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My lesson plan for the first day of school

At a time when it's frightening to be a Jew, how will she educate her students to love Israel?

School starts Monday. There are classrooms to get ready, extra books to be ordered and class lists to be written up. The week has been a flurry of activity with little time for me to actually give much thought to the classes that I will be starting to teach next week. Which in some ways is a good thing.

Because when I think about my first day of teaching on Monday, the idea of standing before my middle school students to teach the class entitled, “Israel” is frightening.

I’ve taught the subject of Israel history to middle school and high school students for three years, and have taught many of these same students last year. It’s a subject that to be honest, I don’t need to prepare much for, as the facts and dates are entrenched in my memory due to my nearly lifelong obsession with Israeli history and politics. But after a summer like this, the thought of my student’s eyes upon me as they wait for me to begin… I just imagine shell shock and being not sure where to begin. For a person whose husband teasingly refers to me as “constant comment” (hence the name of my blog), the idea of being speechless is foreign to me. And yet, speechless I am.

How can I possibly convey the love, the fear and the frustration that was part and parcel of following the news in Israel this summer?

How can I compete with the picture that CNN and the New York Times painted Israel in every living room as an antagonistic state rather than a democratic country that has provided aid to millions?

How can I describe the two weeks of waiting for news about our three boys, the togetherness that the Jewish people experienced in Israel and all over the world and what that unity meant to us?

How can I describe how we all felt after hearing the news that our prayers were not answered as we had hoped with the loss of our three boys and why thousands attended the funerals of strangers?

How do I explain why their loss was so much greater than simply three deaths?

How do I explain the gut-wrenching feeling we felt at the news of each soldier lost?

How can I explain what it is to be the target of constant rocket attacks, and why despite the Iron Dome missiles shooting down many of them, the rockets are a “big deal”?

How can I explain to my students that they need not be afraid to visit Israel on their upcoming eighth grade trip; that despite it all, I feel safer in Israel than anywhere else in the world? That if I’d had the money, I would have been on the next plane to Israel this summer and how incredibly difficult it was for me to be away from the place and people that was in my heart and mind.

How can I encourage my students to feel a strong sense of Jewish pride when all over the world, there are anti-Semitic rallies and boycotts making this an especially frightening time to be a Jew?

While I may not know the words that I wish to convey on the first day, what I do know is my goal for the year. Yes, I want my students to know the historical facts about how Israel came into being and how the political system works, but my overarching goal is that I want my students to feel the same fierce love for Israel that I do.

I want them to see pictures of Israel’s beauty and to realize that pictures don’t do it justice, and to long to see it themselves.

I want them to envision the belonging that one feels as a Jew in Israel, to hear the language that they have learned since kindergarten spoken in the streets, in newspapers, on the radio and written on the front of pizza stores.

I want them to yearn for the feeling of normalcy one feels as a Jew when visiting Israel, even if one is not personally observant.

Seeing signs on a bus that quote the Biblical verse, “before an old person, you stand”, washing stations in restaurants for washing before bread, where no one wonders why you’re mumbling a blessing to yourself before eating and where a minyan can easily be compiled on a hike or on a visit to a museum, because nearly everyone is Jewish.

I want them to be excited to see kosher food in Ben Gurion airport, even if they don’t always eat kosher food themselves.

I want them to feel the familial feeling one has when a stranger comes up to you and tells you to put on a coat because if you don’t, you’ll be cold.

I want them to recognize the uniqueness of Israel’s political system and to understand why every issue is so heated — because so many debates are not merely ones of philosophical differences, but issues that literally affect every day lives.

I want them to see a picture of an Israeli soldier and feel the same sense of ownership that we all feel — that these are our boys and that with each loss, there is immeasurable pain for the Jewish people.

I want them to understand why when we pray for peace, it is relevant and important. I want them to feel that as a Jew, Israel is home.

I pray that I find the words. Preferably, before Monday.

About the Author
Ariela Davis, a native New Yorker, is the Rebbetzin of Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Orthodox synagogue, Brith Shalom Beth Israel, and the Director of Judaics of Addlestone Hebrew Academy, Charleston’s Jewish day school. She is the wife of Rabbi Moshe Davis and the mother of four children.
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