I’ve recently returned from an invigorating educational sojourn in the Holy land, where I attended a conference with the a keen group of smiling academics and school teachers.
Below are three models we discussed for teaching Israel.
Option Aleph) The Classical Zionist Approach
The ‘evil goyim’ tried to kill us throughout our history, from Shushan to Chmielnitski and Kishinev (they were cities before they were pogroms). They killed us in the present generation, Shoah, because the diaspora is doomed (France, Argentina), therefore Aliyah for all is the only answer. Our role models should be those who die for the homeland like Trumpeldor, Eli Cohen, Yoni Netanyahu.
Proponents: Theodore Herzl, Tuvia Book, The Palmach Museum
Option Beit) The Religious Zionist Approach
The first Olim were not the Hovevi Tziyon in 1882, but Avraham Avinu who was on the first nefesh be nefesh trip from Ur Kasdim to Cannan in 1700BCE. Since then, all Jews have wanted to return, but didn’t ’cause they were waiting for mashiach. These folks decided its time to stop waiting. Israel is “reshit tzmichat geualteinu,” If only we can occupy the entire biblical moledet.
The religious Zionists (orange camp) were very upset with Gaza disengagement last year. We watched a video that made us cry. It showed the pain of the 0.5% of Jews who had to leave their villas and featured not a single one of the 99.5% of the Palestinians who suffered under this occupation for 39 years.
Proponents: No hard-core representatives of this group addressed us.
Option Gimmel) The Peoplehood (yes, it is a real word despite my spellchecker thinking otherwise) Approach
Jews live all over the world and we each have amazing stories to tell that we can learn from. Students should feel they are Jewish citizens of earth, rather than exiled spectators to the main event, which is Israel. The centre of the Jewish world has moved from Cannan, to Babylon, Cordoba, Mainz, Kairwan(Tunis) and now to Israel. It will keep moving as Jews keep moving. Our role as educators is to have students “connecting with community.”
Proponents: Steve Israel, Dena Thaller
Some say that the Centre for Teaching of Jewish Peoplehood at TA University, may be the Yad Vashem of the next generation.
Each model has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. But as was said many times, “the medium is the message,” which means HOW you teach Israel is just as important as WHAT you teach.
Finally, there are so many sweet tidbits of goodness going on in Israel that few people are aware of, like the Sapir Academic College in Sderot that provides an education and a better future to the olim from places like Chechniya. Like Rabbi Motti-Bar Or, whose amazing organization Kolot changes the perception of Limmud Torah being only for the datiyim, and returns, as God did at Mt Sinai, the ownership of our scared texts to the entire Jewish people (females and secular included). Like the thousands who watched the World Cup final on a warm Tel-Aviv Beach and cheered for Italy because they are LESS anti-Semitic.
Like the Ma'ale School of Television, Film and the Arts, which is providing an avenue for the young religious to raise questions that have been condemned by an earlier generation.
Like Dr Tova Hartman, who is challenging the models of negative identity by which we have so long perceived ourselves, like Rav Binyamin Lau, who has moved from Hitnatkut (Disengagement) to Hitchabrut (Connection) in reaching out to the Jews of greater Judea and Samaria. And finally, like Robbie Gringlas, who "shlectures” about us having a mature relationship with 58 year old Israel, warts and all, that can be filled with anger, tears, laughter and song. Shkoyach to you all!