After more than a week visiting their partner Jewish day school in Budapest, Hungary, seven Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School teachers came back reinvigorated.
Beth Tfiloh and Scheiber Sandor Gimnazium in Budapest are multiyear partner schools through SOS International, an organization that works to bridge Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and the United States through schools.
The itinerary for their time in Budapest included a few days teaching with partner teachers observing at the school and then another couple days of other projects and events within the larger community.
“It’s more than enrichment,” said SOS founder Alan Reinitz. “It is a lesson or project that’s designed to address two questions that teenagers ask all the time: Why do I need to learn this, and what is the relevance to me?”
A total of seven Beth Tfiloh teachers went, chosen by school director Zipora Schorr. Spanish teacher Lisa Warren, who helped teach English while in Budapest, said the experience not only was amazing, but also brought home for her one simple fact.
“One of the things I reflected on really quickly was that the kids are the same,” she said. “I mean, kids are kids.”
Many of the Budapest teachers were raised during the era of communism and were less inclined to think creatively when teaching, said both Reinitz and the teachers who went on the trip. The American teachers were there to provide some options and new ways to approach teaching and student learning.
For example, Warren said she took a straightforward game like Heads Up, 7-Up and made it into a vocabulary exercise the students would enjoy.
History teacher Joel Monroe said he wanted to engage the students in the classroom and have them participate in discussion. He mentioned one class where he had a whole lesson plan worked out that he was so excited about. But then one student question set them on a slightly different path, followed by another one, and, he said, he decided to take his cue from the kids.
“I took the lesson plan and turned it upside down and let the students lead,” he said.
This is the first year of the Scheiber Sandor-Beth Tfiloh partnership through SOS, and Schorr is excited for what the future of the arrangement holds. A student from Budapest will be attending Beth Tfiloh next school year and, hopefully, teachers from the Budapest school will come to Beth Tfiloh for a version of what their American counterparts did.
Schorr said she was immediately on board with the program when Reinitz met with her to explain it.
“It gives such a richness of experience to our teachers,” she said. “It makes them feel so empowered.”
In addition to their work at Scheiber Sandor, the Beth Tfiloh teachers also did service work within the community — in particular, helping the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest smooth out its translations to English.
The community service element, said Reinitz, is an additional part meant to bridge the two Jewish communities. He said the projects come specifically from local Jewish community requests.
Overall, the program takes the right approach to its mission, said both Warren and Monroe.
“I think the program is effectively beginning to build bridges between the American Jewish community and the Eastern European Jewish community at a time, unfortunately, when those seem to be needed more than ever,” Monroe said.
To Warren, working through education was the key to its success. Strong education is good not just for a local Jewish community, but the community at large in Budapest — a way, she said, to combat some of the lingering negative views of Jews.
In the end, she loved the trip and felt like she and the other teachers were able to make a difference.
“We were only in the school for three days, but I really felt like we made a significant impact for them,” she said.
To learn more or donate, visit sosintl.org.