When We Teach Israel, There’s Often a Gap 5

welcome to israel.jpgIn honor of Israel’s 60th birthday, we’re going to be taking some space in the TAPBB to talk about some real Israel issues. This is the first in a series of essays about how Israel fits into the school curriculum.

by Joel Grishaver

For the past couple of years, we’ve been thinking a lot at Torah Aura about Israel curriculum. In a number of our discussions and brainstorming sessions, we’ve come up against something that we like to call The Gap.

The Gap doesn’t sell jeans. (That’s a different Gap.) Our Gap is about how American Jews think about Israel.

American Jews seem to have only one of two opinions about Israel—and the gap makes designing material on Israel and teaching Israel difficult.

Opinion One (the Extreme Zionist Position) is that Israel is completely right, the Palestinians are unreasonable, and every Jew and the full force of America should relentlessly support the Jewish State.

The Other Opinion (The There is more than Enough Blame to Go Around Position) is that Israel exacerbates the possibilities for peace as badly or almost as badly as the Palestinians.

The problem has been that people who believe that they need to support Opinion One have been writing curriculum and teaching Israel to students whose families mainly hold Opinion Two.

The upshot of this gap is that we often teach a “perfect” Israel (that one must love) to students who later (a) watch the news, or (b) talk to other kids and wind up saying, “In Hebrew School I was lied to about Israel.”

To balance on this double-edged sword an Israel curriculum has to do two things. First it has to model love for Israel through the way it covers the subject. This is not a social studies text; it is a family history. Second, one must admit that Israel struggles with problems.

One need not solve the unsolvable. But students need to know that Israel struggles with the Palestinians, with poverty, with water shortages and the like. Admitting problems doesn’t sever connections.

We all have family problems and yet we remain family. Our relationship with Israel needs to be the same.

American Jewry’s Israel once was rooted in the myth of the halutz (pioneer) who through hard work and ingenuity turned swamps into farm land and made the desert bloom. Those were and are true stories. But today, it is also the story of a leading Israeli Arab soccer team who needed funding from the Emirate in order to have a stadium in which to play. It is also the story of an eighteen year old soldier who persons a check-point always afraid that the next person in line could be a suicide bomber. And it is also the story of the people in line whose anger builds as they wait hours to get from their home to their fields that are on the opposite side of the protection barrier.

Israeli politics are complicated and with fifth and sixth graders we need not unpack in great detail the complexities, but we must leave behind the truth that there are glorious things in Israel—and problems, too. Classically, the Israel curriculum was some kind of mock trip to Israel, visiting Her city by city, region by region. We need to make our Israeli travel simulation more realistic, doing just what real tourists to, seeing the wonder but also being exposed to the difficulties. If we do this, we present a durable Israel that can be both a personal connection and hold up to CNN realities, too.
Joel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel Grishaver

About these ads

5 comments

  1. You raise interesting matter. After I red and give some thoughts about the points you raised I tend to keep supporting your “Opinion One”, the Extreme Zionist Position which is still the truth although “extreme”.

  2. How about this for Opinion Three:

    In addition to being a beautiful, exciting, fascinating, and often exasperating country, Israel is also a microcosm of all the problems faced by humanity anywhere in the world. As a result, in Israel, more than in most places, one is put to the test along a broad spectrum of issues that challenge Israel’s collective humanity. (Perhaps that is a way to think about what it means to be chosen?) Often there is disagreement about what is the right thing to do. Sometines Israel is challenged and found wanting, but always the process continues. It is a soul- and mind-altering environment, where the only constants are questioning, confusion, and (hopefully) at some point the compassion that arises from recognizing the humanity of the Other (and there are lots of “Others” in Israel along ethnic, religious, and political lines). The Tanach enshrines all of these only-too-human challenges, tensions, successes and failures magnificently. That’s why it has stayed on the bestseller list for so long, despite — or maybe because of — inspiring several major motion pictures. (No one ever says about the Tanach “I’ll just catch the movie version.”) And guess where all the best action in the Tanach takes place? And guess what: it still does.

    That is why our army — warts and all — is still head and shoulders above any military force that has ever faced similar circumstances, in all its imperfect morality. That is why mature reservists are placed with 18 year old conscripts at West Bank checkpoints to be the “designated adult” and try to make sure that the necessary evil of checkpoints is not more evil than is absolutely necessary. That is why Israel’s Arab citizens share in the national pride at Israel’s humanitarian aid around the world, even though their civil rights are still imperfectly honored at home. That is why Israel’s hospitals admit people from enemy countries and make sure they are cared for by Arabic-speaking medical personel. Our teachers can, I’m sure, make their own contributions to the list.
    Shabbat Shalom,
    Peter

  3. This makes so much sense. It’s important to help our students create an integrated Jewish lens to help them understand the world. What’s true for them in their Jewish classroom should hold up in the secular world also. I agree that framing study of Israel as “family history” is quite helpful in that regard. It will help students face the difficult realities of modern Israel without having to disconnect. When we’re young we are often so concrete in our thinking,seeing things in black and white, quickly accusing others of hypocrisy or worse. But most of us know from our youngest experiences in families that we don’t always live our values (siblings fight, we all lose patience and use hurtful words or act out sometimes). But we are still part of the family and can learn, sometimes agonizingly slowly, to do better. In a strong family we can talk about these things without being afraid of being kicked out. Mind the gap!

  4. I appreciate drawing our attention to “The Gap”. Teaching about Israel is as challenging as teaching other content areas that force students, first to accept and then to understand, such as Torah, Avodah, and The Holocaust. I use the analogy of the relationship of child to parent. A child can deeply love their parents, even if they are deeply flawed. The child is forgiving of parents’ mistakes. That said, most of the time the relationshjip remains intact through the years. Occasionally there is no forgivenss and the ties are severed. In my classrom my students know I have an undying love for Israel. I approach the problems and issues in Israel (4 -6th grades) by stressing the desired goal of peace. To get to peace, what must Israel do? What wrongs must be righted.

  5. I heartily agree with your thoughts! You are so right! Kids need truth. They need to have all sides presented to them, and then we must help them formulate ways they can enter into intelligent discussions with people who are confrontational. My students (also 4-6th graders) know how much I love Israel. I bring them all sorts of ways to connect with Israel, both modern and historically. But I also share with them WHY the Palestinians feel the way they do. I show them a way to be sympathetic with their cause, too. It is the WAY the Palestinians are trying to deal with their pain that is the real problem. I wait anxiously to see textbooks and curriculum that you come up with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s