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Peoplehood Practices

WHAT IS A MIFGASH AND WHY SHOULD WE DO IT? Mifgash (mif-gash, or Mif-gashim, meeting(s) or encounter(s), in Hebrew), is a new dimension in contemporary Jewish life. While the word is generic, we use it here to describe direct, face-to-face contact situations between Jews from different cultures (countries). In pre-modern times Jews usually met other Jews only in their immediate surroundings (i.e., the Shtetle, the village or the Jewish neighborhood). The sense of Peoplehood was a spiritual concept mediated through liturgy, artistic symbols and folktales. In the twentieth century, with the great Jewish migration and the emergence of modern Zionism, masses of Jews shifted their location and lifestyles. With this shift came the possibility of exposure to Jews from other cultures. Still, most of them found new homes and communities that brought them to live among like-minded people. In the second half of the twentieth century, the distribution of Jews around the world changed dramatically compared to the 19th century. It has now reached the point where 80% of world Jewry is divided between two main centers, Israel and North America, with the rest of the Jewish population scattered in a wide range of countries, languages and cultures. As the world’s Jewish demography stabilized, and with the development of the State of Israel, new opportunities for travel and contact emerged. Specifically, travelling to Israel became a widespread practice among many Jews. Forms of Israel travel include: educational teen trips, academic study programs, volunteering, leadership and professional development initiatives, etc. In the past 15 years, two large-scale initiatives have been introduced: Taglit-Birthright Israel and Masa – Israel Journey, both responsible for bringing thousands of young Jewish adults to Israel annually. Other forms of Jewish travel emerged as well, albeit in smaller numbers, including: trips to Eastern Europe with a focus on the Holocaust, trips to places of Jewish heritage such as Spain and Prague, explorations of Jewish life in the Former Soviet Union, exchange programs through Partnership 2000 and more. Mifgash is that part of Jewish travel that generates a variety of opportunities for direct contact between Jews from different cultures. Mifgash is a unique Jewish Peoplehood experience, a product of modernity and new technologies. Today, more than ever in history, Jews can meet other types of Jews through new possibilities for travel and mass communication. Even though the Mifgash is typically associated with travel, it is not exclusive to the travel activity. A Mifgash can take place in the home community whereby Jews of other cultures visit or reside in the midst of the majority Jewish group (e.g., Israelis living outside Israel, or post-Soviet Jews who recently emigrated). More so, new technologies, specifically live video platforms such as Skype, provide a new form of “face to face” experiences that open up opportunities for contact and dialogue. Still, the ultimate Mifgash is best exemplified when the parties involved are fully living in their respective cultures, and hence the Mifgash is the ultimate opportunity to expose members of one distinct group to members of another distinct group. Before we move further into the subject we need to distinguish between two basic Mifgash situations: Naturally occurring encounters with little to no intervention by educators or other agents. Shared intentional experiences designed by educators and other agents. Our discussion focuses on the second form of Mifgash, that which is planned and implemented by educators and other agents for designated populations in clearly defined times and settings. This doesn’t mean that we do not regard the naturally occurring encounters as important and meaningful. On the contrary, the natural experience can be very significant and many issues raised in this section are relevant to non-structured experiences.[1] PEDAGOGIC RATIONALE – WHY IS THE MIFGASH GOOD FOR PEOPLEHOOD EDUCATION? In the Western world we believe that exposure to other cultures is a vital element of “good” education. Moreover, by travelling to other cultures and meeting people and communities from those cultures we can reduce tensions and conflicts and increase tolerance and cooperation. Intercultural experiences are also perceived as important building blocks for personal growth and skills acquisition, necessary for effective functioning in the global arena. What about Jewish encounters? Encounters (or Mifgash) between Jews from different cultures is a mixture of meeting total strangers and finding lost relatives. On the one hand, all parties in a Mifgash share a cultural-religious heritage that includes myths, symbols, texts and customs. But at the same time, the participants in this intra-Jewish Mifgash are members of distinct (national) cultures, defined by their countries of domicile. [2] The pedagogy of the Mifgash vacillates between these two poles: on the one hand, it is assumed that Jews have a pre-conceived notion of kinship, a shared set of values, a common history and a shared vision for the future. The Mifgash in this context is an opportunity to affirm and strengthen the sense of unity and Peoplehood. But, on the other hand, the participants in the Mifgash, come from different countries, reflecting different national cultures, languages, norms and lifestyles. Moreover, the ethnic composition of Jews is different from one place to another, namely, Israeli Jews are a colorful assortment of ethnicities while Diaspora Jews are more ethnically uniform (in most cases, of Ashkenazi origin). When planning the Mifgash, we suggest taking the approach that cultural differences outweigh a sense of unity. In other words, let us not rely on the mythology of sameness and imagined unity. We should design the Mifgash as a meeting of people from discrete cultures, albeit with a perceived sense of shared values and common heritage. The discipline of intercultural education is widespread and decades old. A wealth of practical knowledge and research is available to those who are involved in designing and implementing Mifgash opportunities. Our toolkit draws from this discipline while making the proper adaptations to fit the distinctiveness of the Jewish Mifgash. In the Peoplehood Pedagogy section of this toolkit, you will find more information about how a Mifgash is an integral part of the Peoplehood pedagogy, and how it provides the best way to teach towards Jewish Peoplehood. [1] One of the most powerful non-structured Mifgash experience is home hospitality, an opportunity for intimate and personal acquaintance. [2] The notion of cultural identity is often tied to the Nation State, thus cultural identity is correlated with geography, language, political culture, etc. On the other hand, in the era of globalization, there are new forms of hybrid cultural identities coming from variation of gender, class, ethnic and professional sources. See, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (editors), Questions of Cultural Identity, Sage, London, 1996

