By BERNIE BELLAN
Elsewhere on this website we have a story about an interesting new partner-school program developed by an organization called OpenDor Media. The name of the program is “Unpacked for Educators”. To review what was in that story – in case you didn’t see it, the aim of the program “is to strengthen Israel education in Jewish schools around the world.
"This international community will be at the forefront of digital education, working together to create a shared language for how to teach about Israel. If you’re not familiar, Unpacked for Educators, a division of OpenDor Media, is a leader in digital education and innovation for Israel and Jewish content. The educators in the program will receive complete access to OpenDor Media’s powerful and unique video content to professional development, networking and expert support.”
At the time we ran the story, however, we had no idea that one of the key individuals behind Unpacked for Educators is none other than Avi Posen, formerly an educator at Gray Academy who is now living in Israel, which is where he and his wife, Illana (Minuk), made aliyah last year.
The day after the story appeared I received a phone call from Avi, who explained his connection to Unpacked for Educators. We had run a story by Myron Love about Avi and Illana last November, in which Myron wrote that Avi was about to begin a new position as “assistant director of Education for Jerusalem U, a Jewish/Israel education digital media company based out of the old city of Jerusalem.”
During our phone call Avi asked me whether I’d be interested in finding out more about Unpacked for Educators and his role in that organization. That led to our having a lengthy Zoom call on Wednesday, August 12, in which Avi gave me a much more complete overview of what Unpacked for Educators is all about.
The Unpacked for Educators website gives this description of Avi’s background: Avi Posen is the Assistant Director of Education at OpenDor Media. His focus is on content creation and exposing Jewish educators around the world to our Unpacked for Educators materials. Avi has worked as a Judaic Studies teacher, Hillel Director and Jewish camp director. He holds a Masters in Jewish Education from Yeshiva University in New York.
We began our conversation by clarifying just who it is for whom Avi is working. As Myron noted in his story, Avi began working for something called “Jerusalem U”. In January, however, “we rebranded to ‘Open Dor Media,’” Avi explained.
“Within Open Dor Media we have different brands,” he continued. “We have our ‘Unpacked’ Youtube page, we have ‘Imagination Productions’ films, and we have ‘Unpacked for Educators’, and I’m the assistant director of education working with Unpacked for Educators.
“What we essentially do,” Avi explained, “is we take all the videos and films about the Jewish people that we produce on a weekly basis, and we create educational resources for them, and we get them out to the Jewish world.
“On a monthly basis we have thousands of Jewish educators from all over the world that utilize our resources, and we send out a weekly email breaking down Jewish current events, why it matters – from different perspectives, and how to teach about it.
“We have 2300 Jewish educators subscribing to that (service). Rabbi (Jonathan) Sacks was our 2,000th subscriber about a month ago.
“All the work that we do is free. We’re not selling it.”
Avi went on to say that it’s very easy to persuade educators to subscribe to what Unpacked for Educators offers because “not only is it free, it’s a high quality, nuanced resource how to teach about Israel…in a way that’s asking really tough and interesting questions.”
Avi referred to my own article in the August 5 issue, noting that I had written that 50 different schools were now subscribing to the Unpacked for Educators program in seven different countries. He said that one of the goals of the program is “to get feedback from both teachers and students about our content, how they feel about it, how it impacts them - so we give them surveys twice a year.
“We provide them with monthly webinars, we bring in experts in the field, we create programs for them so that we can have a teacher from New York, a teacher from Winnipeg, and a teacher from somewhere in Israel. It’s very cool – we have all these educators from all around the world – and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They don’t have to debate with their colleagues or their students how to present controversial subject matter.”
I asked Avi how exactly the material is presented on the Unpacked for Educators website – thinking that one would need to have permission to access the materials about which he was speaking. But, it turns out, anyone can look at anything on the Unpacked for Educators website. ().
Avi invited me to browse through some of the materials on the site, which I did following our conversation. He mentioned that the materials include a five-part series about “settlements” and he invited me to watch any of the segments following our conversation.
I decided to watch a segment titled “Palestinians of the West Bank | Settlements Part 4” (available at https://unpacked.education/video/palestinians-of-the-west-bank-settlements-part-4/
Underneath the title of the video was the following caption:
“Episode IV of this miniseries focuses on the Palestinian perspective on settlements. It’s based on articles and first-hand accounts that paint a picture of what life is like for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, exploring both the history of the conflict and modern-day issues. The video expresses one of our core goals, which is to cultivate a passion for Zionism and Israel without sacrificing empathy for the other. Use this video and the prompts below to help your students develop empathy for people on every side of this challenging conflict.”
