ASK YOUR CHILD to describe the thrill of winning a quidditch match at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or the challenge of roaming the harsh desert of Tatooine accompanied by a droid, you might hear a narration as vivid as an authentic memory. But how about having your child imagine the experience of putting a personal prayer note into the cracks of the ancient kotel (Western Wall), or of a weightless float in the Dead Sea? Do you hear a description with even a fraction of that clarity, if any at all?
This reality inspired us at Irvine Hebrew Day School to challenge ourselves with a most critical question: How do we give our children the gift of a rich, palpable Israel experience, one infused with passion, curiosity and inquiry, connecting young souls to our ancient homeland?
We celebrate the Israel experience daily with our children when we holistically and joyfully integrate Israel education into all that we teach, and offer opportunities to discover the many wonders of Israel, both ancient and modern. Through experiential learning including “traveling” the routes of our ancestors on an oversized map, discovering modern Israeli ingenuity through robotics or hydroponic systems or exploring the unique elements of Israeli Art through hands on creation, we can infuse our education with the essence of Israel in the most meaningful ways.
We at IHDS, thanks to the support from Jewish Community Foundation Orange County, have been building an Israel curriculum to accomplish this goal. Through our Israeli Art Masters program our students experience renowned Israeli artists by exploring the uniquely Israeli elements, both historical and contemporary; and inspired by the Israeli muse our students make their own creations, and will ultimately meet an Israeli artist we have studied to share our works with each other! Our Israel Education Institute, developed in a collaboration between IHDS and Temple Beth Sholom, and an Israeli STEAM curriculum is being developed through which our students engage in hands on activities that explore Israeli technology and creativity, connecting our students to modern day Israel as well as celebrating all that our people have accomplished.
Of course the most extraordinary “curriculum” of all, the Torah, when implemented in a way that highlights our historical relationship to the land and captures a child’s imagination, can bring Israel to life in the most powerful of ways. Learning Torah text and stories in a way that is both experiential and inquiry based, brings to life the places, people and events from the beginning of time, the stories of our ancestors through the Jewish exodus and journey to our homeland. Children who study Torah in this way fully experience the historical and spiritual link between the Jewish people and the present day Land of Israel.
So while our very young children might still imagine the thrill of riding a magical broomstick or strolling with C3PO, as they grow in a community that celebrates their intimate connection with centuries of our extraordinary history, perhaps the thrill of navigating the narrow streets and alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem will ultimately outshine all others.
Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer.