Monday, September 24, 2012


After a long break, I'm picking up the Shanghai-Jewish story again! Would love to read your comments :)

The Shanghai Jewish Center's Hebrew School has been through some serious structural changes this year. It is a sign of larger inclusion and tolerance, and an example of how communities should grow and change and flow as their members change as well. The two biggest changes are to offer a track for Israeli children who speak Hebrew, and also to accommodate for the growing number of pre-teens in the community.

I teach that group – the 11 to 14-year-olds, and I absolutely love it. I am doing a Shorashim (Roots) project with them, meant to explore their identities, their family background and their community and people. It is a project that all 12-13-year-olds do in schools in Israel and in many Diaspora communities. My co-teacher is French girl who is wonderful. Often we split up the group, so I teach the Hebrew and she teaches the English.

In developing the curriculum for the project, I began thinking about how these kids are going to talk about their lives, their families and their communities. Though I've taught Hebrew school often and in various countries, I've never taught a group of third or fourth-culture children, who are multilingual, very bright, international, well-traveled and still, at the end of the day, Jewish children (who don't naturally love going to Hebrew School). The group is incredibly diverse, with Israelis, Americans, French kids, half south-African, and of course, half-Chinese.

I feel like I am getting the opportunity to teach as I myself would have liked to have been taught. Though I (thankfully) had wonderful education throughout my life, there was always an element of me having to adapt to the local culture, as I wasn't really in it. There is a lot of value in this; it forces you, for example, to learn the language fluently and it makes you understand the local culture insanely well. Total immersion and you wind up with an insider's perspective.

But the downside is that the international part of your identity gets a bit downplayed. In something like a Shorashim project, which is inherently personal and individual – as it's about people's lives and identities – it's great to be able to understand, from first-hand experience, what these kids are going through.  Their questions about telling their life-story ("What if I moved six times?", "What if we just moved house in the same country?") are so unique to their experience, and I get it. I get them. I love it, because there aren't a lot of people like me my age, but there will be a lot of people like them by the time they're my age.

In a time when the world is becoming more globalized, more interconnected and diverse, when the meaning of Place is changing, and nationality often doesn't even begin to tell the story, it is time to think about how to adapt education and make it relevant to children who are growing up with a completely different kind of identity, one that is above all molded by exposure to international diversity, with all the languages, cultures and constant changes that that it involves.  

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