Special Interview Stress on Zionist Education
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Special Interview Stress on Zionist Education

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“I don’t believe in educational revolutions. There’s no need to alter our methods. Sometimes, it takes a while for them to bear fruit, but they eventually do,” says Dr. Eliyahu Tavin, the new chairman of the World Zionist Organization’s Education Department, who is presently on a three-week tour of the U.S. and Mexico.

The 57-year-old Herut loyalist is one of the new men on the Zionist Executive. Born in the Ukraine, he immigrated to Palestine as a child, later serving as a member of the Irgun command here and setting up the Irgun network in the diaspora.

In later years, he served as a representative to the Vaad Hapoel Hatzioni, as a member of the WZO’s finance committee, and, most recently, as the active Herut representative on the Broadcasting Authority’s Board of Governors for the past six years, where he supervised the Authority’s overseas broadcasting network.

The zeal and vigor with which Tavin’s name became associated in Israel during his years at the Broadcasting Authority — he often publicly berate it for screening “inappropriate material” and using broadcasters with “leftist sympathies” — is demonstrated in his new post.

“We must stress Zionist education,” he declares fervently. “The tone sets the music. I am very much aware of the toll assimilation and non-Zionist education is taking on Jewish youth abroad Thus, most of my work will be field activity in the diaspora itself.”


Under Tavin’s leadership, and that of his chief subordinate, director Michael Kleiner, efforts in the WZO’s Education Department will be directed toward giving new momentum to Jewish education in different communities throughout the world. Unlike previous programs in the department, all educational material will be finalized in accordance with the direct involvement and guidance of educators from the target community and will be directly suited to the needs of that community.

This was seen in the department’s recent negotiations with the American Conservative movement to jointly build an educational program for the 53 Solomon Schechter schools throughout the U.S. The department has also initialed contacts with the Reform community, but leaves Orthodox Jewry to the WZO’s Torah Education Department. Tavin noted that he would like to see the two departments merged into one, if the political situation permitted such a move.

Tavin also hopes to increase Jewish education in communities in “spiritual distress” all over the world, and not just those in Latin America, as he feels was done by his predecessors. He cites many European communities as examples, notably those in France, “where only four percent of all Jewish youth receive a Jewish education.” The department also intends to turn its efforts to Jewish communities in Iran and Spain.


To assist these communities, Tavin has tentatively proposed a number of programs through which he plans “to combat growing assimilation, prepare diaspora youth for eventual aliya and emphasize Israel’s centrality in Jewish education abroad.” The WZO’s Education Department, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Education are presently considering establishing a supreme council for education in the diaspora, which would oversee and organize every education-oriented activity abroad.

Such activities would include sending groups of diaspora teachers to Israel to receive educational training, increasing the number of Hebrew-language ulpans abroad, bettering educational training abroad, centering educational efforts on children of former Israelis, and bringing homogeneous groups of diaspora youth to Israel to learn for a limited time period.

“We must intensity education in the diaspora,” says Tavin. “Such a council could help to that effect, could broaden the link between communities by learning a common language and culture.”

The WZO has also reached a major agreement with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to establish a pedagogic center to prepare educational and teaching materials for use in the diaspora. “We hope to utilize educators in the diaspora to test the materials at pilot schools set up in accordance with the center’s guidance,” says Tavin.

“We also want to raise the standards and thus gain Israeli and American academic accreditation for the Greenberg Teachers Institute in Jerusalem, with the hopes that this will increase the number of potential Hebrew teachers in the diaspora coming to Israel for their teaching accreditation.”


The new department chairman also contends that parents abroad are not involved enough in their children’s Jewish education and he would like to extend the Jewish educational framework available in the diaspora at present. This would include the establishment of both Jewish youth clubs to be operated in the after-school hours for children who do not attend Jewish schools, and the opening of an extensive network of adult education courses, whose content would approximate the subjects taught to children.

Such expansion would also include the establishment of a sub-department for Jewish kindergartens in the diaspora–which never before existed — and which, he hopes, would encourage the continuity of Jewish education. Tavin hopes to interest both WIZO and Hadassah in this latter scheme, a factor which has in part brought him to the United States at this time.

On his current visit to the U.S. and Mexico, Tavin plans to acquaint himself with the problems and highlights of the Jewish educational system in these countries, through his meetings with Jewish communal and educational leaders, as well as examine the possibilities for establishing his proposed network of Jewish kindergartens. He will be participating at the forthcoming American Zionist Federation National Convention in Grossingers, N.Y.

Tavin is well aware that the department’s policy is in the theoretical stage. But he is confident that they will be well received in the diaspora. He notes that a tentative proposal to institute Hebrew language courses for adults at community centers throughout the U.S. has met with an encouraging response, a feat, which, in the eyes of certain American Jewish educators, would have been impossible five years earlier.

Similarly, a rise in the interest displayed for Jewish and Zionist education has been noted, a trend which the WZO’s Education Department intends to utilize to the utmost of its abilities.

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