The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in Israel has announced a new initiative called “Aleph Bet” with a budget of around $40 million. The goal of this initiative is to provide training to educators at Jewish schools in the United States and Canada. The name “Aleph Bet” is derived from the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Amichai Chikli, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, expressed concern over the potential loss of large parts of the Jewish people and emphasized the importance of increasing enrollment at Jewish day schools. The initiative will focus on training teachers for Jewish education and Israel studies, as well as principals for Jewish day schools.
Although specific details about how the funds will be allocated and the timeline for implementation have not been provided, North American Jewish schools have expressed optimism about the additional funding.
Paul Bernstein, the CEO of Prizmah, a nonprofit organization supporting Jewish day schools, stated that there is excitement among staff members of these schools. He emphasized the significance of Israel recognizing the importance of Diaspora education and acknowledging that a strong Diaspora is integral to a strong Israel and strong relationships.
This announcement comes during a period of tension between Israel’s right-wing governing coalition and North American Jewish communities. There has been criticism from U.S. Jewish leaders regarding the proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary.
Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a speech at a major conference of North American Jews due to anti-government protests. Minister Chikli, who has been in his role since January, has been actively defending the judicial overhaul and acting as a representative to a sometimes skeptical audience of Diaspora Jews.
Minister Chikli has consistently emphasized the importance of Jewish day schools abroad as recipients of Israeli aid. He has expressed concern that children who do not attend these schools are at risk of losing their connection to the Jewish people.
While initially considering the idea of subsidizing day school tuition through philanthropic efforts, Chikli has now shifted the focus towards investing in teachers and school systems to ensure the continuity of Jewish education.
Attending a Jewish school is widely recognized as a strong predictor of lasting Jewish identity. Enrollment in Jewish schools in North America has been growing, primarily due to the expansion of Orthodox communities where most children attend private Jewish schools.
However, outside of these communities, the majority of North American Jewish children do not attend Jewish day schools. The pandemic, however, led to an increase in enrollment in Conservative, Reform, and nondenominational day schools, which have maintained their gains even after the pandemic.
On the other hand, Hebrew schools and other supplemental Jewish schools have experienced a significant decline since 2006. This highlights the urgent need for teacher training in Jewish schools. Eitan Chikli, the father of Minister Chikli, who is involved in Jewish education in Mexico City, expressed the pressing issue of a lack of qualified teachers for Judaic studies and Hebrew.
While the specific allocation of funds for Hebrew schools and supplemental Jewish schools has not been mentioned, the elder Chikli has stated that Jewish education and the training of high-level teachers are critical concerns. He believes that there is a need for a new generation of teachers who can effectively teach Hebrew and Judaism.
Overall, the “Aleph Bet” initiative aims to strengthen Jewish education in North America through the training of educators and principals. The initiative has been met with optimism and excitement among North American Jewish schools, as it reflects Israel’s recognition of the importance of Diaspora education. By investing in Jewish education, Israel aims to foster strong relationships and ensure the continuity of Jewish generations.
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