Meet JLW: Vavi Toran, Israel Education and Arts Specialist

Vavi Toran headshot.jpg

What is your name, title and role at Jewish LearningWorks.  How long have you worked here?
My name is Vavi Toran, I am the Israel Education Specialist and I’ve worked here for fifteen years, not continuously.

Where do you live and what do you like about your neighborhood/community?
I live in San Francisco, in the now trendy NOPA neighborhood. I loved the neighborhood when I moved in with my family close to thirty years ago for its diversity and urban grunge, and I love it now because it’s cool, young and buzzing with activity, great cafes and restaurants.


Tell us a little bit about your journey - what did you do before you joined our team?
I was raised in Israel in a bohemian artistic family and I was always involved with arts & culture or with education or with both. My life and work journey was inspired by these two passions. I dabbled in graphic design, furniture design, ketubah calligraphy and paper cut, teaching, and finally found my niche combining my love for art and my love for Israel as an educator. At Jewish LearningWorks I found a home that allows me to pursue both as an integral part of our philosophy of what constitutes high quality, multi faceted, experiential Israel Education.

What excites you about your work?
I’m excited when I hear and see how educators and students are impacted by the work we do. I also get excited when, in the course of my planning for a new workshop or creating a new resource, I discover things that I didn’t know about or make connections that I didn’t make before.

Describe a time that you really felt like you/your work made a difference.
It happened last week. I was invited to dinner with three local educators and two who are visiting from Israel. It suddenly dawned on me that I had, in one way or another, an impact on them, their school and their students. The two Israelis are teachers from the Democratic School at Eynot Yarden in the upper Galilee. Twelve years ago the Israel Education Initiative, whose founding director I was, initiated a school-twinning program that matched schools from Israel and the Bay Area. This collaboration is still ongoing for this school and several other local schools. Another teacher sitting at the table was using Apartment for Rent in her classroom this week - a program we started as Classic Israeli Tales, with a Puppet Show set created by Peter Olson. And the last connection was a Head of Judaic Studies, whose Jewish Day School is one of the pilots for On the Map program, which I created two years ago. I had a wide smile on my face while eating delicious Chinese food.

All of this and much more was accomplished in partnership with my beloved former colleague and brilliant Israel educator,  Ilan Vitemberg.

Describe a time that felt really challenging for you.
Israel education is challenging by definition. I welcome this ongoing challenge as it keeps me on my toes and pushes me to find different ways to present it and teach it.

Can you share something you are particularly proud of?
I just found out that I am being honored for my contribution to Israel Education at the upcoming  Yom Ha’atzmaut Community Celebration at Congregation Emanu-El, as one of seven torch lighters. I am humbled and excited that my work is being appreciated by our community.

Tell us something that might surprise us.
My real first name, as it appear on my passport, is Avishag. It’s a biblical name. Avishag was a young woman from Shunem, distinguished for her beauty. She was chosen to help King David in his old age. One of her duties was to keep the King warm in his bed. Well, it was cold in Jerusalem in the palace with no central heating! I usually refer to my namesake as the biblical version of the electric blanket.

What are you reading (and what would you like to share about it?)
Nili Mirsky, brilliantly translated the book I am reading, Fierce and Beautiful World by Andrei Platonov, from Russian to Hebrew. Laureate of the Israel Prize for Literature, Mirsky recently passed away in Israel. I am reading the book to honor her memory.

What do you want to be remembered for?
Since I don’t take myself too seriously... for my joie-de-vivre and for my great taste in shoes.