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A conveniently timed conference offers Israel educators a safe space to explore complex feelings



CHICAGO (JTA) – At one point ahead of an international conference on Israel education, as raucous anti-government protests filled the streets of Israeli cities, conference organizers considered leaning into the tension created by the news: What if they focused one day of the gathering on conflict, and the next day on hope?

Ultimately, they decided “you can’t divorce the two,” in the words of Aliza Goodman, one of the organizers.

“If you separate them, then it means one is devoid of the other and vice versa,” said Goodman, director of strategy and research and development for the iCenter, the Israel education organization that hosted the conference in Chicago in March.

Israel educators, Goodman said, need to hold “the complexities together with the hopes for us to be able to move forward as human beings.”

That emotional challenge lay at the center of the conference, the iCenter’s fifth, called iCON 2023. The conference covered standard topics in Israel education, ranging from Hebrew literature and language to representations of Jews and Israel in popular culture to a bevy of subtopics related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the turmoil that has rocked Israel this year felt no less prominent. In sessions and on the sidelines, the more than 500 participants discussed the Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul, its far-right cabinet ministers and the preservation of Israel’s democratic character.

Conference attendees said they faced dual challenges: understanding the political issues at play and reckoning with what they mean for teaching about Israel. Their thoughts on the current historical moment suggested that those challenges would persist even though Israel’s government announced a pause on the judicial overhaul shortly after the conference concluded.

“We are responsible for doing something, don’t get me wrong, but my immediate responsibility is trying to really get a handle on understanding it for myself and for my students,” said Rebecca Good, the assistant director of education at The Temple, a Reform synagogue in Atlanta.

Good has found herself fielding new questions about Israel, mostly from adult congregants, “but we know that the questions and the feelings that are coming from the adults naturally play out in the home,” she said. In response to the perceived need she has recognized from her students, her synagogue planned a town hall-style meeting that took place in late March.

“It’s almost like you do triage, right? When things like this happen, it’s like, ‘OK, how are you?’” Good said. “You have to address that first and then you figure out what is needed and try to make that happen for people.”

Conference attendees included Hebrew school and day school teachers, executives from communal organizations, summer camp professionals, campus activists, young adult Israeli emissaries and more. iCON Program Director Ari Berkowicz estimated that 75% of the conference participants came from North America and 24% from Israel. Others joined from places like Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Educator Noam Weissman addresses the audience at a session of ICON 2023 at the Marriott Marquis in Chicago, Illinois, March 15, 2023. (Rachel Kohn)

“One of The iCenter’s approaches to education is to make all that we teach and all that we learn about both timely and timeless, but the current moment obviously has an impact on who we are as educators and who we are as learners,” said Berkowicz. While the sessions scheduled for iCON 2023 remained mostly unchanged, the facilitators, speakers, and educators were “different people” from what they had been three or six months ago due to the upheaval in Israel, he said.

“They aren’t the same people that they were even yesterday or two days ago,” Goodman added in an interview at the conference. “All of this is impacting them at the core.”

Questions and anguish about the judicial overhaul — and other Israeli government policies – filtered into the conference programming. A campus professional, who asked not to be identified because she wasn’t authorized by her employer to speak to the press, shared a practical concern during a breakout group: If the government follows through on its call to limit the Law of Return, which currently affords automatic Israeli citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent, what should she say to a student who wants to go to Israel but no longer falls under the government’s revised definition of who is a Jew?

In a nearby group, an Israeli expat from Dallas named Meirav said she likes that Israel doesn’t separate between religion and state. But she fears for women’s rights under a religiously conservative regime.

Another group endeavored to understand the specifics of the proposed judicial overhaul, comparing newspaper articles with Wikipedia text as they struggled to confirm how judges are appointed in Israel.

“It’s not only in America or everywhere else – I’m not sure everyone in Israel understands exactly what’s going on and the ramifications,” said Etty Dolgin, the Israeli-American principal of a Chicago-area Hebrew-immersion preschool and after-school program, in a different session.  “I don’t know that anybody really knows what the ramifications are going to be.”

Former Jewish day school principal Noam Weissman, whose lecture at the conference drew a standing-room-only crowd of some 150 people, said in an interview that the current moment is an important one for Israel educators to be able to contextualize.

“Part of why cultural literacy is important is because history informs the present,” Weissman said. “People like to jump to judicial reforms, but if people don’t know about Israel’s lack of a constitution, it’s hard to be conversant in that.”

Weissman, the former head of Los Angeles’ Shalhevet High School who is now executive vice president of OpenDor Media, where he develops educational content on Judaism and Israel, said in his session that the goal of Israel educators shouldn’t be defending the country but “understanding and connecting.” He’s grateful, he said, that “the Israel education world has really, from a professional perspective, moved on from hasbara,” a Hebrew term for public relations or advocacy on Israel’s behalf.

“When someone recently said to me, ‘I don’t envy Israel educators at this moment’ … I actually said I feel zero pressure,” Weissman told his audience. “You feel pressure when you’re trying to defend everything Israel does. That’s the world of Israel advocacy, where you train young people to defend Israel. … If my job is to defend something that I have no interest in defending, this doesn’t work.”

Good said she appreciated the “brain trust” of fellow Israel educators she gets to interact with at the conference. At the same time, she likened the sense of uncertainty she is feeling these days to the concerns many Americans have felt in recent years when looking at their own fraught political landscape.

“That kind of feeling we all get, like, ‘Where could this go?’” she said. “That’s as best as I can put it.”

The post A conveniently timed conference offers Israel educators a safe space to explore complex feelings appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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