The Center for Israel Education (CIE), founded in Atlanta under the direction of Dr. Kenneth W. Stein, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and tax-exempt entity established in 2008. The CIE evolved out of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel (ISMI), which was established in 1998. ISMI was the first permanent academic platform, center or institute for the study of modern Israel in the United States and focused on enhancing Israel learning on the Emory campus with visiting scholars, conferences with local Jewish organizations, and regular lectures. That same year, 1998, two middle school teachers from then Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy), Sally Levine and Tziona Zalkow, asked Stein to help them create a seventh-grade class on Zionist history and modern Israel. Using syllabi and source materials from his Emory courses, together they successfully designed a semester course for graduating seventh graders. The following fall, understanding the wider need, Stein offered a three-hour professional workshop for local Atlanta middle and high school teachers in which he shared content for teaching about Israel. Some dozen teachers attended.

Demand from Jewish educators grew for more Israel enrichment. In the early 2000s, he and colleagues offered larger and longer workshops at an Atlanta venue. The initial funding came from the Reisman and Zedeck families. Beginning in 2004 and continuing for five more years, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation joined, providing funding as well. They too believed in the idea of enriching educators with Israel content and pedagogic tools via in one-day workshops on modern Israel that ISMI and later CIE conducted in different cities across North America. Workshops focused primarily on middle school and high school grades, before increasingly engaging pre-K and elementary school teachers as well. 

By 2003, The Avi Chai Foundation of North America, under the leadership of Yossi Prager, began to underwrite the annual Israel educator workshops which ISMI had been sponsoring, thanks to connection made by Emory Religion Professor Michael Berger. The Avi Chai Foundation’s leadership initially preferred its funds be directed to day school teachers, headmasters, and curriculum development, but ultimately agreed to allow support for the one-week workshops to be used in include learning for congregational and supplemental school teachers, camp counselors and JCC staffs, in addition to day school educators. The combined learning of teachers with different skills and educational settings proved to be enormously productive in shaping new pedagogic tools and methods for delivering content.

In the early 2000s, after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising against Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, major colleges declined to insure students in their proposed study abroad programs in Israel. National Jewish organizations sincerely tried to take on the task of educating pre-collegiate Jewish youth about Israel, as a North American-centered alternative to experiencing and learning in and about Israel but found as we had that there was a shortage of educators and staff with academic experience in teaching modern Zionism and Israel. There was no shortage of educators who taught Jewish philosophy, Bible, Hebrew, the Shoah, but there were very few educators with classroom experience and sufficient knowledge of source material relating to Israel’s modern history and political evolution. At the same time, there were several national Jewish educational organizations like JESNA and JEA which afforded teachers annual opportunities to learn content and pedagogies in many fields of Jewish study. But these too on the whole did not focus on learning about Israel-related context and content.

From 2005-2011, Dr. Tal Grinfas-David from Portland, OR joined the ISMI staff and in 2017, CIE’s staff. Her dedication and drive broadened educator engagement. At the same time, she importantly implemented the use of innovative pedagogical and evaluative standards. The focus remained on Israel learning and steered clear of campus debates which ensnared other organizations and their staffs. 

Due to the success of CIE’s secondary school educator workshops that focused on teaching in Jewish schools, the natural decision was made to increase them from occasional meetings to annual workshops. In 2008, Emory University Dean Bobby Paul asked Stein to consider creating a separate entity to continue pre-collegiate teacher training in these educator workshops, while ISMI would continue its focus on the college campus. Thus, in 2008 CIE was established. From that point forward, CIE carefully remained focused on teaching content, context, and analyses. CIE took the view that in order to engage in advocacy, people first need to be taught the concepts that surrounded Israel’s evolution, to be grounded in the knowledge of Israel as a continuum in Jewish history. CIE strived to become “intel on the inside.” 

Dean Paul was particularly interested in ISMI continuing to recruit visiting Israeli scholars to teach at Emory, undertakings that began in 2003. For the college, to have additional faculty teach undergraduate courses without having to pay salaries for visiting professors made practical sense. Stein raised the funds annually for these visiting scholars. Thus, additional Israel-related courses were offered in numerous disciplines, and the visiting faculties would offer one or two other general courses to departments without cost to those Emory units. After two decades, ISMI had sponsored sixteen high quality visiting Israeli faculty who had taught 43 courses to more than 750 Emory students. The Dean’s recommendation proved wise both for ISMI and for the newly established CIE. When visiting Israeli faculty came to teach at Emory, CIE was also able to engage these scholars in occasional programs and annual educator workshops. Their contributions added additional views and disciplines to CIE’s growing reputation for reliable and trustworthy learning about Israel. And when the visiting Israeli scholars were in Atlanta and the southeast, they inevitably made public presentations to civic groups, the media, and local Jewish organizations.

