Monday, February 18, 2013

Nahariya, Israel - Day 1

I have been planning this trip for almost a year when we found out the date of our niece's bat mitzvah.  This is my second trip to Israel (David's fourth) and I wanted to see parts of the country that I hadn't see before, which was mostly the entire country. Our first trip we started in Jerusalem and worked out way down to Kibbutz Lotan (in the Arava near Eilat). I made this trip into a fact-finding mission to gather information about Israel's educational system (specifically curriculum), religious diversity (Reform movement), and synagogue life (Reform-based).

We landed Sunday morning in Tel Aviv and took the train to Nahariya, which is in the Upper Galilee near the Lebanon border.   It was started by a group of German immigrants, who settled there. There is also a large group of immigrants from Argentina and Russia.  In the evening we walked around our hotel's neighborhood on the main street to see some shops, cafes, and sites.  Since we didn't have a car, we didn't want to venture off too far.  Dinner was at this cute "diner" called Penguin Café. The schnitzel was wonderful. The street was buzzing with people, music, and it reminded me of Ventnor, NJ.

This morning our Israeli breakfast was awesome. Food that we Americans don't usually eat for breakfast like salad, halava (which I only eat in Israel), and pudding was my breakfast this morning. My first appointment was at K-6 Golda Meir School in Nahariya. The school is about 25 years old and the principal, Noga Gery, has been there for 10 years. The school enrolls about 550 students who pay tuition to attend. It is subsidized by the government. The government also determines what the curriculum will be. Instead of "180 days" of school like in New Jersey, the schools are given how many hours students should learn. For example, students receive 6 hours of Hebrew per week. The principal believes in a values curriculum. She believes that students don't need school to learn knowledge like Hebrew, Science, English because they can get on the Internet and find any information they are looking for. What the students need are teachers to teach them about values, community, and character. The programs and activities she offers the students turn them into mentsches. One program is Student of the Week. There are different categories that teachers can recommend students.  They also teach music and art interdisciplinary besides having separate classes. They have 2 choirs and an orchestra, which are very popular with the students.  We were introduced to 2 special education classes, saw the monthly Talent Show, a play area in memory of a former student who was killed by a Katshura rocket, the bomb shelter, which the students practice monthly, and the computer labs, which are not used because Ms. Gery needs the classrooms for instruction. The 40 computers are not used at this time. They need another room or 2 built or a trailer just for a computer lab. 99% of the students have access to Internet at home.  Anyone know how we can build a physical space for them so the students can use this new technology they bought?  The teachers also stay an extra hour a day to tutor students. The government created a program between high school and the army (like a gap year) for students to volunteer to work with children. We met Avraham, who loves the idea and loves the children. He spoke very highly of the opportunity he was given.

Following our school meeting, we met with a group of women from Congregation Emet V'shalom, the only Reform synagogue in the area.  The congregation holds Friday Shabbat services and holidays in a community center they share. The other programs are held at their physical facility, which is a bomb shelter. Nahariya is considered a dangerous area because they are so close to Lebanon.  They used to have an above ground facility, but had to give it up because they couldn't pay rent. They also had to let their Rabbi go because they couldn't pay his salary.  They receive some money from the Reform movement, but they don't receive much in membership dues. They have about 100 people attend events throughout the year. They do not keep track of membership or units.  The message the group of women wanted us to bring back was to make our congregation aware of their existence and the religious intolerance in Israel. They want equality with the Orthodox shuls. So I will be thinking about this problem and how we can help.

We are now in Haifa, an hour south from Nahariya. Tomorrow...Day 2.

L'shalom from Haifa,

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