Jewish students connect to Israel
Jewish students connect to IsraelYoni Kempinski

A new middle school curriculum, LINK -- Discovering Your Israel Connection -- is now available across the United States.

The 6-lesson unit allows students to explore the historic Jewish roots to Israel while discovering their own personal, modern connection.

Through a sophisticated, interactive, online application, LINK was developed by teachers, curriculum writers and internet experts who understand the need for a dynamic, educational experience of this kind. The outcome is a platform designed to enable students to determine for themselves, through experiential and project based learning, their own, unique Israel connection.

Students discover an Israel not usually found in traditional Jewish curricula; an Israel whose actions are informed by Jewish values and reflect the best of what matters to today's youth. They learn about an Israel that is diverse, where humanitarian aid is a priority, and where there are opportunities for refugees and economic migrants.

They are inspired by an Israel whose innovations and technologies are improving and saving lives throughout the world.

Participating in the year-long pilot program of 20 schools were Jewish day schools and supplementary schools, representing all Jewish denominations. Data was collected from teachers and students to measure progress and to determine if educational goals were being met.

Students participating in the LINK program showed a 45% increase in knowledge and understanding about Jewish continuity in Israel, and a 55% increase in knowledge, understanding and challenges of Israel's size, demographics and location. These students also showed a 75% increase in knowledge and understanding of Israel's diversity, and a 60% increase in knowledge and understanding about the global impact of Israeli advances in technology.

More importantly, the students displayed a 78% increase in knowledge and understanding about Israel's role in global humanitarian and disaster aid as well as efforts Israel makes at home with refugee and economic migrant populations.

Meanwhile, teachers reported that students readily engage in the lessons and look forward to their experience with the curriculum. Their students, they explained, articulate not just an increase in knowledge, but also a pride in and a connection to Israel.

LINK Director of Middle School Education and StandWithUs programming Mina Rush explained, "The motivation behind this endeavor was to create a program that could reverse Jewish students' diminishing relationship to Israel as evidenced by recent polls."

"My experience showed that traditional methods of teaching did not always achieve the desired results. I realized that students are best able to connect when the material represents their core values. This realization led to the direction that LINK has taken."

"The use of technology and the presentation of the information truly honors today's teen. When our students in the school were surveyed, many stated that the LINK program was the favorite part of their school day," Orangetown Jewish Center Educational Director Sandy Borowsky said.

American-Jewish identity is rapidly eroding, with many young people marrying non-Jews or not marrying at all. Meanwhile, Israeli organizations are working on building a stronger connection between Diaspora Jews and Israel.