Israel’s secular educational system, as an important arena for instilling values and clarifying issues of belonging, commitment and responsibility toward Israeli society faces enormous challenges to impart meaningful Jewish, Zionist, civic identity among children and youth in Israel. In turn, many secular Israeli pupils feel alienated as they face an identity crisis and lack a sense of belonging. This is manifest in them not knowing the Hatikva or why they should go to the army. Ma’arag (Tapestry) Program for Excellence in Jewish, Zionist, and Civic Education seeks to promote solidarity in Israeli society through a shared sense of Jewish identity, social values, and mutual responsibility. Ma’arag programs creates a bridge between state schools where Zionist and civic identities are stronger than their Jewish identities, and religious schools where Jewish identity is stronger than Zionist or civic identities. Ma’arag creates programs in Israel’s secular educational system that instills Jewish, Zionist civic values and social responsibility over a range of subjects from literature and history to science and mathematics. Ma’arag programs in schools continually approach every activity through the prism of Jewish identity and for each pupil to personally connect with it and empower them to reach their academic and personal potential as Jewish Israelis.
The teachers are trained and empowered to build and develop concrete pedagogical tools and lesson plans, based on the school’s vision and values, and develop seven educational “products”, which are then integrated in classroom learning. In the area of Biology & medical ethics, the Ma’arag program teaches pupils to appreciate complexity and consider whether national law and religious law complement or contradict one another. After a school exhibition about the splitting of the Red Sea, pupils attempted to transform this narrative into chemistry terminology. Alternatively, in mathematics pupils assess the significance of certain numbers in the Tanach and identify how geometry and measurements were used in constructing the Tabernacle. In this manner, pupils in Ma’arag programs connect with their past by bringing it to life and making it relevant in the pupils’ everyday lives while deepening their identities.
To effectively promote Jewish values throughout all the subjects, The headmaster together with the management meet twice a month for 3 hours to learn texts, along with psychological, pedagogic and management tools that foster dialogue in schools on matters relating to Jewish identity. They in turn teach the teachers who teach the students.
In the middle and end of the year, the school management conducts a training program for all the teachers in the school about their values that they want to foster in the schools. This takes place altogether over a period of three days.
In order to continue to provide ongoing support during and after the program, Ma’arag program created an “Online Beit Midrash” as a tool for educators to access and discuss a wide array of texts to be used in their classrooms, creating a meaningful shared dialogue on Jewish, Zionist and civic identity, including subjects such as: Treatment of the ‘Other,’ Shabbat in the Israeli Public Sphere, Partial Justice, Marriage and Gender and more. You can view the Online Beit Midrash here: Maarag Online Beit Midrash.
The Ma’arag program facilitates for schools to arrange field trips and programs on heritage and leadership to enhance the identities of pupils. Teachers and pupils identify role models from the Tanach and the modern State of Israel. This can help teachers and pupils to identify their values and different styles of leadership in order to cultivate their various strengths. Pupils also identify contemporary people who have excelled in their fields and won prizes for example in the area of game theory and consider what values did these people have and how can they be emulated?
Ma’arag pupils have organized projects reflecting Jewish values such as sports competitions based on the values of Chesed where older students help the younger students. Environmentally conscious students have built water storage facilities inspired by water conservation in the Tanach.
Ma’arag advances a unique dialogical educational methodology that enables teachers and students to go through an introspective process to identify what is important to them and why. To spur on discussion, Ma’arag programs utilizes the ‘Dilemma methodology’ on various issues related to identity such as whether pupils would choose for their Bar Mitzva the traditional approach of attending Synagogue and being called up for an Aliya to the Torah, or the modern social trend of travelling abroad. This dilemma is a tension between tradition and modern social trends. Pupils proceed to learn texts on the significance of Bar Mitzva so that they will be more informed to make an educated decision in the 21st Century.
Other methods Ma’arag programs employs includes ‘Kesem Hashmini’ that is a social psychology tool that identifies the group dynamic enabling teachers to tailor the educational material to the group. Ma’arag program also utilizes organizational management methodologies to foster change in schools and advance specific values.
Ma’arag programs proceeds to guide teachers enabling them to find and interpret sources in order to develop textual-based projects embedded within the Jewish tradition that are both personally meaningful to teachers and pupils. This offers them both a greater sense of ownership and motivation culminating in inspiring pupils to action and increasing their commitment to social justice.
As Ma’arag programs address a diverse range of areas, Ma’arag’s message seamlessly permeates across different departments that have traditionally maintained barriers between them. The school achieves unity of purpose by placing the vision in every curriculum and classroom wall. The teachers consider this entire process when writing the curriculum. Teachers are participants in the endeavor to establish a Jewish identity leading them to create innovative projects and have a sense of ownership of what they teach.
Rather than subjects being taught independently and separately from one another, Ma’arag’s approach of fostering Jewish identity across different disciplines in a school leads to unique synergies being created between subjects. As a result, this heightens academic output and increases grade scores.
Ma’arag programs are impacting new generations of children and youth each year, and are generating a revolution in Jewish, Zionist and civic education throughout the country. Over the past 4 years, Ma’arag programs have worked with 100 schools from years 1-12 impacting over 20,000 students. Ma’arag programs are currently operating in 20 schools, training 2000 teachers and influencing the lives of 17,700 pupils. Ma'arag programs have developed over 700 lesson plans that foster and enrich a strong Jewish, Zionist, and civic identity. Each year an additional 7 schools adopt Ma’arag programs. Ma’arag programs works with headteachers, the leadership in schools who in turn work with the teachers, students and parents.
Our committed partners include: AVI CHAI Foundation, Adelis Foundation, Agudat Sabah, Ministry of Education, Municipalities throughout the country.