — first in Hebrew, and then in other languages.

A MUCH-PRAISED COURSE

A much-praised course in modern Jewish history offered by the open university (this is a university of the air, open to all, which is entitled to award bachelors degrees), is being rendered into Spanish for use in adult education programs in Latin America.

The Dor Hemshech groups in the various Latin American countries are closely involved in this project. “Until now, says Zohar, “there has been nothing really professional and serious available for young leadership and adult education programs.”

This, too, is still in the nature of a pilot project, though Tropper and Zohar say initial feedback in positive. If successful, it will point the way to how the vast amount of material prepared for the Israeli open university — much of it of a very high academic standard — could be adopted for use in Jewish education around the world.

The Joint Program has provided a $70,000 grant to the Hebrew University’s “Institute for Contemporary Judaism” to finance a worldwide statistical survey of the state of Jewish education. Surprisingly — despite all that is said and written on the subject — no hard and fast statistics, professionally culled, exist.

This statistical study will provide the Joint Program with vital information on which to base many of its future efforts — and will of course benefit national and community education organizations in many diaspora countries.

THE MEDIUM AND THE MESSAGE

Jewish education through television; there is an ambitious new venture in this unexplored area now under way in Israel, within the framework of the Education Ministry. (Tropper, in his “alter ego” as education aide to the minister, is deeply involved in it.)

Tropper and Zohar feel that for a relatively modest investment, the Joint Program could splice into the Israeli television project and extract from it plentiful material for use in Jewish schools and other educational frameworks abroad.

Experts are presently engaged in studying how precisely the medium of TV affects the message of Judaism that the project seeks to put across. This is made doubly complicated by the project’s determina- tion to create TV films on such basic issues as Shabbat, that are beamed at the non-observant pupil. The idea is to impart knowledge and to import also atmosphere, but not to urge observance since the TV project is to be used in the Israeli secular school network.

One final example of the Joint Program’s careful planning: it has commissioned a feasibility study into the idea of offering diaspora Jewish teachers a series of summer courses in Israel.

There would be three consecutive summer programs linked to Israel’s open university which would provide academic “credits” recognized abroad and which would offer the teachers a special qualification leading automatically to substantial salary raises.

For this to work, of course, it needs the endorsement of the various diaspora educational organizations which would pay the increments, and thereby, Zohar and Tropper believe, help enhance the status of the teaching profession in the Jewish world. So far, the two men report, reactions have been enthusiastic from Europe and South America, and less so from the U.S.

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