Celebration and Exploration: Why Good Israel Education Needs Both

April 14, 2021

Source:  The Lehrhaus 


Although recent Gallup poll estimates show that 95% of American Jews have a favorable view toward Israel, and that number is likely higher in Modern Orthodox circles, major opportunities for improvement exist in the way we educate our youth about Israel. While our educational opportunities often center around celebrating Israel’s achievements, advocating for Israel and encouraging aliyah, we tend to skip over discussions about dilemmas in Israel’s history and complex issues at play in Israeli society today. We do not invite the same level of debate and critical thinking that we might encourage in other Judaic and general studies classes.

Creating more opportunities for critical conversations about Israel in Modern Orthodox schools offers several advantages. First, a more inclusive Israel education engages students who may depart from the accepted party line on Israel. We know that given political trends a number of students within our institutions identify themselves as liberal, which may sometimes put them at ideological odds with many of their peers when it comes to conversations about Israel. Competent and fair-minded discussions ensure students do not feel alienated or ashamed for their beliefs, and presents opportunities to address the big questions in fair, constructive ways. To some degree we acknowledge a spectrum of halakhic observance within Modern Orthodoxy, but our community often does not project the same open-minded approach when it comes to sharing views on Israel.

The Jewish community has done a great job of presenting multiple perspectives (the Mikraot Gedolot approach), creating opportunities for discovery (the Beit Hillel approach) and acknowledging complexity of people and stories in our Torah education (the Hirschian/Sacksian approach). It’s high time to apply these powerful approaches to our Israel education as well. This will require that we as educators somewhat loosen our grip on the didactic direction conversations in our classrooms take, similar to the approach often used in Torah education.

Understandably, using these approaches in Israel education is difficult because educators, parents, and students alike are “nogea ba-davar” (concerned or personally involved in the matter) of the Jewish state. Many educators and parents instinctively want to protect Israel, defend against antagonizers, and fight against those who unfairly malign the only Jewish state, and some educators and parents are more inclined to look for Israel to act as a moral light to the nations. However, we cannot let this reality get in the way of giving our students the opportunity to make discoveries in Israel education and reach independent conclusions, as they are encouraged to do in their Tanakh classes. To the contrary, we should remember that the treasure is in our own backyard.

As we do this, we can remember that although Israel has become a divisive topic for many, it can also be the “glue” that keeps us united as a Jewish community. Israel is the realization of a two thousand year dream. The revival of the Hebrew language, the opportunity for the Jewish people to govern ourselves, the return of the Jewish people to history as subjects and not objects, and the realization of creating a more self-confident Jew are achievements that every Jewish person can take pride in and celebrate. Notwithstanding our different political affiliations and religious denominations, let’s remember these common denominators as we work to improve Israel education and usher in a new era where students can explore and celebrate their connection to Israel.

Read the entire article at The Lehrhaus.

Updated: Apr. 22, 2021