Kids at part-time religious school and Jewish day school in Wisconsin are skyping, videoing and mailing letters with same-aged students in Israel.
Partnership2Gether is a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Among other activities, the program pairs classrooms in Milwaukee with classrooms in Israel. This academic year there are at least two dozen students, middle school aged, in this extracurricular program.
The first project of the year was to create “identity cards” including a personal photo and delivered through snail mail, said Jen Saber, a local leader in the classroom pairings program.
The classroom pairings have included Mul Gilad school in Kibbutz Ashdod Ya’akov Meuhad with Congregation Beth El in Sheboygan; Kadoorie Agricultural High School in the lower Galilee is with Milwaukee Jewish Day School; Har Nof school in Tiberias is partnered with Congregation Emanu-El B’Ne Jeshurun in Milwaukee, according to Partnership2Gether Coordinator Susie Rosengarten.
Technology makes communication faster, which allows for a stronger connection between the peers, Saber said. No longer does anyone need to make a collect call international; the teachers on both ends communicate through WhatsApp, a free texting service on mobile devices. Each teacher pairing creates a year-long curriculum, which is based on “kids doing the sharing about their homes and lives—it’s very personal,” Rosengarten said.
The kids ask questions like “what does it look like in Israel and what does it look like here? What is winter like? How do they celebrate holidays?” Rosengarten said. They send pictures of their families and send videos to each other, such as “this is what Lake Michigan looks like,” she said. They share about their pets and siblings and what happens on winter break.
Friends find out what they have in common. The students will find out that they listen to similar music and like similar sports teams, Saber said.
Classes do a video or Skype call. “Kids can be speaking to each other and seeing each other,” Rosengarten said.
In the past eight years, Saber said she has seen that the kids’ connection to Israel becomes stronger. Saber said about the impact, “It brings Israel to life…not just a map on a wall.”
The latest in twinning: A new school pairing is slated to start in December. Congregation Shalom and Rabin Elementary in Kfar Tavor will start up an exchange.