By Leah Garber and Sarah Koffler
Congratulations on welcoming a shaliach (emissary, ambassador or messenger; literally “one who is sent”) into your early childhood center! Shlichim (plural) are young adults from Israel who spend a year in American Jewish communities, usually just before or right after their army service. In JCCs, day schools, synagogues, and other settings, they represent Israeli life and culture and work with people of all ages and across program areas to enrich connections to their home country for individuals and families.
In partnership with you, shlichim will use personal experiences and knowledge to bring the land, culture, and people of Israel to life in the classroom. Their presence in your community will offer amazing opportunities to you and your students, your ECE, and your entire JCC.
Spending time in an early childhood center is an exciting opportunity for these energetic and enthusiastic young people, too. However, shlichim are not trained educators, and so we offer these 10 tips to help ensure a positive and meaningful experience for them, the students, and the whole community.
- Offer a warm welcome!: Often, shlichim are new to our communities and to North American life, as well as far from home and family. Consider meaningful ways to welcome them to the community.
- Provide an orientation: Before the first classroom session, give the shlichim a tour, introduce them to children and educators, and make sure they are comfortable with the ECE environment.
- Create a schedule: Particularly during the first few weeks, allow ample time for shlichim and the students to get to know each other through visits and observations. Building this familiarity will help ensure success when the shlichim begin to facilitate classroom activities.
- Model ways to engage an interact with children: For some shlichim, this experience will be their first spending time with young children. Following your lead will help them connect with students.
- Explain the basics of child development: Help your shlichim understand developmentally appropriate practices and age and ability differentiation in early childhood education. If feasible, consider translating part of the school’s handbook, including rules and regulations, for example, into Hebrew.
- Collaborate on programming: Offer suggestions about content and programming ideas, and encourage shlichim to do the same. Work together to ensure classroom interactions with students are engaging and meaningful.
- Account for cultural differences: Israeli and American culture are different, so it’s vital to provide guidance about what is appropriate to say and do with young children, not only around topics being taught and explored in the classroom, but also around physical contact—giving and receiving hugs and children sitting on adults’ laps, for example—and informal conversations between shlichim and children.
- Give your shalich time and space: It is a gift for students to learn and experience life through the eyes of Israelis, so be sure shlichim have adequate time and space to share their experiences, interests, and background in the classroom.
- Connect your shlichim with ECE families: Find opportunities beyond the classroom for shlichim to spend time with children and families in the community—to enrich their own experience and to dispel the loneliness of being far from their own homes and families.
- Have fun!: Shlichim in your J offer a wonderful way to form meaningful partnerships in the ECE among the young Israelis, educators, children, families, and the entire JCC community. Make the most of these opportunities!
Leah Garber is a vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem. Sarah Koffler is the early childhood education specialist at JCC Association of North America.