Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Israel Problem

I believe that the State of Israel is central to the identity of the modern Jew. There. I said it. One problem is that the data do not support it. There have been many reports published over the last two decades that tell us how few of us have visited Israel, how many of us don’t make it a point to read or follow Israel in the news and how much Israel has faded into the background of the average Jew’s perception. Still I believe it she (Medinat Yisrael – the State of Israel – is a feminine word form) is central to us all. Like a loved one we haven’t thought about in a long time. So, in light of this, how do we process, connect to and teach about Israel in a time of war – especially the current conflict?

My friend and teacher Joel Grishaver writes in his blog for teachers and parents:
"Crossing the internet are two prayers. One is a prayer for Israel’s soldiers. The other is a prayer for the civilians of Gaza. Both are recommended as the way for teachers to begin their classes.

The problem is not that one is being asked to choose between these two prayers. Supporting both wishes is not a problem. Prayers for safety can’t be too many. And the problem is not that prayer seems to be the major response to war. Prayer is a good response to war. The problem is that this seems to be the only major public response besides a zillion causes to join on Facebook."
On November 10, 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379, stating that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” I remember helping to organize 3 busses from my high school to the Chicago Civic Center Plaza (where the Blues brothers were finally captured in the film). There were hundreds of buses and tens of thousands of people there from all over protesting the foul resolution.
Because Israel is at War, we need to be shouting “you are connected to Israel.” “You have a relationship with Israel.” “Israel’s future impacts your future.” Now is the time to emphasize knowledge about Israel, Zionist (or post-Zionist) ideology, and simple family relationships. We can teach “The War” or not teach “The War,” but we need to teach “the love.”
What I – and I think most of us really want is for our kids to care about Israel the way that I care about the Chicago Cubs. I rarely go to games, since I live in Fairfield. But Chicago is one of my homelands and the loveable losers of Wrigley Field are ingrained in my neshama – my soul. I keep a schedule above my desk and track the wins and losses. I have the team news feed on my Google home page. Ideally, I’d want our students to care more about Israel than I care about the Cubs, but at the very least, like me and the Cubs I want them to care about the outcome.
So now is a time to make falafel and sing “Im Tirtzu.” We need to be dancing “Hinei Mah Tov u’Mah Nayim” and “Mah Na’avu.” Students should be finding Haifa on the map and learning that Ben Gurion like to stand on his head cause he thought it was good for his health. What we – as teachers and parents need to be doing is teaching Israel more than ever. And, if we do so, the questions about The War will come, and we will be able to answer them the way we want to answer them, providing we add, “And you are still connect to the land, people, and Nation of Israel—no matter how you feel about some of her actions.