Shallow teaching undermines Israel connection

I love Israel. However, when I hear American pro-Israel teenagers declare slogans like, “Israel is my home,” I am alarmed. The vagueness of such catch phrases reveals the superficiality of most American Jewish teens’ knowledge of Israel. We don’t stand a chance of being effective supporters of Israel unless we are willing to grapple with her complex realities.

When determining their stance on Israel, one has choices beyond “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian.” Support Israel but not a fan of Bibi Netanyahu? Spend time in Israel but uncomfortable with the military’s treatment of Palestinian civilians? You’re entitled to a nuanced opinion—unless you’re an American Jewish teenager.

American Jewish leaders and educators seem to be largely at fault. Logically, our Jewish Day School students should be our gold standard, given that the American Jewish community invests more than ten times as much money and time per student as synagogue school students.

Seven years of Jewish Day School solidified my love of Israel, but gave me little understanding of her complexities. It is impossible to understand the Middle East without knowing how to navigate ideological conflict.

I hardly knew the Palestinian narrative existed until I encountered it in public high school because of a Muslim friend.  When the vast majority of Jewish students go to college, most will find themselves confronted with anti-Israel viewpoints.

American Jewish teens are given a set of facts that support Israel’s ideology, but are not supplied with intellectual tools to make sense of competing ideologies. This failure not only deprives us of being able to respond to the Palestinian narrative, but also betrays our Talmudic tradition of debate.

Every year since I moved to Cincinnati, two 18-year-old volunteer ambassadors from Israel have visited my school. We eat hummus, dance in a circle, and learn about Israeli technology. For people who know nothing about Israel, hummus may be an appropriate introduction. But most American Jewish teens need and deserve more.

To my American Jewish peers—by all means, go to Israel. Buy your IDF t-shirt. Take your picture on a camel. Float in the Dead Sea. I enjoy those things too. But if you really love Israel you can prove it by studying its weaknesses as well as its strengths, its failures as well as its accomplishments.  Only once you come to terms with both sides of her complex history can you truly love Israel.

About the Author
Lila Englander is a 17 year old American Jew from Cincinnati, Ohio.