May 21, 2024
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‘The Story of the Medinat Yisrael’ Comes to Life at RYNJ

“Morah Aliza is here! Morah Aliza is here!” The shouts of excitement were heard throughout the lunchroom as the sixth and seventh grade RYNJ boys had the opportunity to meet Morah Aliza Picard face to face for the very first time this past month. She is their Israeli teacher who ‘visits’ them remotely twice a week via video conference. Aliza is a seasoned, long-distance morah with seven years of experience in this format. The course that she teaches, “Ahavat Yisrael Banishama, The Story of Medinat Yisrael,” was conceived of and designed by Morah Picard and her husband, Dr. Avi Picard, a Fulbright scholar and historian in the department of Archeology and Eretz Yisrael at Bar Ilan University. Dr. Picard designed the curriculum which highlights the key events that shaped the establishment of the state, prepares and edits documentaries and movie clips that both educate and inspire the students and adapts maps that illustrate the information. The comprehensive, two year curriculum began with the 1880’s Russian pogroms and Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state, and continues until the present day. The course was funded in part by a generous grant from The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Interview with Morah Aliza:

Question: How did you conceive of “Ahavat Yisrael Banishama, The Story of Medinat Yisrael”?

Answer: I spent four years living in Teaneck with my husband and five children during the time that my husband was a visiting professor at NYU, Rutgers and the University of Maryland. The Teaneck community was so gracious and welcoming and we made many close friends. We saw how Zionistic this community was, but we also realized that most of the people that we met, both adults and youngsters, had only a very basic knowledge of the history of Medinat Yisrael. And this actually planted the seed for the course in our minds. When Cindy Zucker, RYNJ middle school assistant principal, reached out to me this past summer to discuss the possibility of of my teaching a long distance course from Israel, Avi and I realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to educate the students about Zionism in a thorough and meaningful way. So we decided to seize the moment and partner with RYNJ. Working together with the RYNJ administrators, technology team and co- teachers, all the pieces of the puzzle fit and the course became a reality.

Q: What are the goals of this course?

A: We have three main goals. The first is to teach the history of Zionism and the State of Israel. The main focus is on the movements and events that brought about the the establishment of the state. In addition, I include today’s geography, demographics and even the politics of modern Israel. The students learn about the historical figures and role models and what they can teach us. I emphasize the wars and battles that took place over the years, and the students are fascinated and very engaged. The second goal is to expand the students’ Hebrew vocabulary. Although I speak to the students primarily in English, I infuse my classes with modern Hebrew vocabulary, daily instructions and useful Ivrit phrases. My final goal is to connect the students to Medinat Yisrael, through their minds and their hearts. I nurture the students’ ahava (love) for Medinat Yisrael, their appreciation for the dedication and sacrifices that so many of their people made to make the dream of the State of Israel a reality and the shared responsibility that we all have for our homeland.

Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

A: I love observing the fascination that I see on my students’ faces as they anticipate watching the next film clip, or hearing about an upcoming unit. Their questions are amazing. I see the wheels spinning in their minds as they think about what they are learning and then share their opinions, analyzing the past with a passion. My greatest nachat is when the parents tell me that they are thrilled that their children know more about Zionism than they do.

Q:What are the challenges in long distance teaching?

A: To be a good teacher and to be significant to the students, one must have a personal connection. This is harder to do when the teacher is not physically in the classroom with the students. So I encourage the students to come up to the screen before and after class and talk to me. They tell me about their bar mitzvahs, they share stories about trips to Israel and talk about their cousins who live there. Also, classroom management is easier when the teacher is actually in the room. So how do we deal with this challenge? In every one of my classes I work with a master teacher, and this partnership enhances and enriches the experience for the students even more.

But what you probably imagine to be the greatest challenge, is not actually a challenge at all. Because the best learning occurs in a dynamic and interactive environment, you might think that this simply can not be done long distance. However, it’s not a problem. Our technology is so sophisticated. I can zoom in and out on all the students, and they really feel like I am right there with them (and I feel as if I am there as well). The topic excites them and inspires them to ask so many questions; they are eager to listen and learn. I use a lot of role playing when we discuss historical leaders and the boys love identifying with the characters, and sharing their opinions. I always ask them, “What would you have done in this situation?” This they love the most.

Q: What was most surprising about teaching this course at RYNJ?

A: Everyone on staff has been so invested in this program, from the office staff, to my fellow teachers, to the administration. They all contribute to making “Ahavat Yisrael Banishama, The Story of Medinat Yisrael” the success that it is. And most surprising of all is what the boys answered when I asked them the following question: “ If you had lived in Russia at the end of the 19th century, and were forced to leave and move to another country, where would you have gone?” I’ve asked this many times in the past and have heard many different answers, but the majority of students at RYNJ said, “For sure, I would have gone to Israel!”

Please visit the RYNJ website at http://rynj.org/medinatyisrael to see the video clip and learn more about “Ahavat Yisrael Banishama, The Story of Medinat Yisrael.”

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