An Israeli classroom
An Israeli classroom. Photo by Nir Kafri
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The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAI) is set to launch a international virtual school network later this week, in an attempt to bolster ties between Jewish students around the world and Israel.

At first, the prestigious project will be based out of the 200 existing school twinning pairs of formal and informal schools in Israel with "twin" institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Western Europe, Russia, and Turkey.

Present school twinning ties operate as independent educational endeavors geared at establishing Jewish identity as part of the Partnership 2gether program, which is funded by the Jewish Agency.

However, the JAI intends to double that amount as soon as next year, and expand the project to other countries and Jewish communities who have yet to be exposed to the twinning initiative, whether over budget issues or technological obstacles, via an extensive network that would be installed for that purpose.

A unified selection of educational programs will be consolidated that will meet the educational standards the JAI will set.

According to the method currently in work, with the twinnings established in the last decade, the programs were adjusted to the Jewish-Israeli cultural milieu, with programs such as Shorashim ("Roots"), in which students and teachers instruct their peers abroad how to design a unified event ahead of seventh graders' Bar Mitzvah ceremonies.

The programs, which were budgeted by the JAI as well as the several Israeli local councils, were incorporated as an integral part of the school day, with others delivered in the afterschool hours. They were approved by an administrative team formed by overseas community volunteers and their Israeli counterparts, who were occasionally aided by educational officials or private consulting firms, and were mandated to determine the curricula.

However, there is a possibility that some of the programs may be cancelled following the network's formation, with the incorporation of the JAI's standards.

Participants in the program, both in Israel and abroad, will determine the curriculum their interested in from the new database, later opening virtual teachers' lounges in which educational professionals from around the globe can consult with each other and use shared databases.

In addition, a new training center will hold conferences every two years to enhance educational professionals from Israel and Jewish communities abroad, as well as to bolster personal bonds.

According to Andrea Arbel, Director of the Jewish Agency Partnerships Division and the project's initiator, the intention is not to lay the groundwork for JAI schools to be formed around the world, adding, however, that she would not discount such an idea.

"We’ve noticed that one of the most prominent recent developments are inter-school programs, conceivably out of a desire in the Jewish communities to connect their younger generation to Israel," Arbel said, adding that the twinning will bring together students and teachers from Israeli schools and kindergartens to "prestigious private Jewish schools" in the United States.

The program will also tie after school programs which include students who cannot always afford to send their children to private schools.

"When those existing 400 schools understand that they're part of something larger and important, part of a network, it will already support our goal," Arbel said, calling it a "dream coming true."

Meanwhile, 350 new immigrants are due to arrive in Israel to light the first Hanukkah candle, in a aerial convoy of 16 flights organized by the JAI in cooperation with the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization.