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Summer in Israel with TALMA: Next Year in Jerusalem

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In partnership with Schusterman and the Steinhardt Foundation, Israel’s Ministry of Education started TALMA in order to offer students a rigorous and fun summer learning opportunity to improve their skills in English. Schusterman's REALITY Community members joined forces with Israeli educators to teach in schools throughout northern Israel. 

Naomi Stanway, a TALMA teacher, shared the remarks below at the close of the TALMA program. 

My name is Naomi Stanway. I'm from central New Jersey and I was a 2013 Teach for America corps member in Southern New Mexico. I just completed my second year of teaching second grade and for the last several weeks I’ve been teaching fourth grade at Efrata in Jerusalem. 

Let me tell you a story. About two months ago I realized that I needed to start shopping and preparing for my summer travels. Now keep in mind that at the time I was living in southern New Mexico, which has a Jewish population of about fifteen people give or take. As I went from store to store collecting the various travel-sized items that I would need, I met dozens of curious people who wanted to know exactly what type of trip I was preparing for.

As soon as I said the words "Israel" and "Hebrew" and "Jewish Philanthropies,"  my curious neighbors began what quickly became a familiar interrogation: You’re going where?! Is that safe? Are they paying you well at least? How will you teach if you’re literally speaking a different language? Why are you going all the way to Israel when there are needy children right here in your own community? Are you sure you want to spend an extra month teaching during your summer vacation? 

My answers became a sort of mantra – yes I feel safe in Israel, no I’m not getting paid, no I don’t speak nearly enough Hebrew, and yes I am sure I want to spend three extra weeks lesson planning and managing a classroom. My favorite question to answer was why. Why are you going to Israel when you can easily teach summer school in your own community? The answer to this question is simple: because Israel is my community too.

Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited several times in the past few years. I’ve done most of the major sightseeing, shopped a thousand times in every jewelry store the Old City and Ben Yehuda St. have to offer, and participated in dynamic professional development with REALITY last summer. In other words, I’ve done a lot of taking. TALMA represented the opportunity to invest something personal, relevant, and meaningful back into this community. I know that collectively among my TALMA colleagues we have spent significant amounts of time traveling, studying, and volunteering here, but how many of us have been able to practice our teaching craft in this special place?  

Once I met my students, I braced myself for a different set of questions, this time in Hebrew. My students had their own mantra – How do you say? What does that mean? How do you spell? What are we doing? And, of course, the urgently whispered, What did she say?! This time, however, I didn’t have to answer the questions alone because I was armed with the support of Raizy, my incredible co-teacher. Together, we watched as our once reluctant students developed the bravery and confidence to read, write and speak English in class.

It’s a magical thing to see students who stubbornly refuse to speak on the first day of school eagerly raise their hands to share ideas three weeks later. I can’t take credit for this magic; rather it is the result of intentional relationship building, a mutual appreciation for the power and value of English language acquisition, as well as the urgency which accompanies the belief that significant changes can occur over relatively short lengths of time. Learning how to share a classroom was an interesting challenge, and through conversations that weaved between both professional and personal ideas, Raizy and I easily and enthusiastically navigated our way through our school days. 

At the beginning of the summer, my TALMA colleagues and I were challenged to reflect on one of the most famous set of questions Judaism has to offer – if I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am only for myself, what am I, and if the time is not now, when? Rabbi Hillel’s words perfectly capture the spirit of TALMA. This summer provided us with the opportunity to travel and learn and live in delightfully unique places. We learned that within our teaching community everyone has something unique to offer, and through collaboration and sometimes commiseration, we strengthened ourselves and each other.

We learned that in order to teach English, we would have to learn some Hebrew to go along with the highly developed game of charades that we’ve been playing all summer. We learned that Israeli students are not like American students, and then we learned how to teach them. We learned that in order for us to become the social and business entrepreneurs that our students need, we would have to learn even more and we would have to start now.

I know I speak for all of my colleagues, both TALMA teachers and our Israeli co-teachers, when I say the deepest of thank you’s to everyone involved in making this summer possible for our students and ourselves. I am excited and proud to know that we have participated in such an extraordinary project and I can’t wait to see how this program will continue to improve and grow. As I reflect on the past few weeks, there’s really only one thing left to say: next year in Jerusalem.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.