In December 2019, Daniel Seiden, headmaster at Pinewood Preparatory School, traveled to Israel along with 30 other educators from Charleston and other Partnership 2Gether South East Consortium Cities for an unforgettable experience. While there, he experienced home hospitality, professional development sessions, toured museums and shared in a truly meaningful experience. Read his thoughts on the program below.
I cannot thank the Jewish Federation of Charleston enough for this life-changing opportunity. This was my first experience in Israel and it surpassed all of my expectations. I returned home with a deep appreciation for my Jewish heritage and gained valuable perspective in my role as an educational leader.
This was the absolute perfect program for someone like me. Originally from Connecticut, I’ve moved south to be closer to my wife’s family. Living in Summerville for the last year, I have admittedly struggled to find a connection to my faith given the limited Jewish community in my area. Our school was fortunate to welcome Mr. Joe Engel to speak for Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2019 and that is when I met Rebecca Leibowitz Engel. When Rebecca told me about the program, it resonated with me on both a personal and professional level. I eagerly discussed the possibility with my wife, who is Catholic. Raising two children in an interfaith marriage has not been easy, and it sincerely meant a lot to have my wife’s support in pursuing this program. I was inspired to reconnect with Judaism and forge meaningful relationships with talented teachers in Israel.
My favorite part of the program was actually the greatest source of initial concern--staying with total strangers. I was completely out of my comfort zone in a household that was much different than mine. I could honestly say that my host family will remain friends for life. We’ve even been planning a trip for my Israeli counterpart to come visit my family here in South Carolina next year.
I absolutely loved the professional development that we experienced as educators. Visiting so many different schools and interacting with such talented teachers and students really inspired me. In my role as Head of School, I’ve been fortunate to share some of my key takeaways with our administrative team. I also plan to make a presentation at an upcoming meeting for the entire faculty and staff.
I get a bit emotional thinking about it, but Yad Vashem left a lasting impression on me. I’ve been to other Holocaust museums before, but the architecture, tone, and excellent guide at Yad Vashem made for a different experience. I have two young daughters, and at one point, I walked past an image that looked hauntingly similar to my two-year-old. I was simply crushed--the image instantly transformed the moment to something visceral, real, and personal.
Being part of P2G is an honor and a blessing--the program was chock full of substantive programming. When initially considering the program, I was admittedly nervous on a number of levels. I did not know what to expect and was worried about traveling such a great distance; not knowing anyone on the trip; and had concerns about the safety of the region (for what it’s worth, I was not uncomfortable for one second.) Any reluctance whatsoever should be cast aside; this trip provided rich experiences that transformed the person that I am.
As I shared during our trip’s final reflection, my primary takeaway is a deep sense of responsibility. While cliché, it really is true that Israel is a place that must be experienced to believe it. I came away as a major advocate and ambassador for this magical place. We have a responsibility to contribute to the Jewish community in a substantive way--be it our time, talent, or treasure.
The Educator Delegation is a program designed for all teachers, and just one of many that are part The Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2Gether program, which creates a living bridge between ten Southeastern Jewish communities and the Hadera-Eiron region of Israel. You may have met the Israeli educators who are working with our local teachers to bring Israeli culture to our children, the Israeli teens who are hosted by our families, the young leaders who study Jewish identity together with our young professionals. Thanks to this partnership, the future of Charleston’s relationship with Israel is stronger than ever.
To learn more about this partnership, and even how you can receive home hospitality in the region on your next trip to Israel, contact Erin Boynton at firstname.lastname@example.org