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Amihai Bannett

Amihai Bannett with his children at a JNF park in Israel

Tamara, Elad and Noga Bannett in by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak

Former Principal of Winnipeg's Ohr Hatorah School, Rabbi Amihai Bannett, who now lives in Beit-Shemesh has become the Educational Director of Israel Connect, a program dedicated to developing two-way, long-term interpersonal connections between Jewish youth from around the world and their peers in Israel.

The Israel-Connect program is a program run by Melitz, an organization which  for over 35 years has been developing and implementing informal educational programs designed to connect young Jews to the Jewish people,  their heritage and Israel.

" The purpose of  Israel Connect is to enhance  Jewish identity and commitment to the Jewish people. The project twins young Jews from frameworks such as schools, university campuses and the IDF using the internet, video conferencing and face to face encounters. We currently works with 50 schools worldwide, including a number of schools and student organizations in Canada " said  Bannett, in an interview with the  Winnipeg Jewish Review.

Bannett, who lived in Winnipeg from 2001-2005, has a Masters of Education in Administration and Supervision from Loyola University in Chicago. He said that the possibilities of twinning up schools in Israel with  Jewish schools in various parts of the world are limitless.

" For example, on December 1, 2009, 10th grade students from  a school in Ashdod  participated in a video conference with their peers from the 10th grade in a school in Lima, Peru," Bannett noted.

The connection between the schools started in 2008 as an initiative by an art teacher in the Ashdod school, who previously  had served as a Jewish Agency emissary in the Jewish school in Lima. This art teacher contacted  Bannett and together they contacted  a  Hebrew  teacher,  at the Jewish school in Lima.

"I facilitated the connection between the schools, by developing educational programs together with the two teachers, in order to enhance the connection between the 10th graders in Ashdod and Peru," Bannett added.

The program developed enables the students from Peru to use the Hebrew language in its daily life context. The connection features correspondence using a website and video conferencing.

"This video conference was the first time that the students were able to see each other. For Channukah, both classes prepared videos and presentations about Jewish life in Israel and Peru respectively. Next December, the children from Peru will actually get to meet their Israeli friends in person and visit their twin school in Ashdod," Bannett said.

"One of the most emotional moments in the video conversation was when the Israeli students sang their twin school's anthem in Spanish, as a surprise for their friends, and showed them signs, which spelled out 'we love you and are waiting for you in Israel.' The principals were both excited to be able to utilize modern technology to connect Jews who are so far away geographically," Bannett added

According to Bannett, who has previously taught at a school in Ma'alot in Northern Israel as well as in Beit Shemesh, there is a cost for every connection of a pair of schools or groups, which is paid either by the groups themselves or by sponsors who are able to fund a connection.
Bannett, who served in the elite Golani Brigade and continues to serve in the IDF as a reserve soldier, is also involved in fundraising for the Israel-Connect project. Israel Connect also receives organizational and educational support from the Melitz team in Jerusalem

As Bannett said "Melitz's educational approach is characterized by a commitment to pluralism. We believe in empowering young Jews to take responsibility for owning and shaping their Jewish identity," he said.
Additionally, there is a new project being launched to connect university/college students from around the world with their Israeli peers, who are either IDF soldiers or students.

Bannett noted that there are two tracks to this program.

 "One is to connect immigrant soldiers and their IDF units with schools and university campuses from their home community. The second track will connect IDF units with their peer group on university campuses in the Diaspora. Next year, there will be a pilot for this program at Columbia University in New York."

Bannett will be coming to Winnipeg to visit this February and anyone who wishes to re-connect can contact him at [email protected].

Bannett and his wife Tamara, have three children: Elad, almost 13 ("Bar Mitzvah in March"), Nogah, age 11 and Renana, age 16 months.

Bannett said he is a reader of the Winnipeg Jewish Review, "I read the articles in it, every time I get the email."

For more information on Israel Connect, visit its website at

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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