TFA participants connect with Israel during visit


Amanda Henry went to Israel as part of a Teach For America program because she was interested in what the program had to offer — a chance to add Jewish context and values to her work as a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in St. Louis. That happened, but Henry also visited her grandfather’s family home in Jerusalem, where she saw furniture crafted by her great-grandfather, a carpenter.

“It was incredible to walk into that house,” said Henry, 23, who lives in St. Louis. Her grandfather, Issa Adranly, lives in Kansas City. “When I showed my grandfather the pictures of the house, he cried. In one photo there is an old gas light fixture, and he said he remembered it from when he was a child.”


The free trip took place July 5-16 as part of REALITY: The Renewal, Education, Action, Leadership and Inspiration for Teach For America Israel Experience. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman and Samberg Family Foundations co-sponsored the program.

Teach For America is the national corps of college graduates who commit to teach for at least two years in “under-resourced” public schools. A statement from the organization notes, “Currently, at least 10 percent of corps members self-identify as Jewish, and young Jews in the United States are twice as likely as other Americans to do service work.”

Some 40 teachers made the trip to Israel; two of them from St. Louis schools. In addition to Henry, Samantha Lurie, a science teacher at Vashon High School, was part of the program. The corps members visited historical sites, met with teachers and compared notes with young Israelis involved in community service programs.

One of the highlights of the trip for Henry was meeting with members of the Youth Renewal Fund, a program established in 1989 to provide supplemental education to underprivileged children in Israel. “We discovered that we all face similar problems — lack of family involvement, individuals of lower socioeconomic status and discipline issues,” said Henry. “It was inspiring to meet with teachers across the world that have the same problems you face every day, and to try to solve the problems together.”

The day the group arrived in Israel, they were taken to Neot Kedumim, a 625-acre Biblical Landscape Reserve. “As soon as we got off the plane, we went to the park to herd sheep, and that was a really cool experience,” said Lurie, 23. “They gave us some background on shepherds, and how herding related to the Bible, and they gave us some guidance. Then they asked us to lead the sheep to a big circle with a red flag in the middle.”

Lurie, who lives in St. Louis, grew up in Lansing, Mich. She had traveled to Israel before, but said this trip was very different. “I had shared my culture a little last year with my students, but now I have more pictures and artifacts to help me. I plan to do a presentation for my students about what I did this summer. They need to hear how many people are trying to make the world a better place.”

Henry grew up in Monroe, La. “I started in a rural school, where I was taking sixth-grade math when I was in first grade, through a gifted program. Then we moved to Kansas City, and I went to an urban school. Next I transferred to a suburban school,” she said.

Though Henry was an advanced student in Louisiana, she lagged behind in suburban Kansas City. “Experiencing three different districts gave me a perspective on the achievement gap,” she said. Those experiences inspired Henry to sign up with Teach For America.

“This is an opportunity to work with kids who are disadvantaged but have the desire to learn. They have not been given a fair chance,” said Henry. “If they could afford medicine or glasses or had a social worker, their lives would be different.”

Lurie and Henry both said they plan to incorporate into their classrooms here some of the team-building exercises and conflict-resolution methods they learned in Israel. Both expressed gratitude for being part of Teach For America.

“Everyone should do something like this,” said Henry. “It changes your perspective on education, on health care reform and on homelessness, and you see how all the social issues work together. You see what it takes to foster a child.”