Jewish day school educators have been grappling with a fundamental question when it comes to Israel education: How do we engender a love of Israel without our graduates accusing us of lying to them–either by commission or omission–after they are exposed to other views and narratives about Israel on their university campus?
In my experience, it is no benefit to shield students from the complexities of Israel’s history or contemporary reality. We won’t succeed in helping them develop a deep connection with Israel if we stifle debate, suppress doubt, or deny Israel’s failures. Israel is a country filled with the best a nation has to offer (high tech, individual freedoms, lots of opportunities) and with problems that all other countries possess (illegal immigration, religious conflicts, racial tension.)
No country is perfect, and no country should be expected to be perfect. We need to teach our students to “hug” Israel and “wrestle” with her. Only then will they learn to love Israel for what she is even with her imperfections.
This summer a group of educators participated in a seminar organized by the World Zionist Organization where we explored some of Israel’s challenges first hand. We met Arabs who claim their land was confiscated in 1948 and Jews who held title to the very same land. We met young idealistic Israelis who are helping illegal Christian immigrants from Africa get settled and equally passionate residents of Tel Aviv who have seen the crime rate increase as a result of these new neighbors who have come to Israel to improve their lot. We met an Ethiopian Jewish man who described the discrimination he has experienced in the workplace and young Ethiopian teens who seem to be oblivious to any racism.
Jewish day schools are a safe place to learn about these and other problems. Better our students should be exposed to them from us than from someone else. Better they should learn about them in a context that also teaches the miracle that is Israel–that deserts have been made to bloom in Israel, exiles have been ingathered, a high tech society has been built out of the ashes of the Holocaust. Israel has done all that and more while facing existential threats and fighting enemies who are not dressed as soldiers who draw battle lines in urban areas populated by civilians. We gain nothing by avoiding Israel’s imperfections.
We best not hide Israel’s foibles. Not because we are afraid we will be accused of lying but because every imperfection is an invitation to our students to get involved in building this phenomenal Jewish enterprise called Israel. And because we will have missed an opportunity to teach a lifelong lesson: how to “hug” and “wrestle” Israel.
The American Jewish author Cynthia Ozick put it well: “Israel is imperfect…Because she is imperfect, she is always building. Because she is always building, she is eternal.”