New curriculum packs the best of Israeli culture into five boxes

"S" is for science, environment and technology, "T" for timeline, "A" for art and culture, "R" for religion and society, and "S" again for sites.

S*T*A*R*S debuted this year for Israel's 50th anniversary, as a more hands-on way for teachers to bring Israel to life in the classroom.

"Our idea was to change the atmosphere in the classroom by opening up different windows to Israel," says Riva Gambert, director of education and culture at the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

She co-developed the program with Elisha Wolfin, formerly with the East Bay federation's Israel Center and now a rabbinical student at the University of Judaism.

"The box idea seemed like a good way to take fun ideas and materials and make them appealing," Gambert said. "Besides, all the stuff didn't fit in a conventional envelope. But then, this isn't a conventional way to spark kids' interest in Israel; it's an imaginative one."

A joint endeavor of the Israel Center and the federation's Center for Jewish Living and Learning, the curriculum is geared for grades two to 12. It is available at no cost for up to three weeks to teachers at Jewish day schools and congregation schools and midrashot (community high schools).

A grant from the East Bay federation's Jewish Community Foundation paid for the project. Three East Bay religious schools have already used the program.

"The lessons are really good, the material is complete, and the students responded well," says Susan Friedman, an educator at Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek.

In the "A" box, she found art projects from Israel's diverse cultures. The activities included making an Armenian hamsa; music and lyrics for everything from kibbutz folk songs to songs of peace; audio tapes and instructions for Israeli dancing; and the hottest CDs of Israel's pop icons.

Liza Silver, a teacher at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, liked the multi-media approach of S*T*A*R*S.

"Kids like to be stimulated in different ways," says Silver. "There are lots of different mediums available within this set — games, videos, visuals."

Each box comes equipped with lesson plans, videos and maps, as well as laminated posters that can be hung in the classroom to reinforce the themes.

For more information, call Gambert at (510) 839-2900, ext. 253 or e-mail her at [email protected]