April 14, 2024
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Israel Education and the Real World

During the past year, one of the hot topics on many Jewish education blogs and listservs was Israel education. Many questions were raised and many opinions were expressed on a wide range of issues relating to Israel education by many serious educators in the field. How much time should be devoted to Israel education? Should we focus only on modern Israel or devote extended serious study to the history of Zionism? How honestly are both sides of the Arab/Israeli conflict being presented? Should there be a semester or year devoted to the topic in high school? What role does partisan politics play in selecting the parameters of such a course? How are texts and sources selected? These are some of the questions raised, and there were many sound suggestions put forth.

All Modern Orthodox day schools devote some time to discussing Israel, especially around Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. How comprehensive, how unbiased, how balanced, and how contemporary these presentations are should be addressed by parents and school education committees. Who should teach this to our students—the rebbis and morot, or the social studies or history teacher? Which narrative is presented? Israel education, along with the Holocaust and Hebrew language and literature, is still a major lacuna in many schools.

I have been privileged to participate in the Salute to Israel Parade for many decades. I am particularly troubled by one aspect affecting all of our children as they begin their march up Fifth Avenue. Our children understand that there are many levels of observance in Judaism and many varieties of Jewish expression. They also understand on some level that hasidim, although they dress differently, share our core values and are often more stringent in their observance. How are they then able to understand the anti-Zionist vitriol expressed by the Neturei Karta and their ilk at the start of the parade route? Sure, they know there exists anti-Israel sentiment by Palestinians and some Arab countries. But Jews? Religious-looking Jews? Jews with signs proclaiming the perfidy of supporting Israel based on Jewish values?

This has to be very confusing. In any honest discussion about the ongoing conflict, they may be taught or they may read in the press that there are those who oppose the settlers or the treatment of the Palestinians at the hands of the IDF. But religious-looking Jews opposing the entire Zionist enterprise?

I am sure parents discuss the Arab/Israeli conflict at home and kids pick up things here and there. Does anyone ever discuss the Neturei Karta? Granted, they are a fringe group whose volume exceeds their number. Ordinarily they would be ignored as are many fringe Jewish groups around the world. However, our children are confronted by this rabble every year at the parade. Do the schools even debrief them on this experience? Are any kids ever traumatized by this exposure?

The reality of the contemporary world vis-à-vis Israel will soon enough descend upon our children as they enter college. It may be a bit early for them in the elementary and high school years. How are we preparing them?

By Wallace Greene


Dr. Wallace Greene was one of the early participants in the Israel Parade starting in the early ‘70s.

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