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Shoshi Becker: Pushing the boundaries of experimental Jewish education

CM 02/09/2021

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Shoshi Becker had no choice in her aliyah. Her parents, Norman and Anne Oster, decided to leave their native England and fulfill their dream of living in Israel. Shoshi was three years old and does not remember arriving three weeks before the Six Day War or her father being recruited to drive soldiers because he had a car, which was a treasured commodity at that time.
She’s grateful that her parents had the courage to join the Jewish people in their homeland.
“My parents were ardent Zionists and were invited to meet the Queen for some occasion. After this they said, now we met the Queen, we can leave for Israel,” laughs Becker.

She grew up with her three siblings in Ramat Gan and was active in the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement. Her parents insisted that their children speak English, which angered the young Becker, but served her in good stead throughout her adult life.
Already in high school, Becker knew what she wanted to do.
“I loved Jewish studies and was always thinking of ways to create more fun and interactive learning materials,” she says.
Becker continued this path when she did her national service in Bet Shemesh and at the Cheled – Center for Jewish Education – a Hebrew acronym standing for Education for Youth According to their Way – the first organization in Israel to develop experiential and interactive Jewish learning materials for secular schools.
“At that time, we were using slides and overhead projectors, but it was groundbreaking,” she says.

 THE MISHPACHA, (credit: Courtesy) THE MISHPACHA, (credit: Courtesy)

Becker went on to get her undergraduate degree in Jewish history and education at Bar-Ilan University and a graphic design diploma at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. This was followed by an MA in Jewish history, with a focus on women throughout Jewish history and their representation in religious texts.
By age 21, she married her childhood sweetheart Dubi, who she met in kindergarten. They live in Ma’aleh Michmash, near Jerusalem, and have four children: Arik, 29, married to Avital, Porat, 22, and 18-year-old twins Hod and Hadar, and two grandchildren, Malachi and Yuval.
While her husband pursued a career as an intelligence manager in the Prime Minister’s Office, Shoshi continued to innovate in developing interactive Jewish educational programs for secular schools. Eventually, she cofounded an independent company that served as an incubator for innovative learning methods.
When Rabbi Dr. Danny Tropper offered Becker the opportunity to be the Executive Director of the Gesher organization, she took it.
“This was an amazing organization that inspired so much creativity in teaching Jewish studies and Jewish identity,” she says. “Using multimedia, we trained over 400 Bible teachers and pioneered civics programs for the complex subject of Judaism and democracy.
“All of us, religious and secular, were driven to make Jewish education meaningful, approachable and participatory.”
BECKER WAS part of the team that founded Gesher’s Mediation Center, whose goal was to open the conversation between secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews in order to heal the growing rifts in society; much of which comes from misunderstanding and lack of opportunity to meet and get to know each other.
“The mediation skills I learned here are now part of my everyday life,” says Becker.
From 2003 to 2005 and then from 2012 to 2014, Becker and her husband served as shluchim (emissaries) in Woodmere, Long Island. During her second stint, Becker planned on studying toward her PhD. When she went to register her children at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, the principal said that he needed someone to create a program for learning Hebrew. He had heard about Becker and told her that she was exactly the person he needed.
She took his offer and developed a program for sixth to eighth graders with online learning that connected the Hebrew language and Israel with innovative technologies. When she returned to Israel she was approached to be the CEO of iTaLAM, an organization that is the leading global provider of blended Hebrew language and Jewish life curricula, primarily for Jewish day school students in grades one to five.
The original organization, TaL AM, was founded by four Canadian-based educators, Tova and Shlomo Shimon, Miriam Cohen and Drorit Farkash, who wanted to increase Hebrew literacy and connection to Jewish heritage and Israel. The Avi Chai Foundation was a major partner in this endeavor, and iTaLAM is now operating in 330 elementary schools, providing engaging, interactive, personalized and adaptive digital and print experiences.
“During COVID we saw a tremendous need for our programs as more classroom hours were spent in remote learning,” says Becker. “It was a game-changer for the teachers as the pupils were learning full-scale and the outputs were incredible. The support of the Azrieli Foundation was instrumental.
“We are now exploring the development and eventual roll-out of a new program for kindergarten children and for home learning with parents, and we are reaching out to partners to support this.”
Alongside her professional career, Becker’s family has flourished in Israel. The original nuclear family of her parents and siblings has now grown to the Oster’s tribe of 22 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
“My life journey has been blessed, first by the fact that my parents made aliyah and I was raised in Israel with Jewish values alongside openness to the wider world, and continued with my marrying a Sabra and together working on behalf of the Jewish nation and the Jewish people,” says Becker.
“My greatest joy is seeing my children grow up in Israel, doing significant army and national service and contributing to Israel, with the hope that my grandchildren will do the same, and that all will continue the vision and the heritage of my parents for generations to come.” ■
Shoshi Becker, 56
From London to Ramat Gan, 1967

Source: Jerusalem Post

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