Twelve Jewish education experts from seven countries met in Jerusalem last week to discuss the challenges facing 1,500 Jewish schools around the world.

UnitEd is a global initiative of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in collaboration with Herzog College, with a budget of approximately NIS 100 million, of which 30% is financed with the help of various Jewish philanthropic organizations and partners in Jewish communities worldwide.

The Advisory Committee of UnitEd convened a 4-day colloquium in Israel to formulate a series of strategic approaches to help Jewish schools worldwide. One of the key issues that the colloquium addressed is the global shortage of teachers as it affects Jewish education. This problem was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when many teachers facing unprecedented challenges decided to retire, and others left for other professions. The education experts reported that Jewish schools in many countries are now struggling to find qualified and talented teachers, who can address the multiple challenges in thoughtful and creative ways, and thereby provide day school students with a rigorous and engaging Jewish education.

Over the past year, the Advisory Committee met virtually and began wrestling with this and other challenges facing approximately 1,500 Jewish schools in communities worldwide. They are currently formulating a series of strategic approaches to broaching these issues. The Israel colloquium was the committee’s first face-to-face meeting, and stimulated a series of extremely rich and productive discussions. They met with Dr. Nahman Shai, the Israel Minister of Diaspora Affairs, and Tziona Koenig-Yair, Director General of the Ministry, and heard about the Israeli government’s deep commitment to partnering with key Jewish education initiatives worldwide.

The committee is chaired by Rabbi Dr. Howard Deitcher and includes: Rabbi Prof. Yehuda Brandes, president of Herzog College and chairman of the Hemed Council in Israel; Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, North America; Dr. David Bryfman, CEO of the Jewish Education Project in New York; Dr. Daniel Held, Executive Director of the UJA Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, Canada; Ariel Cohen Imach, Director of the Central Council of Jewish Education of AMIA in Argentina; Rabbi David Meyer, Executive Director of PaJeS, UK; Prof. Rona Milch Novick, Dean of the Azrieli School for Advanced Studies in Jewish Education at Yeshiva University, New York; Devorah Serrao, CEO of Alliance France;  Prof. Miriam Heller-Stern, Vice Provost for Educational Strategy at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles; and Theresa Gafna Venova, deputy head of Jewish Studies at the Lauder School in Prague, Czech Republic.

Rabbi Prof. Yehuda Brandes, president of Herzog College, explained that the College partnered with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs because of its deep commitment to and understanding of the acute need to strengthen education for Jewish identity, and the complex challenges facing Jewish educators.

Hana Dorsman, CEO of UnitEd, explained: “Our goal is to create a global Jewish education network that will respond to the current challenges in Jewish education. Our systemic approach includes consulting, networking, preparing educational materials, and providing professional development. Jewish education around the world faces many new challenges, with differences between countries. The purpose of UnitEd’s Advisory Committee is to examine the various challenges and difficulties, draw conclusions, and suggest suitable and relevant answers for the various Jewish communities around the world.”

The Diaspora Affairs Minister, Dr. Nachman Shai, said: “Strengthening Jewish education in the Diaspora is one of the key issues that we addressed over the past year. It is important for us to help Jewish communities around the world to provide the younger generation with a Zionist Jewish education, connected to tradition and yet at the same time, one which is pluralistic and of high quality. The Advisory Committee discussed all these issues and the various challenges that confront their communities, in the hope that together we can offer practical and long-term solutions.”

Photo shows members of the Advisory Committee with Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nahman Shai and Director General Tziona Koenig-Yair. (Photo: Felipe Wolokita)

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