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Classrooms Without Borders

Program Overview

  • The cradle of Western Civilization
  • The birthplace of Monotheism
  • The geographical heartland of the Bible
  • A destination for billions of pilgrims
  • The nerve center of the current Middle Eastern conflict

Where history, archaeology, sacred scriptures, peoples, politics, morals and ethics are intricately, deeply and at times torturously connected, the Land of Israel has been at the crux of human consciousness and experience for millennia.

American educators and students often have opportunities to travel, to broaden their intellectual horizons, to interact with foreign cultures, to increase their knowledge. What makes the CWB Israel Study Seminar stand apart is our commitment to deliver a learning experience like none other. Participants on the CWB Israel Study Seminars interact with Israeli history, culture, politics and archaeology through a combination of intensive high quality study sessions and close encounters with change agents, educators, activists, community leaders, and Israeli citizens from all walks of life.

Classrooms Without Borders enables educators and students to:

  • Immerse themselves in the ancient world; accompanied by scriptural and historical texts as well as archaeological findings
  • Create a framework for understanding the geopolitical issues that Israel faces as the solitary democracy in a volatile Middle East
  • Access their own spirituality by exploring and observing a diversity of religious traditions
  • Examine the challenges to maintaining co-existence in Israel
  • Compare and contrast the American and Israeli democratic experiences
  • Nurture a professional learning community whose members can work together sharpening their educational skills in a variety of disciplines, while benefiting from each other's field of expertise.

An underlying assumption behind this seminar is the deep belief that educators who are teaching any aspect of the social studies courses available to students can benefit dramatically from an in-depth, study seminar to Israel. Teachers who engage in study seminars increase their knowledge base, learn how to integrate various disciplines into the classroom, expose students to ancient and modern realities from a first-person perspective and gain a greater appreciation of their subject matter. Further, the study seminar rekindles teachers' motivation, provides additional insights into the issues confronted and adds energy, vigor and excitement to classroom instruction. Ultimately, the teachers create a professional learning community who can tap into one another's expertise and to work together enhance teaching and learning in the social studies, language arts and other relevant content areas.

In advance of travel, teachers will engage in four pre-departure workshops that will focus on relevant topics designed to give them baseline knowledge and information to create context for the seminar

As a follow-up to the seminar, teachers will participate in tw0 workshops to share the instructional materials that they designed for their students and to further reflect on their experience. Teachers are eligible to receive 3 Act 48 Credits or 90 Act 48 hours of continuing professional education through Allegheny Intermediate Unit #3 for a minimal fee.

Teachers will also receive a Resource Book especially compiled for the seminar that includes timelines, maps, historical documents and statistics as well as thematic articles relevant to each day's activities. It also includes site specific articles that offer additional information that teachers can draw from as they develop unit and lesson plans for their students. Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel immerses teachers in the country and its culture. Through the seminar, Israel becomes an interactive textbook supported by the knowledge and skills of a highly qualified scholar and personal travel guide.

Although the seminar answers many questions often posed by students of geography, history, culture and religion, numerous other issues are raised in the course of the mini-lectures and follow-up discussions.

Some of the questions raised by this seminar include:

  1. How did a relatively small geographical area come to initiate and express key ideas expressed in the Bible thousands of years ago?
  2. Why has this region been the focus of conflict in modern times? What solutions are in the offing and what are their chances for success?
  3. What can we learn about our own Jewish/Christian/American identities through our interaction with a similar, but different Israeli society?

The major purposes of this seminar are to:

  1. Enable teachers to embark on an intellectual and physical journey into the core origins and elements of Western Civilization; its uniqueness, its growth and development over time and space.
  2. Grapple with the question of how human civilization developed and its connection to the Modern Western world.
  3. Examine the characteristics of general and Jewish culture, their cross-fertilization and interaction from the earliest times to the modern era.
  4. Learn firsthand about the causes and ongoing effects of one of the world's most implacable conflicts.
  5. Compare and contrast the United States and Israeli Democratic systems of government together with their common values.
  6. Compare how the United States and Israel have dealt with various modern problems such as the war against terrorism and the limits of power.
  7. Provide teachers with a framework of knowledge and skills to bring back their students through their classroom instruction.


Inside Israel Educators' Seminar

Educators 2014

Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel (overview)

Educators 2013

Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel (full movie)

Educators 2013

Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

Educators 2011

Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

Educators 2010

What our participants have to say...

I knew little about Israel before the study seminar. Thanks to the trip, I now have thousands of images and memories that begin to hint at the many Israels. Israel, like many places on earth, is many things to many people. We were exposed to present day realities from the many people we met and Avi’s thoughtful understanding of the past and present. In contrast to the historical Israel is the Israel of the present, prospering greatly economically and culturally, while suffering the pains of being on and off at war, we were able to see the everyday Israel through the eyes of the family we stayed with. We were touched by our hosts’ generosity and moved by their anguish at having their oldest son, a soldier, stationed in Gaza.

