Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) recently sponsored a group of South African teachers from various Cape Town Jewish day schools to join delegates from Australia, Canada and the USA on an educator’s trip to Israel to celebrate their 120th anniversary. On 4 July 2022, 39 South Africans from United Herzlia Schools, Rallim, Torah High, Sinai Academy, and Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School departed for an eight day immersion touring Israel from north to south, but most importantly getting a glimpse into broader Israeli life and culture.
United Herzlia Schools jumped at the opportunity to participate as they believe in investing in their teachers and staff across their six schools from Pre-Primary to High School and the value of experiencing Israel first hand to gain a multidimensional view of modern Israel. The intention was to include teachers who were not necessarily Jewish and had never visited Israel before so that their experiences and learnings could be used to inspire their classes with a sense of Jewish identity and a love for Israel.
The tour was organised by the JNF to give teachers insight into Israel’s land, culture, society, and politics and to better understand the country and its people. Over the past 115 years, JNF has bought land for Israel and evolved into a global environmental leader by planting more than 250 million trees, building over 240 reservoirs and dams, developing over 250,000 acres of land, creating more than 2,000 parks, providing the infrastructure for over 1,000 communities, and connecting thousands of children and young adults to Israel and their heritage. (Source: Humans of JNF). JNF’s hope is for teachers to return with a positive experience and be able to share this with their pupils and in their classes.
Andries van Renssen, Executive Director of United Herzlia Schools explains that “we want to make Herzlia a place where Israel is visible and recognisable all around us. The KKL-JNF trip focused on a broad spectrum of individual organisations and places to represent modern and ancient Israel, the population, the religions and customs. It is an exciting country and it’s our dream that we will be able to take all of our staff to Israel. Delegates have been tasked with initiating and implementing their new ideas into real life projects in a way that correlates with their subject area or in their work sphere. This way we can link Israel and Jewish identity holistically across the school, not only to be the responsibility of the “Jewish Life and Learning” (JLL) teachers so that it truly lives in the daily life of the school and impacts our pupils.”
Rabbi Sam Thurgood, newly appointed Campus Rabbi of United Herzlia Schools reflects that “Experientially, I travelled the length of Israel in a way I never have before, getting to know my homeland far better and growing to love it more than ever. Educationally, it was a chance to see how to bring the best of these learning experiences to Herzlia Jewish Life and Learning. Socially it was the most wonderful opportunity to meet my new colleagues at Herzlia and to get to know these marvellous people in a relaxed and meaningful environment.”
Angela Van Wyngaard, Herzlia High School (Mathematics) says that “as a teacher, it is important for me to find ways to help my pupils actively engage in the curriculum. This trip has given me the opportunity to actively engage in learning about israel. My mind has been challenged, my body has been stretched, my spirit has been revived and my soul has been nourished. I am excited to use this encounter with Israel to create a platform of engagement for my pupils and hopefully encourage them to make their own journey and experience it first hand.”
Marc Falconer, Herzlia High School Principal: “This has been experiential learning that could never have been achieved without walking in the hills, bathing in the seas, tasting the foods, seeing the wild valleys, feeling the heat and drinking the water springing from the very rocks the Jews have been drinking from for thousands of years. I go back, moved – in complex and profound ways – part of a privileged and transformed team who are all – collectively and individually – on a life-long journey of understanding and pilgrimage.”
Johandrie Oosthuizen, Herzlia High School (Afrikaans) says that “being in Israel makes it real for me and to have a better understanding of Jewish life. I now have a reference when my pupils are talking about Israel…the places, their religion and beliefs. I also learned that it is not all about war, which is what the media would like us to believe.”
Anela Sikundla, Herzlia Xhosa Teacher reflects “what a great experience in Israel, KKL-JNF have opened their arms with love, caring and ubuntu from day one when we arrived we felt like we were at home. It was amazing to connect with all the other countries. We listened to sad stories from a previous life, ensuring that future generations will also know their history. “
Jos Horwitz, Herzlia Alon Ashel Pre-primary (Principal) sums it up saying that “our experience together has been unforgettable on every level: emotional, spiritual, intellectual. Our connection with the land of Israel has been powerful. We have had fun, have laughed and cried and our children will be richer for our personal transformation.”