Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Are We One Movement Anymore? The Problem and Challenge of Religious Zionism

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Student Recruitment

Following the (recently cancelled) announcement of early elections here in Israel, the Religious Zionist movement found itself in a familiar position: unprepared. After years of leadership in the Knesset, the religious Zionist movement splintered over ideological grounds into two generally distinct groups which then aligned themselves into distinct political parties. Habayit Hayehudi places its emphasis on religious Zionist activity throughout Israel while stressing the importance of involvement within greater Israeli society. On the other hand, the Ichud Haleumi (sadly, they haven't really updated their website in three years! If you'd really like to see just how sad the split it, see here.) finds itself more attuned to rabbinic instruction and direction, and places a far greater emphasis on settlement of the Land of Israel over other values.
While the split reflects genuine differences in a very diverse community, it also has significantly weakened the Religious Zionist community's influence and political clout. Instead of one political party with eight Knesset seats (and the power, influence and financial wherewithal that brings), the greater movement founds itself with two parties of four seats each, one of which found itself a member of the majority in the soon-defunct government (with the "important" portfolio of Science and Technology – and yes, I am being sarcastic when I say “important”) while the other remained in the opposition, left with little to no political power at all. The split truly cost us all. The question we must contemplate is: Can we find a way to reunite? Can we restore the power that we should have (and badly need), or, due to our unwillingness to find common ground, will we continue to diminish our influence and thereby fail to properly influence broader Israeli society?
Orot's Amadot Conference Schedule
At Orot’s recent Amadot Conference, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikvah participated in a panel that addressed this vexing question: Are we one movement? And, more importantly, can we remain a united force, or have we become so divided that we can no longer operate as a single unit.
Rav Sherlo made a number of fascinating points that I’d like to share.
Legitimacy: One of the critical measures of whether groups have split irreversibly is how they relate to each other. Put another way, do they relate to one another as legitimate? That is the difference between machloket – dispute – and division. As long as both groups legitimize each other, they can remain united. Yet, if one group refuses to acknowledge that the position of the other might be wrong – but still remains legitimate, and instead insists that the position of the other is not legitimate, then they have lost any sense of common ground, and rupture is inevitable.
Marriage: Do groups within the framework marry each other? Rav Sherlo pointed out that the Mishnah (Yevamot 1:4) emphasizes that despite all of the great disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, לא נמנעו מלישא זה עם זה – “they did not refrain from marrying with each other.” Can we same the same about different Religious Zionist groups today? He explained that he teaches at Migdal Oz (a rather left-wing women’s seminary), and he has yet to witness a wedding between a Migdal Oz girl and a yeshiva student from Har Hamor (a very right-wing yeshiva). This is a matter for concern. To what degree have we split ideologically so far, that little, if any interaction remains between the two groups that fall under the broad umbrella of Religious Zionism?
Language: The language of ideology doesn’t lend itself to compromise. Ideology articulates a specific vision, a worldview which represents idealism in its purest sense. It speaks to the world which we would create – if only we had the power to actualize our dreams. Platforms of ideology don’t often include words like love, compromise, mutual respect and the like. Imagine a marriage based solely on ideology, where words like those didn’t exist. How long would such a marriage last? Not long.
Rav Sherlo noted that we also suffer from two mutually exclusive beliefs. We believe that the world not only wants what we have to offer, but is waiting for us to save it. We have the truth – the combination of Torah and real life; of Religiosity and Zionism, of spirituality and worldliness – that provides the proper path for the Jewish Nation. Yet, at the very same time we also believe that the same world hates us: the secular press can’t stand us; the European Union is trying to topple us; the Israeli Supreme Court can’t stand us; the Chareidim attack us at every turn.
So which do we really believe? Does the world look to us to save it, or is it trying to bring us down? 
Rav Sherlo suggested that the solution to all of these challenges lies in a single word: Relax. We need to find the proper balance that pulls on Religious Zionism at all times. Our community defines itself in a kind of musical tone: Religious-Zionism; Yeshivat-Hesder; Kibbutz-Hadati. (He compared it to a metronome, which sways from side to side in rhythm.) Each side pulls on the other. Is it Religious? Or is it Zionism? Is it a Yeshiva? Or is it Hesder (part of the army)?
If we can learn to Relax, and see the value inherent in each of these seemingly contradictory terms, then the tension between them has the potential to draw us even closer together. In fact, the fact that the two parties formally agreed this week to run as a single party gives cause for hope. (Although the proof is in the pudding. With elections now pushed off for another year, a lot can happen between now and next October.)
On the other hand, if we cannot or will not learn to relax, and instead insist on remaining absolutists; if we continue to insist that we can only define ourselves in the most literal sense, then the forces pulling on the two sides of Religious Zionism have the chilling potential to irrevocably tear us apart.