Barry Shields / Teacher / Penn State Greater Allegheny/University of Pittsburgh Greensburg
Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

When Dr. Tsipy Gur told me that I would be joining her on the Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel expressly designed for educators, I could not imagine the impact that it would have on me as a teacher of literature. As a religious studies minor in college, I took several courses that explored Jewish history and thought as well as the enduring questions of the Holocaust, courses which I found fascinating, challenging, and inspiring. But for me, current day Israel was an abstraction, a land that I only knew through newspaper headlines and brief clips of footage on CNN. As a result, I had developed a myopic understanding of Israel as a country filled with arid land and ancient cities brimming with war and conflict.

In the literature and writing courses that I teach, I constantly urge my students to move beyond simple explanations and categorizations of characters and plotlines. I aim to communicate the idea that great literature calls upon us to delve into the gray areas of life, to explore and analyze characters and situations from various vantage points in order to develop a fuller understanding of a person's motivations, desires, and actions. However, before leaving for Israel, I fell short of my own ideals. No matter what words of reassurance were offered to me by Dr. Gur and others at our informational meetings before the trip, I could not shake some of the biases that I held due my blind acceptance of the media's limited and simplistic portrayal of the nation.

Much to my surprise, Israel was nothing like I expected. Upon leaving Ben Gurion airport, I was shocked to see the rolling hills of green and the vibrant life of the holy city of Jerusalem and the modern city of Tel Aviv. As we boarded our tour bus for the first time, I resolved myself to explore the city with the depth of analysis that I expect from my students in their study of literature. I would try every food, visit to every site, and endure every challenge posed to me over the next few weeks. By the end of my tour of Israel, I accomplished everything that one could hope to on a first trip to the region. I explored Hezekiah's tunnels in the City of David and the labyrinthine streets of Jerusalem's Old City, prayed at the Western Wall, hiked the rocky fortress of Masada, floated on the Dead Sea, visited Independence Hall and studied the art of various museums. As a Christian I found it quite powerful to travel the footsteps of the historical Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane and then to the Sea of Galilee.

Under the guidance of Avi Ben Hur, a learned scholar and a captivating educator, whose love and respect for the country radiated throughout his detailed lectures on the historical sites that we visited, I became captivated by the richness of the country's history and the diversity of its geography. In particular, Avi intrigued me with his explanation of stratigraphy, a type of archaeology that focuses on the layering of rocks and sediment as a means for understanding historical progress and evolution. I ultimately saw this field of study as a key to understanding the history of Israel.

I began to see storytelling in a different light, as I witnessed how Israel's history was written in the layers of its architecture. In "Ecology of Jerusalem," a poem by Yehuda Amichai, who is perhaps the most renowned and beloved poet of Israel, the poet describes this phenomena in stating that "from time to time a new shipment of history arrives / and the houses and towers are its packing materials." Especially within the Old City, one can find various instances in which the architecture of Jerusalem's former Muslim rulers rests upon that of the medieval era which is piled onto that of the Herodian era. Viewing the interplay between these various styles of design, I wrestled with the question as to how literature could accomplish a similar effect. The knowledge imparted to me by Avi sent my mind into an intellectual frenzy, and after several days of the trip, my head was swimming with names, dates, graphs, maps, and ideas for integrating my experiences into my academic discipline. However, by the second week of the tour, I quickly realized that I had been predominantly viewing the country from a purely intellectual lens and that I had neglected the importance of the individuals who populated the city streets that I traversed. For that I would need to return to literature.

One of the few books that I took along with me to Israel was a collection of poems by Yehuda Amichai, which I had planned to read each day of the trip. However, as a result of the tour's rigorous schedule, I did not find time to return to Amichai's work until I spend the final weekend with a young family in Misgav where I celebrated Shabbat. On the final day of my stay, I came across the poem below, which spoke to me far more profoundly than any others that I had read.


Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel's Tomb and Herzl's Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.

Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David's Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there's an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!"
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
"You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."

Amichai's poem played an essential role in helping me to process all that I experienced during my two weeks in Israel. By the time I had arrived at the home of my host family for the final three days of my trip, my peers and I had visited nearly all of the locations that Amichai mentions in his poem. With our overstuffed backpacks, our embarrassingly large hats, our multiple layers of sunscreen, and our cameras constantly emitting flashes, we had "tourist" written all over our bodies, and we were dangerously close to being the subjects of Amichai's critique. However, as Amichai insinuates within his poem, among the myriad styles of architecture, the bustling streets, and those impressive rolling hills of Israel are stories of men and women just waiting to be told, and had we not taken the time to interact with those who have made this country their home—Arab and Israeli, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim— we would have returned to our own country as tourists with nothing more than pictures, souvenirs, and pockets full of unspent shekels. Instead, the conversations that we initiated with passersby as well as the final days that we spent with our host families and others gave us far more knowledge about daily life in Israel than any of the historic sites that we visited.

Take for example the story of Uri Shekalim, who currently runs a clothing store in the New City of Jerusalem. On one of our first night in the city, Dr. Gur took me to and a group of my peers to Ben Yehuda Street, the site of Uri's shop, which his family has owned for over fifty-four years. It was here that I heard of the region's trying history during the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising lasting from 2000-2006. During this violent period, Palestinian suicide bombers had attacked the store six times, yielding little to moderate damage. However, the seventh attack would have lasting effects on Shekalim and his family.

