In addition to seeing people’s minds and hearts open when attending Tag Meir’s teacher trainings, what made Tamar Rechnitz happiest this year is the addition of a second staff person to the organization’s education efforts.

“We decided to open two new programs and we knew we’d need more staff,” says Tamar, Tag Meir’s education director. “We wanted to reach teachers earlier with tolerance trainings and decided to open a program for religious education students. And we wanted to expand the pilot we did for religious Jewish and Arab teachers – one of our major accomplishments this year.  Starting in December, we will open these trainings in Jerusalem, Be’er Shev and Lod, all recognized for in-service training credits by the Ministry of Education.”

Tamar says she learned a lot from a failure this year. A Jewish-Arab teacher training Tag Meir wanted to open in the north didn’t get enough participants. One reason was timing, so the new trainings were advertised much earlier. The second lesson was that ads don’t work in the Arab sector and what is needed is the recommendation of principals or education supervisors, so she and her new colleague, Yaakov Folberg, met with every school principal in Lod to tell them about the program. The result: Three weeks before the training begins, 31 teachers, about half Arab and half Jewish, have registered. Working closely with the Ministry of Education was also a game-changer, says Tamar.

Accomplishments this year also include two trainings in Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva with excellent feedback from the participants. Tag Meir reached 100 teachers with their trainings this year and the teachers’ 3500 pupils. And because they make efforts to reach religious teachers, they are not preaching to the progressive choir but actually changing the way people think and feel, showing them that there is more than one Israeli narrative. About 40 per cent of the teachers participating in the trainings are “chardal” (national religious or the more conservative branch of Israeli religious Judaism) and Tamar would like to see that number grow, as well as to open a training in the north. She is proud of Tag Meir’s commitment to evaluate and to think anew before each training, rather than acting on automatic pilot.

Tamar set up an advisory committee of teachers who participated in the trainings to advise Tag Meir about future trainings, a step she feels helps Tag Meir to constantly improve and also empowers the teachers.

What is she most proud of this year?

“That teachers told me they registered for the course because they needed the in-service credits but found themselves waiting in anticipation for the next meeting and were sorry when it was over.”

In the future, she would love to see teachers who participate in her trainings lead trainings for other teachers in their schools.

Tamar talks with shining eyes of her visit to New Israel Fund of Canada in September.

“One night in Toronto, I was invited to drinks with New Gen of NIF Canada and I was amazed. People younger than me, just starting their professional lives, who don’t earn a lot and are still struggling financially, decided to do a giving circle and to give their collective funds to Tag Meir. I entered the room and they knew me. They knew everything about our work. I discovered a new community of Tag Meir! We’re here doing this field work and someone an 11 hour flight from here knows about it and supports it. I was very moved.”  

Upon her return, Tamar wrote a letter to the NIF family. Here are some excerpts:

“A room full of 300 people in Canada who gave up their free Sunday to come and hear about Israel. Team members spend weekends working on these events. They are all trying to make Israel a better place. Yes, it is possible to argue what is good, but the NIF community wants good for Israel and this fact cannot be challenged. To me, this is Zionism….

“I grew up in a religious family, in a settlement; it’s a big part of my identity and I’m proud of it. Accordingly, my values sometimes differ from other NIF partners. Not even once did I feel that there was no legitimacy to my opinions, or that I needed to hide my identity… On the contrary, I have always received full backing and encouragement to present reality as it is and to convey the complexity…

“The NIF is the only organization that supported Tag Meir from its first day and since then for the last eight years. There is no need to explain how rare this partnership is. But this partnership is not limited to the economic side. At NIF offices and events all over the world, I saw photos of Tag Meir activities. I saw pride in Tag Meir.”

Written and reported by Ruth Mason.

Read Part Two of Tamar’s profile