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My degree in Israel education was tough, but so worth it

I just ran a marathon.

I have never run a marathon, so I have no idea what that actually feels like. But this certainly feels like what I imagine completing a marathon could feel like: elation, pride, and fatigue.

My marathon lasted two years, not your typical 26.2 miles. That was 24 months filled with reading, lots of reading, writing (lots of writing) and talking (lots of talking). It was also filled with vast amounts of information, thousands of years of history, a plethora of ideas, concepts and tons of questions; all as a guide to navigate me on my journey in experiential Israel education. After a 30 year absence, I agreed to go back to school.

For many people, running a marathon is the toughest physical challenge they will tackle in their lifetime — but with training, guts, and carbohydrates just about anyone can run a marathon. I had a prestigious team as my trainers, my courage came from my “why,” and the added carbs (chocolate) didn’t hurt!

My why was personal: just two weeks before my mom (z”l) passed away, I was presented with the opportunity to be a part of a brand-new initiative between The iCenter and The George Washington University, a chance to further my Israel education with a certificate program, with the possibility of going on to complete a Master’s Degree. My mom had told me that I should do it. With her unexpected passing, I knew that it was just something I had to do.

Within my grief, I needed to navigate a whole new life that included caring for my elderly father now living in our home, being present for my husband and children, running a business and working full time. And with the unwavering support, understanding, love and unbelievable patience from my amazing family and friends, I did it — I actually did it. I completed the first year and made the decision to continue to the second.

I’ll admit, there were moments when I considered quitting; when the reading seemed insurmountable, when the looming deadlines seemed unattainable, and when the need to be with my family and friends outweighed my desire to read another article.

Yet, there was my cohort, my support partners, the very first group of exceptional individuals who all made the same decision to do this program. Always available, always there to support one another. In the world of Israel education, each of us works with our communities in a multiplicity of ways, and we now have a larger network of resources — our very own community of practice. With our shared experience, we are each part of one another’s extended family.

And then there is the professional team leading the program: I recognize each of them as the most knowledgeable and attentive group of Israel experiential educators. They are menschen who thoughtfully and mindfully structured a program that advanced our knowledge, understanding and practice. Each piece from them added to our personal puzzle resulting in a clear and focused image of our understanding of the complexities of Israel education.

Learning Hebrew in my living room with my Hebrew teacher, Liat, as she sat in her living room in Israel was a powerful experience. Her methodology made me realize the impact my elementary and high school Hebrew teachers had on my relationship with Israel and the Hebrew language. Now I’m excited to share my experiences and knowledge from this program as I continue the work of infusing Israel education and the value of an Israel experience with our community.

Growing up in South Africa and attending the King David School, which recognizes the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people and to Jewish education, as well as spending a semester in Israel as a tenth grader, was the perfect incubator to develop my identity and nurture my connection to Israel. The opportunity to complete my Master’s in Israel education was a continuum of this experience. Only now I see Israel through new lenses and different lived experiences. The iCenter and GWU provided me with the motivation, confidence, tools and resources to create and implement meaningful Israel experience for others and to help educators and lay leaders in my community understand their own personal Israel story.

As I crossed that finish line in the program — which simply involved hitting the submit link in the quiet of my home, I felt breathless, almost overwhelmed with emotion. I did it, and I don’t need a shiny medal to prove it.

Peta Silansky is the Manager of Israel and Overseas Education and Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. She was a member of the first class to receive a Graduate Degree in Israel Education at The George Washington University, run in partnership with The iCenter.

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