HEBREW – IVRIT The Hebrew language (Ivrit) is a fundamental component of what constitutes the Jewish People. In order to appreciate the relevance of Ivrit, it is helpful to understand the origin and meaning of the word itself. The word Ivrit is derived from the word Ivri (a Hebrew). A common definition of the word Ivri is a descendant of Eber, עֵבֶר, who was an ancestor of Abraham, the first person to be called an Ivri (Genesis 10:24). To be an Ivri, is to be a descendant of this lineage, to be a part of this family. Moreover, Ivrit comes from the root עבר which has several meanings including to “cross over” or “pass through,” indicative of the nomadic life of Abraham and his descendants. (One can say this is true even today.) Given these understandings, we conclude that Ivrit is a reflection of who we are as a nation, genealogically, historically and culturally; Ivrit connects us through time and space. Hebrew is a connector; it connects us to our history, provides a sense of belonging to the Jewish People and to the land and country of Israel. Much like the word Ivrit, words in Hebrew bear historical weight and reflect Jewish culture and values. And while historically Jews took on the language of their host countries, they perpetuated the use of Hebrew through prayer, study and even the development of other “Jewish languages” such as Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic, all of which share the common element of Hebrew serving as an integral component. Having a shared language has unified us as a nation for over 3000 years and can continue to be a critical tool that connects us to one another. PEDAGOGIC RATIONALE – WHY USING HEBREW MAKES FOR GOOD EDUCATION Language is a purveyor of history, culture, values and ways of thought. The study of the Hebrew language opens students to their rich history spanning 4000 years, to a vibrant and contemporary Jewish culture and to the opportunity to inform the future of the international Jewish community. In his essay entitled “Language, Identity, and the Scandal of American Jewry,” Leon Wieseltier writes: “Our language is our incommensurable inflection of our humanity; our unique way of presenting, not least to ourselves, what our unique way is through the world. Our language is our element; our beginning; our air; the air peculiar to us. Even our universalism comes to us (like everybody else’s universalism) in a particular language.” Language is a critical element in identity development; it is a tool that informs the way that we think, enabling us to make meaning of the world around us and navigate it. Jewish educators should utilize Hebrew as an integral tool to help their students develop their Jewish identities as individuals and as a collective. Hebrew is the language of the Jewish People and empowering our students to have access to this tool provides them with the ability to engage with Jews worldwide, the world without geographic boundaries in which they live.

