By Eric Eingold, Ma'ase Olam North American Manager
After having been in Israel for a whirlwind two weeks on a Birthright tour, I was excited to finally get to work. Since September, I’ve worked as the North American Manager for Ma’ase Olam
While there, I had the privilege of witnessing what the day-to-day experience of teaching English in Israeli schools is like. It was intense, beautiful, hilarious, and awe-inspiring. I visited two schools Monday morning, January 23rd, 2012.
The first school I went to, Ma'alut Meshulam, is a diverse religious school located not far from Rehovot’s city center. Before I had a chance to talk with anyone at the school, I was immediately struck by just how loud the school was.
The school was full of children running around playing games, laughing and shrieking. This, I was later told, is something really unique to Israeli schools; they are just really loud places to be. While there, I had the chance to meet one of our ITF participants, Paula and the head of the school’s English program, Riki.
Riki had amazing things to report to us about the impact Paula has had on the students at Ma'alut Meshulam. Since Paula has gotten to school in September, Riki has noticed that students are now speaking English in the school’s hallways, showing off their handle of the language to each other. One day Riki happened to see Paula teaching a lesson to a group of students, and was really genuinely surprised at how great Paula’s lessons were, and, more importantly, how well the group of third grade students were speaking English.
After getting a chance to meet a student from the US that Paula works closely with, I was taken to another school in Rehovot where one of our ITF members, Brian, is working, the Begin School. The teachers there have taken Brian in like family, inviting him over to their houses for Shabbat dinners regularly. That’s only a hint of the type of hospitality Brian and Paula have gotten from their schools.
While I met with the principal at Brian’s school and Irit, the head of his school’s English program, they gushed praise about Brian. “Brian is an excellent guy,” Irit told us, saying that the school’s staff and student body instantly went out of their way to make Brian feel welcome, including giving Brian his own room to work in.
In sessions with around five students, Brian is using some really innovative to improve his student’s English. In addition to preparing his students to compete in a regional spelling bee (it turns out that a friendly rivalry has broken out in the house as many of our Teaching Fellows are also prepping their students to compete), we had the absolute pleasure of watching Brian and his Ma’ase Olam Israeli participant, Erez, teach their students English through the poetic lyrics of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was amazing!
Brian and Erez passed out lyrics to the song “Under the Bridge,” and the students took turns reading them aloud in English, translating the words into Hebrew, while asking and answering questions along the way. Really, it was awesome. At the end of the class, they sang the song together. I was told that they use different songs depending on which class they are teaching. For example, a younger, less advanced class might translate the words to a more basic song, like Elvis’ “Return to Sender.” How’s that for cultural exchange?
Seeing two of our seven participants in action in their schools was really inspiring and made me think quite a bit about what we’re doing here in Israel.
Is Israel worse off than other places in the developed world when it comes to education and social gaps? Absolutely.
Is it the worst place in the world when it comes to those things? No, not even close.
Our work here is really needed though, and in addition to providing this service, each of our participants is forging a really unique connection to Israel, a place that is so important to Jewish people all around the world. In addition to teaching, Ma’ase Olam participants are learning about pressing issues in Israeli society and are forced to think about their own relationship to Israel, a relationship that has been completely transformed after only being here for five months.
That’s the point of this experience, and what makes it so special.
And come on, thinking about teaching Elvis to a group of third grade students doesn’t make you want to drop everything and move to Rehovot? You’ve got no heart.