Are the same things are interesting to us and to Jewish families abroad? Do the same things cause both of us amazement? Or do we all orbit separately, each in his/her own sphere of the universe? What connects between Yoav Regional Council families and families of the Jewish community in Lehigh Valley? These are the question that sent families from Lehigh Valley and families from Yoav on a quest to find friendship through a project called Under the Same Moon.
It all began when Orit Lapidot, a member of Kfar Menahem, a special education tutor and head of the Computer and Integration Programs at HaElla Primary School, and Yonit Waldner-Peleg, Coordinator of Partnership2Gether Yoav-Lehigh Valley. Orit was looking for horizon-broadening project for the school and Yonit was searching for a home for a new communal Partnership 2Gether Yoav-Lehigh Valley project.
Under the Same Moon – the Book and Program
The program is based on Adi Shaham’s book, Under the Same Moon, an activity of letter exchanges between two families: a local one and its dyad overseas family. Being thematically divided into six subjects the book prompts the families to maintain correspondence between themselves. The book is handed out with some empty envelopes that allow a family to file its dyad family’s letters within the book’s pages and build a copy of Under the Same Moon with the “story” of its pen-pal family.
Partnership 2Gether decided to join forces with schools to set off with the program, and a pilot was launched on February 2014. HaElla School was chosen in Yoav and Bethel Synagogue Sunday School in Lehigh Valley, a school which belongs to the big Conservative community of Allentown. During the school week the Allentown Jewish children study like most American children, in public schools, while on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons they go to the synagogue school to learn Judaism, Hebrew and about Israel.
HaElla School has chosen the Under the Same Moon program and integrated it within the subject-oriented enriching program for third-graders that places computer skills and the Communication and Letters academic topic at its heart. It also served as a platform for the weekly enrichment program that targeted the book’s themes on which they were basing their letters: “My Family and the Place Where I Live”, “How We Celebrate Holidays”, “My Friends” and “Good Deeds”..
At Bethel Synagogue the Under the Same Moon book and Partnership Program were delivered as enriching material on subjects like Israel and Yoav. While learning about various forms of settlements in Yoav – Kibbutzim and Moshavim – the children were given a child-adjusted map of Yoav marked with all the communities of the region.
Since the program only began at the end of February it was decided that only four letters would be exchanged during the current academic year and a final fifth one is planned to be exchanged when the children return to school after their summer vacation.
In the first stage, the communication between children was carried out via postal mail. After exchanging three letters it was decided to hold a Skype chat during which children and their families from both communities met vis-à-vis for the first time. During the immensely exciting conversation each group of children sang the Color Song, through which children learnt the Hebrew and English names of colors, to its sister group.
During the Skype chat the HaElla children surprised one of their Allentown pen-pals by singing “Happy birthday” for her birthday which happened to fall the previous day.
“I loved the idea of enabling children to contact their peers; to get to know Jewish children that live in another country; to learn about the germane universal seed – obviously, children love the same things all the world over – and at the same time to learn about differences – about being a child at another country, and about living under different geographical and social circumstances,” says Orit Lapidot, who leads the project at HaElla School.“ Under the kibbutz school system of subjects, third graders studied the subject of postal mail and they were given an opportunity to put correspondence and sending letters overseas into practice. It goes without saying that today everything is done on computers and via internet: we rarely receive a real stamp and envelop and even more rarely send letters via postal mail. In fact the children have found these activities very appealing.
In addition, I was decided collaboratively by the Same Moon. It is strictly structured themes of the book for augmenting the program and for concerning values of family and community. “To prepare for each subject Yonit and I would get together and contemplate how we were going to invest some added value in each subject: a third-grader that is preparing to write a letter with her/his family – how can we broaden his/ her horizons? We built lesson plans that were taught in classes. For example the subject of Holidays – We explained that over there [abroad], children are exposed to both Jewish and Christian holidays. We tried to picture to ourselves how it feels to be a minority – living in an environment where all the other people celebrate different religious holidays. Our children were convinced that what happens here happens over there too and it made them raise intelligent questions. They learnt from their pen-pal’s letters.
Communicating not only by Letters
A computer activity was added to the program tag. A bulletin was built and children and parents have uploaded photos. Then I taught how to use the computer to build puzzles and crosswords.
Lehigh Valley "under the Same Moon" bulletin Lehigh Valley “under the Same Moon” bulletin
When letters started to arrive from their Lehigh Valley pen-pals their excitement ran high. The educators of our participants set the stage for the children to share their experiences and letters with their classmates. The program has empowered the children and made them sparkle with delight: “Suddenly I have a friend abroad, and he also likes football just like me!” Parents successfully handled the task of translating their children’s letters into English.
But most importantly, our program children were not chosen because they were English speakers; the program was open to everyone, to each child who had wished to partake. So it was significant to demonstrate in classes that participants were not chosen – they volunteered. Almost at the end of the program one of the children said to me: “you know, it is so much fun to volunteer to do projects sometimes, and to see how much we benefit!” It was his way of expressing his delight from the program.
Orit is looking forward to our next year program and new participants but she also expects that the Program graduates will coach their younger mates in the program…
Yonit, the Partnership Coordinator, explains that in addition to the fascinating experience of working with children in their school environment and getting to know their families the relationship also serves another purpose: “in this way we try to expand the discourse about Jewish peoplehood, a discourse that rather than raise questions such as ‘how Jewish am I?’ ponders about issues like ‘in what way am I Jewish?’, or ‘what connects me and my family and children to Judaism or to the Jewish People?’, or ‘either as an observant or a secular Jew, whether you see Judaism as a religion or understand it as nation, do we all have a common ground? Is the connection we have with overseas Jews differs from that one we have with non-Jews abroad?’ “
Gilad Guri, a resident of the Kibbutz-area Expansion in Revadim, and father of Yotam of Gimel-1, the Hadas Class, tells that, “Yotam was very excited about two things: the first was the social aspect, of making an overseas friend, and the second was the English language. He decided to write the first letter in English – he sat in front of the computer and typed in English. For the second one he used Google Translator. In the third letter Yotam wrote to Julian of Lehigh Valley, and Yael and I wrote to Julian’s parents, and still we maintain our correspondence.
The communication of children always holds some common language in it.
I must say that I congratulate the school staff that undertook the project on a job well done. I really want to pay homage to the whole staff – to Ronit [Principal of HaElla School], Orit [leading staff member of the project], and Tal [Yotam’s class teacher] – who all backed the project they had undertaken and gave a clean-cut, synergetic feeling of a well-functioning system.
Yael and I were involved in supporting Yotam. Nitzan, his younger brother, who is a first-grader, also sat in front of the screen, and so did Gal, his English-savvy 5th grader sister, who was kept fully in the picture by helping Yotam.
Mirit Dgani, Manager of the Yoav Regional Council Education Department, also appreciates the importance of the project: “In my view, in many cases communities are built through personal contacts that tie people together. The contribution of Partnership 2Gether Yoav-Lehigh Valley was great in cultivating this connection. I believe that a community consists of the sum of its contacts – these interpersonal contacts that bring people together. The Under the Same Moon program has interwoven people wherever they are, has created a community and it brings with it something really genuine and appropriate for the making of a Jewish community – neither bombastically nor in an over the top manner – the program speaks to people as equals and in their own place. It is neither a summer camp which means – ‘here I’m disconnecting myself from my own life and starting afresh’. Instead it enables: ‘here I am, creating contact from my comfort zone without having to go outside or travel away on a mission; I’m doing it instead from my own intimate place.’ Being communally interwoven without any strings being pulled from above, these are grass root contacts.’