Presenters in CIE’s annual five-day educator workshop or its occasional one-day workshops included local and national specialists in Israel education and content. A significant founding contributor to the early educator workshops was Abby Chill, a highly talented Israel studies teacher who taught at the American School in Herzliya. The workshops’ regulars from Israel also included Professors Uri Bialer and Reuven Hazan from the Hebrew University. External evaluators of CIE’s work gave these workshops their highest marks, including accolades pointing out that its work and staff undertook the most useful and substantive pre-collegiate work in Israel Jewish teacher and student education across the country.

As the years went on, CIE continued to add more content, increasing the size of its printed binders that annual workshop participants received, until the binders were too large for copy centers to bind in one volume. CIE took Avi Chai’s suggestion to put its material online. After several fits and starts, the present website was launched in December 2015. At launch it had 500 users per month. By the end of February 2022, it had grown to 38,000 users per week. 

Two of CIE’s key hires, Richard Walter in 2012 and Eli Sperling in 2015, each contributed their passion and knowledge of Israel by writing curriculum materials and presenting to Jewish and non-Jewish public, community and educational forums. As well, ISMI and CIE benefitted from dozens of students who assisted in developing materials used in the Emory classroom and later placed on the CIE website. Over the dozen years of operation, CIE steadily added significant content to the website. Today, CIE’s website includes over 2000 pages, not including timeline entries.

In studying modern Zionism and Israel we realized that access to excellent sources and scholarship was limited by them being in Hebrew or inaccessible to the general public. We understood that superb academic research was “locked” away in edited volumes that the casual learner know nothing about, or first rate articles could only be accessed with pricey fees from journals. CIE aggregated source materials not easily accessible elsewhere, and found foreign language readers were particularly interested in access to materials in native languages, hence we made items available in Spanish and other languages.

Once materials were discovered and assembled, we labored to create new and innovative learning products, such as Forming a Nucleus for the Jewish State: 1882-1947 This compilation, which includes 20 maps, a prose history, references to sources and appears in Hebrew, Spanish and English, has evolved into a central curriculum for high school and college teaching. 

CIE looked at other gaps in Israel learning and addressed them too. It unfolded a dynamic and still growing 1000 entry timeline of Jewish and Israeli history. CIE’s staff curates monthly contemporary reading lists. And the organization partners with national and international organizations and provides targeted learning for day school teachers, and teens.

Some examples: In 2013, CIE reached beyond the United States to engage teachers in central America. Teachers from Chile, Mexico, Panama and Guatemala joined our workshops in Atlanta, CIE staff undertook teacher workshops in Mexico City on three occasions. In 2016, CIE wrote an outline for AIPAC’s Foundational Curriculum on the U.S.-Israeli Relationship. In 2017, ARZA contracted with CIE to produce a 120-page book for youth and adult education use on the June 1967 war and how it changed Israeli, Jewish, and Middle Eastern histories; this publication continues to be used in more than a hundred congregations and institutions. In 2021, with RootOne, a Marcus Foundation-supported initiative that sends teens to Israel before college, CIE provided 28 one-hour content learning sessions for more than 3,000 teens; in 2022, CIE wrote four asynchronous 45-minute learning modules for the next batch of students headed for Israel in the summer of 2022. In early 2022, The Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs supported CIE work in expanding Israel content for day school teachers. Currently, CIE is partnering with the JNF to assist in the creating of curriculum for the Adult Zionist Education Center to be opened in Beersheba in 2025-2026. 

The Avi Chai Foundation continued to fund annual CIE workshops until it ceased all its grant-making activities in 2019. Without the early support of many small donors, the Zedecks and the Reisman families, and the Blank, Seslowe, and Marcus Family Foundations support of ISMI, and later, Legacy Heritage Fund, Ltd, and The Lisa and Michael Leffell Foundation, CIE’s successes would not have ever been possible.  While CIE’s talented small staff produces and conducts timely and regular Israel learning opportunities, CIE could with the availability of additional resources, and in a relatively short period of time,  double or triple its impactful reach beyond our successes to date.

CIE reached its successes because of the commitment and efficiencies provided by Diane Rieger and Heather Waters. Their dedication over the years to our work always presented ISMI and CIE with the highest levels of integrity and loyalty to fulfilling our objectives. CIE remains indebted to the early insights provided by Rabbi Daniel Allen (z’l) and its Board, whose members’ equal enthusiasm drives us our work relentlessly forward. 

Ken Stein, President

March 24, 2022