By Rich Walter and Hope Chernak
First published on December 15, 2017 in the Atlanta Jewish Times ›
Rifling through a pile of random objects in a Tel Aviv youth hostel, 13 Atlanta youth professionals and one Israeli Reform rabbi listened to the words of their teacher, artist Hanoch Piven..
“We all have the ability to look at the world in a different way, a playful way,” Piven said.
As he spoke, those 14 participants selected from among the crushed soda cans, oddly shaped buttons, children’s toys, dried pasta and unraveled cassette tapes. We were using our creativity and objects others had discarded to create self-portraits representing who we were as educators and individuals.
Looking at our work in new and innovative ways was the overall theme of the eight-day seminar in Israel. Sponsored by the new Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative through its professional network, JumpSpark Professional, the experience brought together local youth educators representing congregations, youth movements, summer camps and arts organizations.
AJTI is the result of Atlanta’s selection as one of 10 cities to participate in the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, which brings national and local funders together to develop, nurture and scale new approaches to teen engagement.
The seminar was conceived and led by AJTI Executive Director Hope Chernak. Seeking a bold way to engage teen educators, she knew that Israel is the best place for inspiring these professionals to grow and innovate.
Rabbis Gabby Dagan and Na’ama Dafni-Kellen of the Leo Baeck Education Center and Congregation Ohel Avraham in Haifa served as her Israeli counterparts in planning and leading the program.
Chernak was also deeply invested in creating local partnerships to serve the group, both during its time in Israel and upon its return. She turned to the Center for Israel Education, which provided Rich Walter as a scholar in residence. Walter offered historical context and strategies for engaging learners with Israel in diverse ways.
For Molly Okun, the director of teen learning and engagement at Temple Sinai, a key takeaway is that “there are many ways to be a Jewish educator, and I found innovative ways to infuse Israel education into my programs. I am more comfortable with using a variety of modalities to teach about Israel after this trip.”
AJTI plans to build on the success of the trip to expand JumpSpark Professional to offer opportunities for personal and professional growth, networking and collaboration. CIE will continue to work with AJTI to offer Israel enrichment for Atlanta Jewish professionals.
Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education. Hope Chernak is the former executive director of JumpSpark, formerly called the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative.