In the eyes of a child: Day school students create posters telling Israels story

Poster contests are a school experience as essential spelling bees and talent shows.

And it turns out that they’re an effective way of teaching Jewish day school students about Israel.

Posters made by local Jewish schoolchildren will be on display throughout the day June 1 at the Metreon, across the street from Israel in the Gardens.

After putting their heads together, local Jewish educators chose “counting and re-counting” — a celebration of Israel’s 60th year of statehood — as the theme for the posters.

Part of the poster idea came from a long-standing tradition: Each year since 1948, Israel has produced a poster to celebrate and commemorate its independence. The poster’s theme is based upon on that year’s happenings, trends, changes, challenges and achievements.

“What is so powerful about the posters is that there was one issued every year that Israel was a state,” says Ilan Vitemberg, associate director of the Israel Education Initiative.

Israel’s story told through its Independence Day posters is called Krazot Mesaprot, poster tales in Hebrew, and the program for Bay Area schoolchildren allows them to take part in this tradition.

The program was created through the Israel Education Initiative — a joint project of two S.F.-based agencies, the Israel Center and the Bureau of Jewish Education, and the Jewish Agency branch Makom (the Israel Engagement Network).

Vavi Toran, former head of the Israel Education Initiative and now a volunteer with the organization, said Jewish educators worked hard to come up with an idea that would give children at Jewish day schools the opportunity to combine Israel’s art and culture with their education.

The program has strived to fill a gap that Toran says was “very apparent” when she became the first director of the Israel Education Initiative four years ago: not very much Israel content in the curriculum of local Jewish day schools.

“The fact that Israel is considered a conflict or part of a conflict made many educators opt to not even touch it,” explains Toran.

“We felt that [schools] were not addressing anything about Israel, even if it was not conflict-related,” Toran says. “And when they were doing anything about Israel, it was around our Independence Day. And even then it was only related to dates and not to Israel as a main component in the children’s Jewish identity.”

Last summer, Toran joined with Vitemberg and other educators to collaborate on what they wanted to do for Israel at 60. They came up with a unified response: storytelling.

An educational kit, “Poster Tales,” was developed and written by Toran. It

provides teachers and educators the materials needed to include Israel’s art into educational programs. The kit includes a curriculum, teaching suggestions and photos of Israel’s past Independence Day posters with notes on each poster’s theme.

“Many numbers were incorporated in Israel’s posters and sometimes they were represented by Hebrew letters,” Vitemberg says.

The goal for the local project was stated simply: “With an art teacher’s guidance, and based on their learning and the message they wish to convey, students will design their own poster or use other artistic forms to express their connection to Israel.”

With the kit prepared, the educators then called on Avital Sharon of the Israel Center to take the program to its next step. Sharon contacted approximately 30 people involved with Jewish education and presented them the attractive plan: an artistic way for their classes to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

“It is raw material to work with so that every teacher can pick and choose and develop something of their own,” Toran said. “And after they take a journey through the material, they will end up with something visual [like Israel does each year].”

For starters, seven schools decided to participate, and Sharon has been working with them constantly to make sure

children of all ages are connecting to Israel through their art.

Organizers are eager to see what types of images the first year will bring — while also looking forward to many more years of Poster Tales.

“We hope that the teachers will continue to use it every year,” Vitemberg says.

“Poster Tales,” an exhibition of Israel-themed posters produced by children at several local Jewish day schools, will be on display all day June 1 at the Metreon, on the second floor near the Action Theatre. The exhibit is free.