Shalom from Israel! I’m spending the week in Haifa through the generosity of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, working on a pilot project for the Jewish Identity and Education subcommittee of the Boston-Haifa Steering Committee (aka שותפות חיפה-בוסטון). Although I’ve been here since Tuesday working with a team from my school and a team from our sister school, tonight was the official kick-off to the Steering Committee meeting.
As far as kick-offs to Federation sponsored meetings go, it was pretty kick-ass. First off, one of two leadership awards was presented to Dr. Eshetu Kebede, the Haifa-side co-chair of Shiluvim (“Integration”), a program to empower and integrate Ethiopian residents of Haifa into mainstream Israeli society. Dr. Kebede took the opportunity to highlight the educational work Shiluvim has done, busing Ethiopian children into schools across the city, noting how far we’ve come in the areas of student commitment and parental support. But then he acknowledged how far we still have to travel in the third pillar of student success — relationship with teachers. And he specifically called out the racism still rampant in some Israeli classrooms, where some teachers tell their Ethiopian students they aren’t Jews, aren’t Israelis, and aren’t worthy or capable of an education.
You can imagine the shitstorm unleashed behind the scenes as the professionals involved with the project leap into damage-control mode. Sitting at a table full of Israeli educators, I could feel the tension in the room, and yet despite the discomfort, it was clear that many recognized the truth in his words. I know that there are many excellent teachers in the Haifa schools who work hard as partners in their Ethiopian students’ (and all students’) success — some of them were at my table. But that doesn’t discount the work left to be done. I hope Dr. Kebede’s call to arms will be taken seriously, galvanizing the community to continue the important work this program has begun.
After some more speeches (and another leadership award presented to Bostonian Debbie Kurinsky), the evening took a decidedly less serious turn with the introduction of Kolot Min HaShamayim (“Voices from Heaven”), an Orthodox Boys’ Choir, to be the evening’s entertainment.
Maybe it’s jet lag, maybe I needed something to relieve the tension left from Dr. Kebede’s speech, or maybe my inner USY dork simply came alive, but I was totally sold on them. Their style is best described as “Glee set in a yeshiva.” Their repertoire ranged from traditional and liturgical settings to a Caribbean take on Adon Olam and a mash-up of Kabbalat Shabbat and O Sole Mio. I didn’t have my Flip camera handy, but thankfully my Blackberry takes video. It’s not the best footage I’ve ever recorded, but I do hope you enjoy it. (And somebody, please get these guys a record deal!)