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Under the leadership of President Prof. Ari Ackerman, the Schechter Institute initiated and led an academic conference on Integrative Education. The general definition of Integrative Education concerns the creation of schools, programs and seminars that include students from both religious and non-religious (secular) backgrounds.
Education in Israel is fraught with challenges ranging from budgetary to sectarian with sometimes vastly different subjects taught in religious and non-religious schools due to their educational outlooks and infrastructure.
Israel’s education system is an amalgam of systems and groups that do not necessarily have a common educational legacy and learning language. Integrative Education is based on finding and implementing methods that build commonalities and relationships to bridge the learning gaps between Israel’s religious and secular education systems.
Prior to 2019 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prof. Ackerman, then the holder of the Golinkin chair in TALI Jewish Education and now Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies new president, created a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary research group to examine the joint education of religious and non-religious streams.
The academic research group acknowledged that by studying Integrative Education they could, as academics, translate their knowledge into policy for implementation in schools.
“There really is very little research into this important educational and cultural trend. We identified questions that have never been answered in an academic framework,” he told conference participants.
Alongside Schechter’s education arm – TALI – he invited a number of academic partners to join.
“We are happy,” noted Ackerman, “that Herzog College, and the Melton Center of Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, responded to our efforts.”
“This partnership between the sides is itself, symbolic on the level of higher education, and shows the importance of how we all view the need for Integrative Education,” he concludes.
The TALI Fund’s educational raison d’etre is to educate for Jewish and Israeli literacy, focusing on the plurality of experiences rather than focusing on the secular-religious divide.
For Dr. Peri Sinclair, the Susan and Scott Shay TALI Director General who represented TALI at the conference, the conference discussions on Integrative Education did not necessarily take the correct approach.
The TALI education model of integrative education doesn’t view Israeli society as “religious” and “non-religious” but rather as a spectrum of Jewish identities. We don’t ask students to choose one out of two identities but rather explore the spectrum. TALI doesn’t necessarily think the current model of integrative schools is the only one, but rather each school community should be able to choose a model which best addresses their needs,” said Sinclair.
TALI education promotes plurality, reported Sinclair. “Our programs create opportunities where this pluralism can be realized and addressed in practical terms.” As an example, Sinclair brought copies of the TALI prayerbook ‘Shirat Ha’Lev’ (Voice of the Heart) to the conference, showing examples from the prayer book to showcase plurality.
Emphasizing the TALI view that Israel, “is not simply religious or non-religious, this is not – and should not – be our society. We are a mix, an amalgam of identities,” Sinclair declared, “Jewish education needs to be inclusive, for everyone. That is what TALI believes and does.”
For Dr. Liora Pascal, Academic Director of Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies’ ‘Maccabi’ Community Leadership MA Program, the conference represented an opportunity to find commonalities while discussing differences.
“When we come to develop educational models to integrate among identities, an educational challenge appears before us to ‘include the other’ along with ‘educating towards an authentic identity’ of each one of the identities,” she noted.
These modalities of Jewish education, Pascal posited, are all about the, “discovery of the treasure that propels a person out of his house, from his family while also including a commitment to others and to the society in which we live.”
For Pascal, the best educational model, “begins with the willingness to dream of a better society and to make the world a better place.”
“There needs to be an inclination to search, to stray, to wander and to fundamentally be prepared for dialogue and conversation. The educational journey continues in places where we are ready to meet the other, to learn new knowledge and to be open to opportunities for growth and development.”
Academia is the place where educators dream. The next part of the process is the distillation of these ideas into programs for implementation that can be done with nuances to reach Israel’s entire population.
For Ackerman the dream is real.
All of those at the conference, “are looking at the effectiveness of heterogeneity in Integrative Education. We all want to show its full potential for the future and believe it is vital for Israeli students and families, and ultimately, for Israel.”