Schoolteachers who have just returned from a UJIA-organised tour to Israel have described the current situation as “surreal”.
The 22-strong group of Jewish and non-Jewish teachers from seven Jewish schools in the UK, participated in the programme’s six-day seminar, which included tours around Jerusalem and teaching lessons at partner schools.
Matthew Neat, assistant headteacher at Clore Tikva Primary School in Redbridge, said: “This was my first time visiting Israel. The first thing that struck me was how different it was [from what we see] in the news. We did a multicultural tour of Jerusalem, and to see the Arab and Jews together was something that I really didn’t expect.”
However, the situation has changed since the group’s return.
“Two weeks was a long time ago,” Mr Neat added. “It’s sad and very surreal to think that two weeks ago it was a happy, peaceful and beautiful place to be in.
I watched the children playing in the air raid shelter
“The highlight for me was visiting out partner school [Kerner primary school in Meona]. When we were there, the school had turned the shelter into a play area with dressing-up clothes.
“[Watching the news] my first thought was that the children were sitting and dressing up — in the shelter.”
Jaskirn Singh, a reception teacher at Clore Tikva, who also visited Israel for the first time, added: “I went to Israel with open eyes – I left all pre-expectations at Heathrow airport.”
Gideon Lyons, 37, a Jewish biology teacher at JCoss, said: “Before I went I did wonder if this trip would be a coach and sightseeing trip, but it was completely different.
“I gave an assembly at our partner school, [the Western Galilee Regional secondary school in the northern Kabri town on the Lebanese border], and we got a feel for the education system in Israel.
“The student-teacher relationships are much closer than here, but the teenagers have a lot in common”.
Dr Helena Miller, director of research and evaluation and Living Bridge programmes at UJIA, said: “This project makes real people-to-people links. Strong professional relationships are formed and this programme has real added value for the schools in both countries.”
Multifaith seminars, education and coexistence lessons were a focal part of this UJIA senior educators’ mission, which took place from October 28 – November 2.
Teachers from Brodetsky Primary, Clore Tikva, Clore Shalom, King David in Manchester, JCoss, King David in Liverpool and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue nursery participated in the trip.