(I watched the 12-minute video and was very impressed by how balanced the material presented in the video was. While I wouldn’t say it was sympathetic to the Palestinian perspective, it certainly didn’t shy away from delving into the underlying causes of Palestinian resistance toward Israel. The video even went into some detail about different interpretations of the term “occupation” as it applies to Israeli control of the West Bank. This is hardly the kind of propagandistic approach that one might expect from an organization whose ostensible purpose is to “develop Israel education curricula” – and I say kudos to “Unpacked for Educators” for daring to provide a balanced approach when it comes to providing educational materials about Israel.)
In addition to videos the program provides suggestions for discussion. As Avi explained, the program has “been developed by educators for educators”. It’s meant to save educators the trouble of having to prepare lessons on their own, which can be time consuming and quite difficult to do when it comes to teaching about Israel in a way that can grab modern students’ attention.
Avi noted that coming up was going to be the first “webinar for over 50 educators from schools all over the world. As far as we know it’s going to be the first time that an international cohort of Jewish schools and educational institutions are getting together in one place - collaborating and sharing resources, going through professional development together, creating this network and shrinking the world of Jewish education.”
I asked Avi whether the program “is aimed at high school students specifically?”
He answered that “it’s a good fit for middle school, high school…there’s Hillels that use it, there are adults that use it.”
He also explained that the website is divided into categories indicating which materials are designed to be used by specific age groups.
I asked how Unpacked for Educators is funded?
Avi said: “We’re entirely funded by donors. There are Jewish federations, different foundations, private donors…from all over the political spectrum.” He added that anyone wanting to donate could go to opendormedia.org, which describes itself as a “a non-profit foundation that reaches out to unaffiliated and marginally active Jews, as well as to non-Jews who are part of the Jewish family through marriage to a Jew or through Jewish ancestry, aiming to increase their participation in Jewish learning and culture.”
Speaking of someone who is married to a Jew, I mentioned the similarity between Kamala Harris, the newly selected Democrat Vice-Presidential candidate in the U.S., and Annamie Paul, who is vying to become leader of the Green Party in Canada. I told Ami that here we have two Black women, both lawyers, both married to Jews (and in Annamie Paul’s case, also someone who has converted to Judaism).
Avi immediately responded to my referring to Kamala Harris and said that Unpacked for Educators has already created a video focusing on her and the notion that she is “pro Israel”. He said that, rather than taking a position on Kamala Harris – and whether she is pro-Israel or not, the video provides footage of Harris speaking on the subject of Israel – without being an “op-ed” about her.
“What does ‘pro-Israel’ even mean?” Avi wondered. “Kamala Harris supports AIPAC, yet she was for the Iran deal. Do you interpret those positions as being pro-Israel? How do they fit within your categorizations of what it means to be pro-Israel?”
“The plan eventually is not just to cover Israel,” but to expand to examine Judaism as a whole, Avi noted.
I told Avi that the reason I wanted to do a story about what he’s doing with Unpacked for Educators is because so much of how schools are going to be functioning come September is still so uncertain.
Will students be continuing to rely on online educational tools to a much greater extent, for instance? If so, I said to Avi, what he and others with whom he works at Open Dor might find that what they are doing in terms of providing relevant and interesting educational material about Israel that can be accessed online will be in far more demand than what might otherwise have been the case.
“I’m speaking to teachers all the time who are all over the place,” Avi agreed. “Yet, compared to four months ago when everyone was scrambling – all over the world” to come up with new ways of teaching, “definitely there are now plans in place.”
“I’ve been speaking with educators in South Africa and Australia” - where school has been ongoing, “and it’s complicated – where half the time students are in class in school and half the time they’re learning online.”
“When corona started our website blew up,” he says. “Before corona there were still thousands of educators accessing the website and using the resources – and loving it, but once corona started, they realized not only would they use us when they wanted to – they needed us because having to switch all your teaching to online, especially when some of your teachers are not tech-savvy, makes your job a lot easier.”
So, with a creative and open-minded team turning out a steady stream of content about Israel that Jewish educators around the world will be able to access, Unpacked for Educators couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time – especially when the entire process of education is evolving so rapidly. And Winnipeg’s own Avi Posen is right at the forefront of what has become a hugely popular tool for educators in Jewish schools around the world.