The seventh attack occurred at a time when suicide bombers had adopted the tactic of working in pairs. One would ignite him or herself in a store or a crowded section of the street, while a second would wait for emergency crews to arrive before detonating another bomb. On the night of the seventh attack, two terrorists had ignited bombs close to Shekalim's store. At the time, the only people in the store were Uri's father and brother and an American patron. When the first bomb exploded, Uri's father beckoned for his son and his customer to join him in a safe room located in the back of the store behind its three dressing rooms. While his son willingly obeyed, his patron panicked and ran toward the door. Uri's father, knowing far too well the methods of the suicide bombers, successfully wrestled the woman back to the safety of the room. There the three remained, nervously awaiting an end to the madness outside.

Unfortunately, no one had anticipated the third bomber, a man who had concealed himself in the crowded city street by dressing as a woman and grabbing the hand of a three year old Jewish girl who had been separated from her family in the confusion of the attacks. Luckily, the girl was able to break free from the man's grasp before he detonated himself in doorway of the Shekalim's store. The force of the blast had decimated the store's interior, burning all of the clothing on which the family made their livelihood. Surprisingly, however, Uri's family and the American woman's lives were saved by the protection of the middle dressing room wall, which bowed outward toward the storefront rather than blasting inward and killing those in the concealed room.

Uri told me and those who had gathered to listen to his story that he doesn't know if the way in which the wall collapsed was a miracle or simply an act of physics. However, no matter what happened, the damaged wall, which he and his family resolved to leave as the only part of the store unrepaired from the blast, serves to remind him that no matter how many bad days he might have, there is nothing that could come close to horror of that day.

I relate this story not because I wish to add to the stereotypes of the region as dangerous or unstable. Rather, I tell this story because I feel that it embodies the spirit of the nation. A strange dichotomy exists among the country's inhabitants. On one hand, the metal blinds and safe rooms that some families have in their homes symbolize the feelings of caution and reservation that many Israelis understandably experience. Yet, on the other hand, the people that I encountered in Israel reflected a zest for life and an openness that I found truly beautiful. While watching people laugh, sing, and dance in the streets of Jerusalem, I recall feeling a strong desire to return home a less reserved and inhibited young man. I felt the desire to speak with greater candor to my loved ones and friends, to teach my students with greater compassion and sincerity. Uri's story is at once a tale of tragedy and of the willingness to persevere and live life to the fullest. His story helps to me to understand why even after facing such destruction, people continue to frequent the swarming streets of Ben Yehuda street, which today pulsates with an nightlife that I can assure you cannot be found anywhere in Pittsburgh.

More than anything else, my trip reinforced my belief in the power of the story. Whether carved into the city walls or written within those who live within its borders, Israel is brimming with stories waiting to be told. It is our jobs as educators not only to present these stories to our students, but to explore, consider, and debate the questions that these stories pose. As with any great work of literature, the messages these stories proclaim are problematic, and it is only through embracing their challenges and peeling away their layers of complexity that we can begin to understand those messages and lessons embodied within.

Matt Bachner / Teacher / Winchester Thurston
Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

I came home feeling more connected to my history. Listening to Avi’s words as I was standing at Masada, the Southern Wall, and at the City of David – looking over the land, feeling the heat, thinking about how innovative my ancestors were, imagining how passionate they must have been; the stories and history that I learned since my religious school days became part of my identity instead of merely facts in my head. Seeing the rocks, at the museum in Masada, with the Hebrew names etched into them that were used to decide who dies first- made this piece of history so personal.

Merril Nash / Teacher / Beth El Religious School
Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

I was told that this Study Seminar in Israel would be life-changing. I now realize the true meaning of that descriptor, as it includes changing my knowledge of history, geography, and archaeology; my attitudes toward culture, personal narrative, and resilience; my ways of thinking about conflict, continuity, and trust; my ways of feeling about who I am as an educator, a Catholic, and an American – in short, changing the very foundation of my ground truths.  I truly experienced the mission of Classrooms Without Borders first hand.

Robin Newham / Teacher / Director of the Ellis Upper School
Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

Participation in the 2014 CWB Israel Study Seminar was a a tremendous privilege. It was fascinating to walk the Bible stories of my youth, to experience the cultural and political climate, and to meet with people from the various ethnic and religious groups of the region. The experience broadened my global perspective on the issues surrounding the Middle East and around the world.

Nancy Aloi Rose / Teacher / Superintendent, Bethel Park School District
Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel

Administrators benefit from the experience by gaining a broader understanding of cultural differences among students and their families. They gain greater insight and support for the importance of including multi-cultural curriculum in their schools. Travel abroad also provides opportunities for personal growth, leadership development, and cultural sensitivity which are vital skills for administrators.

Nancy Aloi Rose / Teacher / Superintendent, Bethel Park School District
Inside Israel: A Study Seminar to Israel