The Temple Twinning
On Sunday, April 14, a group of seventh and eighth graders from the United States and Israel talked for over an hour using Skype, a software application that allows users to make video calls over the Internet. “I remember when I was at the 1965 World’s Fair in New York and they demonstrated the ‘picture phones’ of the future,” Pincus said. “To think that it is now easy to talk in real time to Israelis halfway around the world is a wonderful thing.”
The students, from the Temple Sunday School class taught by Bernard Pincus and students at Sulam Tsor in Rosh Hanikra, a small community in Israel’s Western Galilee region in Israel, had been communicating by e-mail for the past year, sharing photographs and information about themselves, but this was the first time they’d had a chance to talk (almost) face-to-face. According to their teacher, Miri Johnson, all of the Israeli students speak at least three languages, including Hebrew, Arabic and English.
The cultural exchange project is part of Partnership 2Gether, which fosters the development of personal relationships between people in Israel and the U.S. Louisville has been part of the the program’s Midwest Consortium, partnered with the Western Galilee, since its inception in 1997.
The Skype call took some coordination for both groups. “We verified the time difference and tested the connection ahead of time,” said Pincus. Israeli schools are in session Sunday through Thursdays and off on Fridays and Saturdays. About 10 Israeli students were able to speak with 20 students in Louisville.
Scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Louisville time, the Israeli students needed to make arrangements to stay late at school to participate at 4:30 p.m. Because the participants already knew quite a bit about their counterparts across the world, the conversation was natural and spontaneous, peppered with plenty of questions. “We expected the call to last 15 to 30 minutes, but once they started talking it just took off,” said Pincus. “Finally, we had to stop the call at one hour so that the Israeli students didn’t have to stay any later.”
Despite some cultural differences, they realized they all wear the same clothes, listen to the same music and watch the same television programs broadcast on the Disney Channel. The students learned that they were much more alike than they are different.
One significant difference between life in Western Galilee and Louisville is that Israeli kids this age are aware they will have to do mandatory military service after high school. That, and the close proximity to Syria and Lebanon and the conflicts in the region reminds them how close they live to Israel’s enemies.
“We talked about these issues in class and you could see that suddenly Israel became much more than just a dot on the map for the American kids,” commented Pincus.
This year’s program was such a success that the relationships between the teachers and students will continue into next year. U.S. students who were seventh graders this year and will return as eighth graders intend to stay in touch with their Israeli counterparts. And the teachers say they won’t wait until the end of the year to conduct Skype calls. “We’re planning for at least one chance to visit together using Skype during each trimester,” said Pincus. “I realize that the kids take this technology for granted but you know, I’m still in that state of wonder about it all.”