Program Makes Israel Come Alive
for Ft. Zumwalt So. 6th Graders
How could a group of non-Jewish 6th graders better relate to life in Israel than to learn about it first-hand from two vivacious Israeli young women? What they discovered is that Israel is really similar to the U.S. in many ways. Examples: Israel has McDonalds, Gap and H&M, but no Starbucks, Target or Wal-Mart. Justin Bieber is as much a heartthrob for young Israelis as he is in America. And yes, Israelis use Facebook, albeit in Hebrew, and have their own Israel Idol.
These Ft. Zumwalt South social studies students were fortunate to land in the world cultures and geography class of Charles Ankney, the rare teacher who is convinced that learning extends much farther than reading, lectures, homework and exams. Instead, he has determined that his students gain a one-on-one experience of what life in other countries is all about.
To do just that, Ankney has established ties between his 6th graders and classes in foreign lands, arranging for students to exchange letters, packages, newspaper articles and information that vividly portray their cultures. His 120 students regularly communicate with middle-school age children in such far-flung and diverse lands as Germany, France and Kenya, among others. Most recently, it was Israel.
How did this come about? By chance, Ankney’s father-in-law is a fellow Washington University professor with Martin Israel, who is very involved with Jewish Federation and the St. Louis Jewish community. He had been telling Israel about his son-in-law’s unique approach to teaching social studies. Israel told Ankney’s father-in-law to have Charles contact the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. That’s when Plia Cohn, Jewish Federation Israel Engagement coordinator, was able to put Ankeny in touch with St. Louis’ Partnership 2000 region to expand the curriculum to include Israel.
The result has been a vibrant exchange with students in Vera Katsevich’s class at St. Louis’ Partnership 2000 sister-city, Yokneam-Megiddo. The outcome has been a greater mutual understanding of everything from geography to holidays, food and music. The popular curriculum culminated in the visit to the Ft. Zumwalt School by the two Israeli women, Nava Brief and Yaara Weiss. They are in St. Louis as part of the Sherut Leumi (National Service) program through the Torah MiTzion Kollel, which receives funding from Jewish Federation. The observant Jewish girls, who are spending the year with a University City family, were excited to share their lifestyle with the non-Jewish Ft. Zumwalt South youths who have no other connection with their country.
Brief and Weiss were quick to point out the similarities and differences in their respective countries in answer to a host of age-appropriate questions. Life in Israel sounded much like here, with teenagers reading Harry Potter, shopping at malls, enjoying fast food, playing soccer and basketball, and watching television. Even the differences they discussed – religious holidays, a six-day school week, smaller homes and walking rather than driving everywhere – seemed relatively minor compared to their many likenesses.
One huge difference the students learned about from Brief is that “after high school, Israelis enter the army or other service and outreach programs like this to make our country a better place.”
Susie Zimmerman, P2K chair, touted the successful St. Charles middle school program. “The St. Louis – Yokneam/Megiddo Partnership is dedicated to creating kesher, --bringing people together no matter their background or their age. This special day in St. Charles is just one of many meaningful experiences that helps pave the way for better understanding and greater connection among our diverse communities.
Plia Cohn echoed the same sentiments. ““Creating opportunities for people-to-people connections between St. Louis and our sister city region, Yokneam-Megiddo, is a unique way to bring Israel directly into our lives. I am thankful I could play a small role in bringing the classes together for this wonderful project. “