Government initiative helps Jewish day schools worldwide cope with war challenges

Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s UnitEd aims to supply Jewish educators abroad with tools to help students and staff educate and process the current crisis

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: A class at the Lippman School, a Jewish day school in Akron, Ohio, in August 2014.  (Uriel Heilman)
Illustrative: A class at the Lippman School, a Jewish day school in Akron, Ohio, in August 2014. (Uriel Heilman)

As soon as the scope of the horrific Hamas assault on October 7 became clear, and as Israel shifted to being a country at war, officials at UnitEd, an educational initiative of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, knew they had their work cut out for them.

UnitEd is an outreach arm that supplies educational materials, training, and programs for Jewish day school teachers and staff all over the world.

They are still fulfilling that role, but “in this time of war and emergency, we try to address the needs of educators… We supply them with information and presentations, available on our landing page,“ explained Assaf Gamzu, UnitEd director of education.

In the days immediately after the assault, the organization put out materials addressing the current crisis and how day school teachers and staff can discuss the matter with their students in a sensitive way.

“Unfortunately, learning about and addressing emotional needs during times of stress and war is something the society here [in Israel] has experience with,” Gamzu told The Times of Israel.

Jewish day schools abroad “are dealing how everyone is dealing: it’s sad, it’s shocking, it needs addressing, it’s sometimes horrifying, it sometimes gives us hope, it’s all true, it’s all the same [as in Israel],” he explained.

The Jewish world is in crisis, he stressed, and although Jews abroad do not have to run to shelters, they still feel the events in Israel deeply. Many people in Jewish communities around the world have friends or relatives here who have been directly affected by the crisis.

Furthermore, communities abroad have to deal with antisemitism in a different way and explain that to their children.

Assaf Gamzu (courtesy)

“We knew from the start that there would be an antisemitic backlash,” Gamzu said, adding that the organization is working on releasing materials addressing that issue. Other projects for the near future include short videos for the classroom, online seminars for educators on issues relating to the war, and materials about “civic heroes.”

UnitEd provides the materials, which on its site are organized by category and by grade level, free of charge. Officially non-denominational, the initiative aims to support “an open, diverse and pluralistic Judaism” and therefore provides “a diverse array of inclusive lesson plans, tools, resources and materials” that can be adapted by various Diaspora communities.

The materials are available in English, French and Spanish — there is a separate Diaspora Ministry organization that works on educational materials in Russian.

The new war-related materials have been well received and, for the first time, Gamzu said, they have recently received requests for materials in German, “a sign that very much affirms that we are doing important work.”

“Education is this wonderful place,” he stressed. “You always have kids around you and they are always asking the toughest questions. They have a high bar, which is, ‘Please don’t be boring.’ Educators, Jewish educators, are committed to the Jewish people, they have committed their lives… We are committed to them doing their best.”

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