Orot Israel College Answers the Call, Offering an Accelerated Early Childhood Education Training Program

Last year, the Trajtenberg Committee on Social Justice, appointed in response to a summer filled with protests calling for Social Justice in Israeli society, strongly recommended implementing legislation passed in 1984 authorizing free pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds which had been blocked for decades. Nearly 28 years and nine prime ministers later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet voted early this year to finally implement the free pre-school for all program.
While the vote represented a watershed moment for early childhood education in Israel, the government instantaneously created a monumental challenge for the Ministry of Education: Who will teach the tens of thousands of children that will soon enter into the now free system over the coming years?
In order to implement the Trajtenberg Committee’s recommendation, the Ministry of Education designed a new early-childhood-education retraining program for university graduates looking to transfer into early childhood education. The State of Israel designated this type of program a national priority, and as of now, Orot Israel College is the only religious college authorized to offer an early-childhood-education retraining program.
The new year-long program, designed by Dr. Yael Segev and Dr. Idit Layosh, head of Orot's Department of Early Childhood Education and meets at Orot's Rehovot campus, will include two afternoons a week of classes and two days a week of supervised practical work this year, and an even more intensive schedule during the summer months. Segev and Layosh stressed that because they believe that the preschool teacher plays a significant role in a child’s emotional development, they recognized the urgency of the current situation and the need to train teachers in an abbreviated setting. While the accelerated program cannot offer the breadth and intensive training of a full four-year degree, Orot agreed to open an one-time accelerated track for outstanding, highly motivated candidates holding academic degrees, who dream of becoming preschool teachers.
Tuition for the program consists of a conditional loan issued by the Education Ministry, and after a graduate spends four years working in the field, half the loan becomes a grant!
Orot is gratified that the program proved so attractive that no empty seats remain for this one-time training program. We wish the future early-childhood teachers success in their course, and many blessings as they embark on their new careers.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Excellence Program Students Learn About Experimental Schools

By Rav Uriel Touitou – Excellence Program, Elkanah Campus

In an unusual step, the presenters at a recent academic conference were college students – including a group of students from Orot Israel College’s Excellence Program. Organized jointly by the National Excellence Program and the Education Ministry’s Experiments and Projects Division, the conference focused on educational projects and experiments conducted at various schools across the country.
Early in the school year, the Orot students met with representatives of the Experiments and Projects Division as well as staff members from two different high schools: Yeshivat Kinor David in Ateret and Ulpanat Dolev in Dolev, where they learned about the experimental education project run by these schools. Later, they visited the schools for observation and spoke to the principals, teachers, and high school students about their experiences and impressions of the project.
As the semester progressed, the Orot students continued to learn more about the project. They studied the material they received from the principals and kept in touch with the staff members, who graciously answered their  questions.
Finally, the group of students used their findings to compile a dynamic and well-prepared report – including a workshop, an activity, explanations, and a slide show - and presented it at the conference. Special thanks to the two principals – Rav Ilan Biton of Ulpanat Dolev and Rav Motti Hershkopf of Yeshivat Kinor David – for their considerable help and support.
Throughout the entire process, the students concentrated on one question: As future educators, what can we learn from the experiment?
According to the students, the experiment demonstrated that core pedagogical principles can be adapted to meet the needs of different schools which cater to, social structures, and values. In addition, the students discovered that educators should not feel restricted by the traditional school or classroom format. Rather, educators must implement and incorporate innovative and creative ideas into their teaching.
As head of Orot Israel College’s Excellence Program, I am proud to say that the students acquired more than dry knowledge. They were exposed to experiential learning which enabled them to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the educational project they studied. Furthermore, their impressive presentation at the conference showed that they have become independent thinkers. Clearly, they learned just as much from the method they used to study the project as they did from the project itself.

Orot Israel College Featured At a Book Launch Event

by Dr. Shraga Fisherman and Rav Yosef Hershlikovitz – Elkana Campus

Dr. Shraga Fisherman and Rav Yosef Hershlikovitz’s new book, “Lehi’ot Mechanech: Sipurah Shel Michlalah B’Nisui” (“To Be an Educator: The Story of a College Experiment”), describes an innovative six year experiment conducted at Orot Israel College geared to train homeroom teachers. Although the homeroom teacher plays a primary and significant role in student education, little research has been done on training programs for homeroom teachers. The experiment’s goal was to shed light on this topic.
The groundbreaking book was launched at the Mofet Institute. Chaired by Mrs. Lily Russo of the Education Ministry’s Experiments and Projects Division, the launch event included a round table discussion involving educators, school supervisors, principals, teachers from the schools that took part in the experiment, Orot faculty members, and representatives of the Mofet Institute. The panel examined several questions, including: Should homeroom teachers undergo special training? If so, when is the optimal time for this training to be held? And finally, what conclusions can be drawn from the experiment?
The participants all concurred that a homeroom teacher requires specific training. Although a homeroom teacher must possess certain innate personal character traits such as empathy and warmth – these traits are insufficient. Many professional and pedagogical skills must be taught.
However, the participants differed with respect to the question of the ideal time for homeroom teacher training. While some felt that pre-service training is preferable due to trainees’ availability and openness to new ideas, others recommended in-service training after the homeroom teachers’ have the benefits of experience and maturity.
According to the authors, the experiment proved that education students can be taught the critical skills they need to serve as homeroom teachers. In addition, the experiment delved into related issues such as teaching morals and values, pedocentric education and interpersonal communication, and focused on three identity systems: personal identity, spiritual identity, and professional identity.
The Orot Israel College students who took part in the experiment acquired extremely valuable tools which will help them develop both personally and professionally as they pursue their careers as educators in the field.