June 25, 2024
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Israel @ 75: Celebration and Exploration

This year marks 75 years since the founding of the modern state of Israel. Looking back, there is much to celebrate about the accomplishments of the Zionist movement and the tremendous growth and impact of the state of Israel. We’ve returned to the homeland of our ancestors, made the deserts bloom and built a thriving economy, and opened our doors to thousands of Jewish refugees from around the world.

At the same time, the past 75 years have also brought many challenges. While Mizrahi Jews were welcomed into Israel, many faced discrimination. Jerusalem and the Temple Mount today are often flashpoints for violence and controversy. While the Knesset represents the cornerstone of Israel’s democratic values in practice, protests now fill the streets as Israelis debate the ethics and legality of the suggested judicial reforms.

With this all in mind, what is the proper way to recognize Israel at 75 in our communities and classrooms? How might we observe the tremendous accomplishments of the past 75 years while still leaning into Israel’s complexities and asking the hard questions? How can we inspire young people to take pride in Zionism at a time when this identity has become an anathema and synonymous with oppression for so much of the western world?

I want to suggest an approach that showcases “celebration and exploration.” The concept of celebration and exploration, an educational vision developed by my colleague Dr. Noam Weissman, is one in which we can find moments to both inspire our students with the deep significance of 75 years of the Jewish state, while still exploring the many difficult challenges Israel faces today. It’s the approach that says, “yes, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.” This approach, which he has also called “goosebumps with complexity,” can help our students develop a mature love of Israel and see the country as an authentic place, complete with both moments of triumph and setback. The way Weissman described it, “Celebrating both the sublime and romantic aspects of Israeli history, as well as exploring some of the unsavory and challenging aspects of Israeli history, is what can provide a young person with a long-lasting and realistic relationship with Israel. Not only can our young people handle such a paradox in their identity development, but they seek it as well.1

As the senior director of Israel education for the Americas at OpenDor Media, I want to share how we are bringing this vision of celebration and exploration to the world in a practical way.

1. Harnessing the Power Of Social Media

Leading up to Israel’s 75th anniversary, OpenDor Media/Unpacked launched its #Israelat75: 75 years, 75 moments, in under 75 seconds series, which uses short-form videos to explore and celebrate the story of Israel. Running for 75 days leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut, on Unpacked’s expanding TikTok channel and Instagram feed, each clip is under 75 seconds and showcases the small acts of resilience and resistance that make Israel so unique. Filmed on location to give the audience an authentic Israeli experience, the experiential lens allows viewers to not just understand the issues, but connect with the people and the history on a deeper level.

Harnessing the power of social media, this series allowed us to impact a broad audience of our over 55,000 followers, reach millions, and address young people directly on their most used platforms, presenting clips that spark curiosity about Israel’s culture, history and diversity. These include videos on how many languages are spoken in Israel, the Altalena affair on location, and doing deep dives into Israel’s lesser known neighborhoods, balancing both the celebration and exploration aspects of 75 years of Israel.

2. Bringing Nuance and Complexity to a Broad Audience

We developed a three-part miniseries on our podcast Unpacking Israeli History, hosted by Dr. Noam Weissman, celebrating and exploring the story of Israel’s founding. This is an incredibly intensive, fun and historically researched three-part series on the six-month period between Nov. 29, 1947, when the United Nations voted in favor of both a Jewish and Arab state, and May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared the Jewish state. Throughout my time in Jewish education, I have found that most people conflate these two moments and do not know the difficult and tortuous moments and the challenging decisions that Israel’s founding leaders made. This podcast leans into these stories, discussing Plan Dalet, Deir Yassin and the Hadassah Medical Convoy massacre. While Unpacking Israeli History has been trending as the number one Jewish podcast on Apple each season, this miniseries is a special opportunity to do the deepest dive yet on one topic. Episode one is already out!

3. Supporting Educators in the Field

Often, teaching Israel can feel overwhelming, especially when striving to balance nuance and complexity with inspiring a meaningful connection to the state of Israel. Attitudes on Israel dovetailing with political affiliation, the emotionally intense tone of the conversation, and the reluctance to address difficult conversations due to potential repercussions among the parent body, philanthropists and broader community, are all reasons why educators might hesitate to bring Israel into the classroom.

The way we see it, avoiding teaching about Israel is not an option and we want to make sure every educator has exactly what he or she needs.

Through the Unpacked for Educators Collaborative, we provide the support, educational resources, and training for schools globally to confidently mark Israel’s 75th anniversary while still leaning into the complexities of the moment. Our “Yoms Film Festival” curates films and educator guides for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut that balance both celebrating Israel’s successes while leaning into the difficult questions. This includes films such as “Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin,” which examines the inspiring leadership yet controversial legacy of the former Prime Minister, and “When the Smoke Clears,” which brings to light the untold story of the PTSD suffered by injured soldiers.

We have also developed a Zionism Revisited curriculum, a 10-part video series authored by Gil Troy with accompanying educational resources that explores the movement’s history and achievements with all its complexities. By examining Zionism’s big ideas, this curriculum redirects the conversation away from politics and returns to its roots: not by whitewashing the story, but by digging deep, asking difficult questions and acknowledging the positive alongside the negative. Israel at 75 is the ideal time for these essential questions, including asking, “Can there be Zionism without Zion?” when examining Herzl’s Uganda proposal, and “Can you be Zionist and live outside Israel?” when discussing the legacy of Louis Brandeis. Ultimately, this curriculum guides our students to develop a richer understanding of Zionism’s legacy and the relevance it should hold for young Jews today.

Conclusion

While Yom Ha’atzmaut this year should be celebrated with tremendous joy and pride in 75 years of the state of Israel, we would be remiss in our educational responsibility if we did not also use these opportunities to discuss Israel’s complexities alongside its accomplishments. To be sure, time and place matters here, but we have seen how our approach empowers our students and community members with a strong sense of pride and historical consciousness, as well as investment in the work needed to bring Zionism and the state of Israel into the next 75 years. Let’s get to work.

Sarah Gordon is the senior director of Israel education for the Americas for Unpacked for Educators, a division of OpenDor Media.

  1. Noam Weissman, Celebration and Exploration: Why Good Israel Education Needs Both, The Lehrhaus, 2021.
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