SOCIAL MEDIA – RATIONALE Social media is an expansion of all the things that we, as Jews, have done so naturally and well throughout the ages – telling stories; producing writings and commentary; creating venues for arts and culture; collaborating on worldwide scientific and academic projects; encouraging creativity and innovation; and reaching out in times of challenge and struggle to support one another. Social media deepens relationships. Social media starts and expands conversations. Social media is – by and large – free (although one could argue that it costs us privacy and time). Finally, every one of us can have a pulpit, deliver sermons at the frequency and on topics of our choosing, and engage with as many virtual congregants as we wish. And it enables us to play our favorite game – Jewish geography – with unprecedented precision and broadcast-able joy. Since the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, the Jewish People – especially those who live outside Israel – have been largely defined by exile and dispersion. While the Temple has not (“yet,” some add) been rebuilt, what has been constructed – both organically through the growth of technology and communication tools, and intentionally, by those who toil professionally to cultivate community and nurture conversations – is a framework for global connection and a potential for expanded Jewish Peoplehood that we could have never imagined 20 years ago. Today’s communication is instant; connections happen across time zones and great geographical distances; and we know much more about our worldwide Jewish family, in modern Israel as well as in the widespread but increasingly interconnected micro- and macro-communities of the Diaspora. Our community of practice has gone global, and although not all techniques work in all communities, the tools are at our disposal and are helping us build networks of support and connectedness across thousands of miles, dozens of languages and hundreds of countries. SOCIAL MEDIA AND JEWISH EDUCATION As in many fields, technology is having a huge impact in the field of (Jewish) education. The daily increase in online content – from TED talks that have people thinking outside the box on many subjects, to G-dcast and Bibleraps – works towards helping us re-imagine what connection to and interpretation of Jewish texts looks like. With a myriad of new tools available at the type of a keyboard (while the keyboard is still a thing, that is), today’s educators, in addition to practical experience navigating a classroom and a series of academic subjects, must also have vast knowledge of what’s available online. They must also possess the imagination that enables them to use the tools in formal and informal settings. Today’s teachers must be master facilitators and curators of information, and they must achieve and maintain a high level of literacy in online tools and resources. In other words, it’s less important that they have all the knowledge and more important that they know where to find it. Today’s educators encounter a new generation of digital natives – children who grew up using devices and having access to endless information (word, image and video), but who may lack discernment or an ability to curate the overabundance to find specific information and filter out the noise (and other influences) that distracts or corrupts them. To reach these digital natives, educators must learn to speak their language, which is more than mere slang, but a complete upheaval of modes of communication. (See Pew Internet studies that discuss how younger populations understand and use technology.) In addition to serving as a content curator, a censor or a facilitator of information, today’s teachers can use social media tools as a unique window into the contemporary lives of both teens and adults. This is a tremendous opportunity even as it is profoundly unnerving. Being well-versed in social media tools and culture enables us to better advise today’s students on everything from privacy and personal exposure issues to effective and targeted content navigation.

WHAT IS JEWISH TRAVEL AND WHY SHOULD I DO IT? One of the best ways to encourage our students to understand the power of belonging to the Jewish People and help them gain skills to play an active role in the future of that People, is to offer them an experience of Jewish Travel. Every time you take your students or campers on a deliberate outing to visit Jewish sites, meet Jewish people outside your community or have Jewish experiences in unfamiliar places (whether Jewish or not), you are doing what we consider to be Jewish travel. As you can imagine, Jewish travel can be enormously varied. It includes the well-known programs, such as trips to Israel ranging from the traditional six-week teen program to the mass phenomenon of Taglit-Birthright Israel, and trips to Poland and Eastern Europe. It also includes trips to visit the cemeteries of our families, trips to Jewish museums and tours of ghettos and Jewish neighborhoods. Jewish travel might include visits to far-away countries, or it might be a short visit down the road or to a nearby city. It might be something we do with our family, our congregation, our class or our friends. Whatever form it takes, we encourage you to see it as a powerful and effective means to access stories of the Jewish People. When we embark on a Jewish journey, we have the ability to travel both through space – to new places and sites – and also through time. We go back in history to “visit” and “meet” Jews of yesteryear, in their communities and the places they lived. Whether we are encountering the Jewish people of today or yesterday, we can create conversations with them; with the heroes and heroines, the leaders and the “common” people. These are important Peoplehood encounters and they have the power to transform our own sense of self and belonging. PEDAGOGIC RATIONALE – WHY IS JEWISH TRAVEL ALSO GOOD EDUCATION? Travel is one of the most powerful tools for experiential education. Travel combined with Jewish content can provide our students with transformative Jewish experiences in which they meet and interact with their fellow members of the Jewish People, whether alive or dead. The realities of traveling, of leaving home (even for a short time), create enormous educational possibilities that do not exist in our daily, familiar environment. Much research has been done on the nature of tourism, with sociologists and anthropologists pointing to what happens when a person leaves home and enters unfamiliar terrain, either alone or in a group. There is an openness to new experiences, a lack of stability that creates what is called “liminality;” a sort of in-between-ness, when a person is in an unfamiliar place[1]. And as educators, we know that amazing things can happen in this space. Additionally, travel is an all-encompassing experience. We use our bodies, our senses, as well as our minds, and this is the stuff of the best experiential education! We smell new smells, eat new foods, hear new languages and participate physically in the unfamiliar. This is all fertile territory for the educator who wants to offer his or her students new opportunities and experiences. [1] For more information see: Dean MacCannell, Daniel Boorstin, Shaul Kelner, Victor Turner, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.

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