Educating educators

August 24, 2012 by Joshua Cole
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More than 350 Jewish educators from around Australia and New Zealand received a boost in confidence, knowledge and morale as they return to their classrooms for the second half of the year, invigorated by the ZFA’s 8th Biennial Jewish Educators’ Conference in mid-August.

 

ZFA Executive Director Ginette Searle, ZFA Education Officer Michael Cohen, Rav Benjamin Lau, Haim Aronovitz and Margalit Kavenstock.
Photo by Sav Schulman

With 80 sessions – which were presented by 10 international experts and 50 local speakers – the 350 participants (all records for the Zionist Federation of Austalia’s conference) from Jewish day schools and other Jewish learning organisations enjoyed presentations on a wide array of Jewish studies topics including text studies, Jewish history and culture, the Shoah, Teaching Israel, informal education, early childhood, and technology and Jewish learning.

“The Biennial Jewish Educators’ Conference, the only one of its kind in this country, has become a permanent fixture of our community, and the ZFA is proud to bring together Jewish educators of all persuasions from across Australia and New Zealand in order to provide professional support and encouragement for the educators of our children, who collectively influence the lives of thousands of our youth,” said ZFA President Philip Chester at the opening of the conference, August 12-13, at Bialik College, Melbourne. “In a global world of endless possibilities, where social media seems to dominate the lives of so many of our youths, the difficult task of the Jewish educator is to connect young Jews to their heritage, tradition, language, land and people in a way which is inspiring, relevant and enduring.”

In front of enthralled crowds, keynote speakers Rav Benjamin Lau and Rabbi James Kennard echoed the importance for teachers, schools and other formal and informal educators in shaping children to understand, love and embrace their Judaism. Rav Lau is one of Israel’s best-known and charismatic Jewish educators and rabbis. Rabbi Kennard is the principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College, in Melbourne.

“A good teacher is the one who sees the right moment, waits for the right situation and uses their skills to guide the student without patronising them or forcing anything on them,” Rav Lau said. “A real leader, a true teacher, can change the lives of young students.”

Haim Aronovitz, Director of Florence-Melton Adult Mini-School, was the other keynote speaker, presenting on a way to teach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Other international presenters included Margalit Kavenstock, renowned Jewish and Hebrew early childhood educator; Yoel and Orly Ganor, founders and director of Ulpan-Or, a Hebrew-teaching program; and Dan Porat, Holocaust educator and visiting scholar at the Shalom Institute.

“Attendees said they felt so enriched by the networking opportunities as well as the communications and ability to share and discuss similar issues with other teachers and colleagues,” said ZFA Executive Director Ginette Searle. “At the end of the day, the schools have different approaches, they operate for different target markets, but they believe in what they are doing, they believe in imparting Jewish values to Jewish kids and are looking for better ways to do it.”

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