‘A Safe Place for Students to Learn about Israel’


By Jennifer K Saber

Teens have not had it easy. In the last few years, they have been confronted with one roadblock after another on their life journey, navigating challenges during the pandemic followed by coping with its academic and social emotional aftermath.

Just as World ORT educators saw progress in recovery, the war in Israel erupted on October 7 leading to a backward slide of mental health and social emotional trauma.

To understand the breadth of the situation, World ORT held an Educators’ Forum to hear firsthand what the schools were witnessing amongst their staff and student body. What were the repercussions from the Israel War and from the spike in global antisemitism?

A topic that rose to the forefront was the new role which our Jewish students now found themselves in – being the voice of Israel.

Students discovered themselves in a situation where by virtue of their religion, they were expected by their peers to be a spokesperson for Israel. Our students were unfairly put in the position to field questions about the current landscape and defend our Jewish homeland.

Students were unprepared and struggling. The staff expressed concern that their students were stymied by a lack of knowledge and understanding about the conflict in Israel.

Responding to this urgent need, World ORT put a plan into action to offer educational support for students post-October 7.

Ken Stein, Founding President and Chief Content Officer of The Center for Israel Education, was invited to facilitate a mini-series for our network, providing content and context to this complicated current situation.

As one of the world’s leading experts in the field of Israel education, Professor Stein guided our students and their teachers through four sessions.

Topics for the first three sessions included: background to the Hamas–Israel War, Israel’s response and how it has unfolded since October 7, and the connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. A fourth session was offered for school principals and teachers, explaining how they could best support their students to use the materials.

To support and meet each school’s individual needs, World ORT encouraged our educators worldwide to participate in the live, interactive Zoom sessions led by Prof Stein, but the sessions were also recorded so classes could experience them at their own convenience and return to them as a permanent resource.

The ongoing feedback throughout the mini-series demonstrated its impact. One teacher said “the lessons represented a safe place to learn facts and share our doubts and uncertainties about the future”.

The Center for Israel Education met the goal of creating an atmosphere for students to openly express themselves, free of judgment.

The students’ response was a sigh of relief, a reaction to receiving the content they so desperately wanted and the social, emotional support they required.

One student said: “The lessons on the Hamas-Israeli conflict have been really interesting and helpful. Being a Jew in a world full of hatred requires a great knowledge, in fact during the three meetings I realized how important it was to be aware also about what happened before October 7.

“During the lessons we had the opportunity to ask questions and solve our doubts, giving us the ability to face situations in which we are discriminated against just for being Jewish.”

Another student added: “The lessons were well done. It’s difficult to find the knowledge like this that we have learned with ORT. One very important thing was that with this series we know how to have a debate with correct information. Thank you.”

Another student not only found a confident voice during the mini-series, but is now willing to use it. “I hope to share the information to all the people who still know nothing.”

As current events unfold, World ORT is committed to receiving ongoing feedback from our schools – which have a finger on the pulse of their students’ needs – and to transform it into an action plan of support.

Jennifer K Saber is a project manager in World ORT’s Education Department