Ilana Ribak, the Judaic studies kindergarten teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, wants her young students to fall in love with Israel the way she did when she arrived from Ukraine at age 16. During her two-hour Imaginary Trip to Israel, students create their own teudat zehut (Israeli identity cards), board a pretend plane, and arrive in the Holy Land, where they "travel" with parent volunteers around stations representing the country. In Jerusalem, they practice engineering and construction skills by replicating the capital city in wood. At the Dead Sea station, they float objects in water and observe the results. They try to climb "Masada," do crafts at Eilat, eat Israeli food in Tel Aviv, and sing together at the Kibbutz station. When the children come back home, "they consider it the best day of their lives," says Ribak.
Mrs. Ribak, in her 12th year at Sinai Akiba and 24th as an educator, immerses her young students in creative language instruction that is both rigorous and playful. She teaches mitzvot, holiday traditions and history, the first book of Torah-Bereshit and basic Hebrew, including the alphabet, vocabulary and spoken communication. Mrs. Ribak involved the entire school in a lesson about the "missing dreidel," in which her students questioned faculty and staff in Hebrew as they searched for the Hanukkah toy. She mentors other primary grade teachers and leads tefillot and holiday celebrations like the Kindergarten Havdalah Program, filled with songs, dance, art and tradition. For the advanced Hebrew speakers among Sinai Akiba's fourthgraders, Mrs. Ribak creates complex enrichment programs blending language study with Jewish culture. These students perform plays in Hebrew during Hanukkah and Purim celebrations.
Mrs. Ribak brings families into her classroom, including Kabbalat Shabbat, where kindergarten students lead the Havdalah services with blessings, songs and dancing. At the model Seder, parents dressed in costumes read the story of Pesach and participate in a spontaneous play about the Exodus. It's all part of Mrs. Ribak's main goal, she says: "to raise proud Jewish people with a deep connection to their heritage, their community, and God."
Note: This biography was current at the time this educator received the Award