Mobile unit is bringing Jerusalem to local schools

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The Jerusalem Caravan is on summer break. But when the school year starts up, so too will the mobile education unit that rides through the East Bay teaching kids about the City of Gold.

The caravan isn't so much a dusty Gypsy wagon as a Subaru sedan; but romantic notions aside, the caravan's first year was so successful that it will return for a second.

During the caravan's maiden voyage, some 1,500 students learned about Israel's capital city through an array of games, activities and art projects: All the materials were packed into the four-door vehicle and driven to religious schools from Fremont to North Berkeley.

The project was inspired by Jerusalem's trimillennium, celebrated this year around the world.

"The caravan was created as a way to bring the history and culture of Jerusalem to religious-school students in a way that is fun and dynamic, and emphasizes a hands-on approach," says Riva Gambert, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater East Bay, which created the caravan in conjunction with the Oakland-based Israel Center and Center For Jewish Living and Learning.

Here's how it works: The car rolls up to a religious school where students, parent volunteers or Jerusalem Caravan staffers Gambert, Elisha Wolfin or Tama Goodman unload the educational cargo.

Then the games begin.

In one, students try their luck at a ring toss. Eight wooden poles represent the eight gates of Jerusalem, which are described in accompanying text. Another game, a form of bowling called "Break the Siege of Jerusalem," teaches youngsters how Israelis broke through Arab roadblocks in the early days of the state.

Less erudite, perhaps — but no less popular — are the project's artistic components. Students are invited to ice graham crackers with blue and white frosting in an attempt to recreate the Israeli flag. In another art project, bookmarks are fashioned with the help of gold thread and rubber stamps.

"They could keep them, or give them as gifts. The little kids loved that," Gambert says.

But what ensured the caravan's success as much as the activities themselves was the mobile nature of the program.

"This is a very large community," says Gambert. "There was a lot of excitement when we could bring things directly to the students, without car pools, permission forms. It was probably one of the most successful education projects we've done."

The hands-on approach is also "very popular in Israel," says Gambert, whose Subaru carpet paid the price of such participatory education in the form of sand left over from an archaeology game.

"It's not only about Israel, but in a way it's a very Israeli way of teaching," she adds.

This summer, the Jerusalem Caravan is parked at Fremont's Camp Kadima. After making the rounds next year, the caravan, made possible by a $7,500 grant from the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay for Jerusalem 3000 events, will undergo what Gambert calls "a facelift."

This nip-and-tuck will transform the Jerusalem Caravan into a traveling treatise on Israel's 50th birthday. Look for the latest model at a religious school near you in 1998.