Israel21c Introduces Day School Students
To A World Of Innovation
By Richard Friedman,
BJF Executive Director
It was 9:30 am and an idea popped into my head for the weekly Israel class I’d be teaching in 40 minutes to 7-8th graders at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School.
The light bulb that went off for me was — ironically, I guess — Israeli innovation; I would teach the kids about Israel’s growing reputation as the “Start-Up Nation” — a country where new ideas are being produced constantly to benefit humankind.
The approach that came to mind was actually pretty simple — to use the excellent website Israel21c.org as a resource. Thus my “innovative” (at least for me!) teaching idea was born.
We started class by talking about the idea and meaning of innovation, why Israel seems to excel in this area, and why this tiny country seems to make an impact in so many areas. (One of the 8th graders who was in my class last year remembered that Israel’s population, just over 8 million, is only about the same size as Alabama’s and Mississippi’s combined.)
The students felt Israel’s success stemmed from skills and knowledge Israel has acquired from defending itself, the high value Jews have traditionally placed on learning and education, the willingness of Israeli entrepreneurs to take risks and learn from their failures, and a culture, both in the military and in civilian life, that encourages questioning of the status quo.
They then were asked to go to the Israel21c website — a great website that, through easily readable and continually updated and fascinating stories, reflects Israel’s creativity and innovative spirit — and pick a story to read that interested them.
After reading it, they were asked to write three paragraphs describing what they read, why they found it interesting, and how the story reflected Israel being known as the “Start-Up Nation.” (This phrase comes from the title of a book written several years ago on Israeli innovation.)
Their responses were great and the stories they picked covered topics ranging from sleep deprivation to new thoughts about the composition of the moon to blindness to unique gadgets to wheelchairs. Each story showcased advances made by Israeli inventors, scientists or entrepreneurs. Some of the students also tied in how such breakthroughs could even benefit their own lives.
It was fun for me to see the stories they picked and to teach them more about the impact that this tiny democracy is making through countless innovative advances. As Jews, I told them, we should always be proud of Israel; a country that in the face of adversity has accomplished so much.