Cultural exchange brings Israeli teachers to Rochester

Dec 5, 2018

Israeli teacher Ruth Benavi at Brighton High School
Credit Beth Adams / WXXI

Several Israeli teachers are visiting Rochester this week as part of a cultural exchange program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

"It's my first time in U.S. It's amazing,” said Ruth Ben Avi during a visit to Brighton High School Wednesday morning. “The pupils here are very quiet. You should see in Israel...you would understand (laughter).”

Ben Avi, who teaches Arabic at a school in Modi'in, Israel, said she was struck by something else she saw yesterday while visiting East High, School Number 15, and Rochester International Academy: immigrant students from various countries who are now at home in the U.S. 

"I think what you're doing (for) those students, it's a big thing," she said. "You save their life." 

There are some African students who study in Tel Aviv, Ben Avi explained, but she’s not accustomed to seeing people from so many different countries settle in her homeland.

Brighton Economics teacher Eric Morris says it's enriching for faculty and students to meet Ben Avi and her colleagues from Israel.

"Particularly when you're dealing with issues in the social studies around equity and justice and things like that,” he said, “to be able to have a perspective from somebody who not only lives half way around the world, but has a different perspective, a different culture from your own...I think that's an invaluable experience for our students."

Morris made the trip to Modi’in last year as part of the exchange program.  He said one of his colleagues, an English teacher, taught a class to Israeli students.

“To see her step into that classroom for real rather than in the virtual sense with Skype, and to see the students respond to her in this way was really powerful,” Morris said. “I'm hoping that starts to happens more with Israeli teachers coming here and teaching lessons and American teachers going to Israel and teaching lessons as well."

The visiting teachers and their local hosts will be participating in professional development together this week, developing their co-teaching program, and celebrating Hannukah.

Students are part of the exchange, too. Brighton tenth grader Jackie Silver went to Modi’in last year. “It was a really good experience,” she said.

Silver echoed Ben Avi’s observation about students in Israel being more relaxed. "They call their teachers by their first names and they didn't have to raise their hands,” she said. “They just called things out.”

The Brighton Central School district says this is the only exchange program of its kind in the U.S. involving public schools.