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The Latest From The Classroom, And Beyond

Marine education at Jerusalem’s new aquarium; milestone for Lauder Foundation in Europe; stifling free speech in Britain’s colleges?

Fish Stories For Israeli Students

Israeli schoolchildren will soon have a cool new field trip to take — and at the same time get an education about protecting their country’s unique aquatic habitats: the Red Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.

Education (as well as tourism) is one of the chief goals of the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium, a $28.5 million facility conceived as a separate all-weather attraction by the Tisch Family Zoo (aka the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo), the most visited paid attraction in Israel. (The aquarium is currently in a “soft opening” phase after the death of hundreds of fish acquired from local fisherman put a damper on the summer opening; fishing nets with a small weave were thought to be the culprit. The aquarium now gets its fish from breeding centers and fish farms.)

Shai Ben Ami, the aquarium’s director of education, said the facility has been developing programs for school children and other visitors that will be offered once the facility is totally up and running in a few months.

The goal, he said, is to tailor the tours to the interests and culture of the visitors, including ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs. The staff, which has strong ties to the Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem Education Administration, is also preparing tours related to subjects like physics, chemistry and geography.

“We recently hosted a group of geography teachers who want to prepare lesson plans before they bring their students here. Their tour looked at how beaches are created, the difference between sandy beaches and rocky habitats,” he said.

For a physics lesson, the tour might highlight how light travels through water and the fact that coral reefs, which are living things, need light to live.

A Bible-inspired tour will highlight not only which fish are kosher and why, but also the Bible’s many references to the sea and sea creatures, from Jonah and the Whale to the seafaring people of the Mediterranean.

Ben Ami said the aquarium has consulted with the zoo’s educational experts to create a program for children with special needs “because studies have shown that aquariums are really good for special needs kids, especially those who are hyperactive.”

Underscoring its mission to raise public awareness first and foremost among Israelis, the zoo’s CEO, Shai Doron, said: “Most people aren’t really aware that the Mediterranean is rich and beautiful and has elements under the water worth conserving. People always talk about the Great Barrier Reef or Indonesia and even the Red Sea, but not the Mediterranean. If we don’t know about it, we won’t have the motivation to conserve it.”

Until the facility is 100 percent operational, visitors are required to join a guided group tour. On a recent one, which included school-aged children and grandparents, our guide, Netanel, asked us several questions as we wended our way through the aquarium. Standing in front of a tank filled with mackerel, he asked us why the fish were gathered in one part of the tank, and what other creatures travel in schools, herds or flocks, and why.

The answer: for safety, but also because a group is more effective than an individual when it comes to finding food.

We learned that the diversion of water from the Jordan River (which feeds the Dead Sea) and the industries that extract salt and minerals from the Dead Sea have both depleted the sea’s water supply. Even though the Dead Sea cannot support fish or other living things, Netanel said, the fresh-water streams around the Dead Sea are vital to the region’s biosystem.

At the tanks devoted to the Red Sea’s gorgeous colorful fish, Netanel explained that what we were seeing was a replica of Eilat’s coral reef (the actual coral is protected), and then showed us the large tank where the staff will soon start the process of growing corals. He invited us to come back in a decade to see the mature coral CORALS in all their glory.

Despite the aquarium’s piecemeal opening, more than 40,000 people have already visited, including many groups from Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking schools.

Michele Chabin/ Jerusalem

New Strategies For Lauder Foundation

(JTA) — The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which funds Jewish educational programming in Central and Eastern Europe, is, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, considering new strategies to perpetuate and institutionalize its successes.

“Education is the one thing we can give to our children,” Ronald Lauder, president of the foundation, said at a November daylong symposium in New York for foundation professionals and Jewish community leaders from the United States and Europe.

Since its founding in 1987, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 young people have been impacted by Lauder programs, according to Josh Spinner, the foundation’s CEO. Among the institutions it funds in Europe are a rabbinical school in Berlin; Jewish primary and secondary schools in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Athens, Bulgaria, Warsaw, Moscow and Ukraine; summer camps throughout Europe; a business school in Vienna; and a Jewish gap year program for European Jewish high school graduates.

Lauder, a cosmetics magnate, art collector and Jewish communal leader, said he decided to establish the foundation 30 years ago when, as the U.S. ambassador to Austria, he realized while traveling around Europe that Jews were at risk of being lost to assimilation.

“I realized that the future of the Jewish people depended on one thing: Jewish education,” said Lauder, who is also the longtime president of the World Jewish Congress.

Thirty years on, Lauder is seeking ways for the institutions he has supported to become more self-sufficient. That is a particular challenge in Eastern Europe, where community members are not wealthy and where there isn’t a strong culture of local philanthropy. Lauder said he would also welcome other Western philanthropists getting involved in order to reduce the institutions’ heavy reliance on Lauder’s own foundation.

The symposium, “Jewish Schools or Schools for Jews: How to Get this Right,” was held at the Neue Gallerie, a museum Lauder founded on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Ben Sales/JTA

Free Speech Woes In The UK Academy

In a move that may have mixed consequences for Israel advocates on British campuses, a cabinet minister threatened to fine universities that prevent free speech.

Jo Johnson, the British cabinet minister responsible for universities, said last month that “no-platforming,” the policy of banning controversial speakers, is stifling debate and may incur fines as of April. That’s when a new regulator — the Office for Students — will have the power to fine universities that fail to uphold free speech.

“In universities in America and worryingly in the United Kingdom, we have seen examples of groups seeking to stifle those who do not agree with them,” Johnson said during a speech at the Limmud Festival of Jewish learning in Birmingham. “We must not allow this to happen. Young people should have the resilience and confidence to challenge controversial opinions and take part in open, frank and rigorous discussions.”

Some advocates of Israel have complained that supporters of the Jewish state or even lecturers who were born there are being denied opportunities to speak at some British universities. But other universities have been criticized for banning anti-Israel speakers, including those affiliated with terrorist groups.

In 2015, Yiftah Curiel, a spokesperson at the Israeli Embassy in London, warned in an op-ed for Times Higher Education the that “On Israel, universities are becoming discussion-free zones.” His op-ed followed a ranking of free speech prepared by Spiked magazine that points to self-censorship practiced by many British universities, with Israel as a frequent issue that has been deemed “too controversial” to engage with on campus.

In 2013, the University of Essex invited an Israeli embassy official to speak there; he was barred from speaking by students who shouted and behaved in a disorderly manner.

Universities have also censored anti-Israel rhetoric, as well as appearances by far-right activists and Holocaust deniers.

Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA/Birmingham, England

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