TALI Halleli on i24NEWS Discussing Jewish Identity in Israel and the U.S.

The TALI Education Fund has created a massive impact on Israeli public schools, from the youngest nursery students to veteran teacher and principals.

We are thrilled that Halleli, TALI’s  year-long professional development program recently presented in a live tv show with Jordana Miller on i24news channel. Participating in this interview was Nitza Elazari, Principal at the Adam V’Olamo TALI School in Jerusalem and Dr. Peri Sinclair, Director of Professional Development at TALI.

They discussed the program in depth and shared their experiences on a mission to New York that offered a closer look at Jewish identity in Israel and the U.S.

Full transcript below.

Jordana Miller: Welcome back to the Holy Land Uncovered. I’m Jordana Miller.

Education is always the cornerstone of discussions on Jewish identity. That’s why the TALI Education Fund created a year-long program with school principals to discuss different pedagogical approaches to Jewish Studies. The program recently sent its participants to New York. Joining me here in the studio to talk more about that is Nitza Elazari, the principal of Adam V’Olamo TALI school and Dr. Peri Sinclair, the director of professional development at TALI.

Thank you both for joining me. I want to start with you Peri and ask you about this program. First, why did you create it?

Peri: TALI Education Fund has been working with secular “mamlachti” schools in Israel for over 40 years. We’ve created textbooks, curricula and experiential programs-  all to help these schools do more Jewish identity in the secular world and create programs are appropriate for Judaism in Israel in the 21st century. We primarily work with principals and educators to empower them and help them along their journey to figure out what their relationship is to our tradition and our heritage. We created Halleli, which is an acronym for “Invitation to Jewish Israeli Learning,” in order to invite them to embark on a journey with us to delve into our heritage and tradition. We believe that in order for them to create transformative educational experiences, they must have the know-how, the knowledge and the passion. We want to inspire them on those three levels and then help them along whatever path they choose.

Jordana: It is important just for context for our viewers that in Israel there are different school systems and TALI pertains to the secular stream of the schools. What you’re trying to do is kind of infuse more Jewish content and identity programming into the school right? Nitza, you are one of the principals that are part of this program from Jerusalem. Tell me a little bit about your experience in the program.

Nitza: It was enlightening. It was very interesting. I have been a part of TALI schools for 20 years as an educator and vice principal in Adam v’Olamo school in Jerusalem and then as a principal. There’s no one TALI school similar to the other. But this program was so special because it emphasized our Jewish identity. For me personally, and for my friends in the group, the peak of all this was the visit in June to New York.  I think we have a lot to learn from the Jewish community in the United States and from the Jewish community schools in the United States.

Jordana: Why is it that you went and took this group to the United States- to expose them to the kind of a plethora of Jewish educational tools that are so vibrant in the United States?

Peri: Yes, but before we took them, we spent the whole year studying in Israel. We wanted them to speak about their own identities, to delve into their connection to heritage, to their connection to being a Jew in Israel. We wanted to study different Jewish approaches to change. We wanted to show that Judaism has evolved over years and over time in different places in the world. We wanted to learn together about the people that study in their schools. It’s the parents that choose to go to secular schools because they’re not monolithic and they have different approaches to their tradition and their Judaism. Only after we had our own experience here did we go to the United States because of the diversity there.

Jordana: Nitza, what was one thing that kind of stood out to you from your experience in New York at the Jewish schools?

Nitza: It was very exciting for me to see how it was very important for them to emphasize Jewish identity.  We compared to life here in Israel where we don’t have to emphasize it. That it was so important to them. It was exciting to see that wherever we went, the Jewish people, the Jewish community they spoke about their Judaism in a manner that was exciting for me to see.  It was so important to them in day-to-day life. The tolerance that they have for each other. We visited in three kinds of schools. We visited in a JCC in Harlem and in Manhattan and we visited in synagogues- different kinds of synagogues celebrated Shabbat in different ways. We as Israelis we have a lot to learn from the community life that they have over there.

Jordana: This is for sure.

Peri: In Israel Judaism just happens. It’s like part of a soundtrack to our lives and you don’t have to do anything because it’s always there. You can be a very passive Jew and it’ll be part of your life. When you go to the United States or any other Jewish community outside of Israel you have to actively choose to engage in Jewish life. It’s a choice you have to make every day- where you live and where you send your children to school. Going there and seeing what Judaism as a choice is as opposed to duties that are imposed on you by a state is very enlightening.

Jordana: In Israel it’s a certain kind of charged dynamic here because of the really the lack of separation between religion and state which of course the United States has. So in a sense the Judaism that gets advertised to the public is really an Orthodox face but of course there’s most of Israel is not Orthodox. The challenge is trying to incorporate a sense of Jewishness that reflects a variety of views and traditions.

Peri: So what we hope is that participants in Halleli come back here and become more proactive and try to create Judaism as opposed to experiencing what has been created for them. We want them to actively decide what Judaism look like and not just say we’re not religious. They have a more positive Jewish experience and Jewish identity that fits in with the larger Jewish people.

Jordana: Nitza, is there one change that you look forward to making in your school?

Nitza: There is more than one way to be Jewish. This is the main thing that I came out with this experience One of the things that was important to me as a teacher is to make the knowledge about Judaism for my students on their own and by giving it a place in day-to-day life. The thing that I took the most from this experience was that there is more than one way. Every way you choose is legitimate and it’s okay. If this is the way you and your family choose to live, it’s okay, just please do not forget your heritage, please do not forget your roots and do not do not forget where we all came from.

Jordana: Peri, is a message of tolerance also part of this, a tolerance for different religious traditions within Judaism?

Peri: I think that’s something you get you gain from going to the United States. There are so many different ways to do Jewish and you can go from one congregation to another, from one school to another and they live side-by-side. They pretty much respect each other, and nothing is imposed upon them as opposed to the way we live here in Israel. I think if the teachers and principals come back and can be more tolerant and more accepting of liberal Jews from America who come here and want to do certain things, and of the different flavors of Judaism that are growing here as well, that will make Israel a much more tolerant and pluralistic society.

Jordana: It’s really interesting and important work you’re doing. Thank you so much, Peri and Nitza, for joining me.