Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Do We Talk About Israel in Our Schools?

I am currently in Tel Aviv at the final meeting of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University. Stuart Zweiter is the director of the Lookstein Center and coincidentally (to our being here) posted this observation to the Lookjed listServ (an e-mailed forum for Jewish Educators facilitated by Shalom Burger, director of the JJF Fellowship) on December 7. I think he asks some vital questions that I hope you will join me in discussing in the coming weeks. The original posting is archived here. You can reply there or here. I will copy comments here to the Lookjed list. If you would like to subscribe to Lookjed - and I recommend that you do, go to the on-line form at http://www.lookstein.org/register.htm.

This past Friday night Natan Scharansky told a few of us sitting  around the Shabbat table with him that he had found in his travels to  North American college campuses that Jewish students were uninformed  as well as scared to speak up for Israel, scared that if they were to  actively defend or speak positively about Israel it would impact  negatively on their academic career as well as their future professional career.

This morning in a discussion I had with the head of a major Jewish Foundation I was told that during a visit she recently had at a very  large Jewish high school, she found the students preparing for an  internal school debate on the topic, Israel: Is it an apartheid state? In an informal discussion she had with several students at the same  school, she was told by them that they love Israelis but do not like Israel.   

This evening I read a piece in the JTA concerning the vote taking  place this week at Princeton University on whether to ask the  university's dining services to provide an alternative brand of  hummus. Why? Because the current brand being offered is Sabra, which  is half-owned by The Strauss Group, which has publicly supported the  IDF and provides care packages and sports equipment to Israeli  soldiers.   

We all know of many similar examples. I am mentioning these because  they all occurred in just the past few days.   

This post is not an invitation to debate political issues related to  Israel. Rather, we are very interested in learning how Jewish high  schools and junior high schools of all stripes are educating their  students regarding Israel. It seems particularly important during this  period in which there is increasing de-legitimization of Israel. How  much time do schools invest in this critical issue that all of their  graduates will face on college campuses? Is it dealt with in a serious and systematic way through formal and informal educational  programs? Where does it fit into your school program? 

What does your  school do? We are hoping that through the Lookjed list the Center can  raise consciousness of and attentiveness to this issue and that the  thousands of subscribers to the Lookjed list can learn about the  different efforts and programs that are being implemented in schools.   

This question, of course, touches on how we prioritize what is  included in our school programs and how schools allocate and divide up  the time that is available. That itself is an important question for  reflection and deliberation by school principals and teachers. All  schools make choices regarding what is in and what is out? Where does  this issue fit in?   

Stuart Zweiter  
Director, the Lookstein Center

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