Young academics discussion.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
There is nothing quite like a chilly pint of bitter in a welcoming and
air-conditioned bar after a ridiculously hot day.
But the fine brew
served on Sunday evening in Herzliya’s Theodor bar was primarily an alluring
setting for the real delicacy put forth before nearly 40 secular men and women,
the “living water” of the Bible.
As the axiom goes, there is no such
thing as a free beer, happy hours notwithstanding. In this case, it was the
initiative of the non-profit group Israeli Education, which for the third time
against such a backdrop set out to expose the attendees to what the group does
in instilling the Bible in public schools. It does this with the underlying
aspiration to draw some of the young academics sipping drinks to become Bible
teachers themselves, in a Kibbutz Seminar program currently in the
Using Bilam’s famous curse to Israel that metamorphosed into the
blessing of “a people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the
nations” as a thought-provoking starting point, Israel Education head Oren
Yehi-Shalom launched into a lively twohour lesson and discussion about the
significance of the monotheistic revolution, values and tradition, round the
focal point of biblical texts.
The NGO, which seeks to protect and
promote the quality of the secular humanist education taught in the national
school system, has made it its goal to prove that there is a future to Israeli
culture, which can be drawn upon from the ancient texts our forefathers created,
“In the past decades, there is a growing feeling that
the secular majority in Israel is in a deep identity crisis,” Yehi-Shalom
explained. “Many seek alternative avenues to connect them to the state, which is
not an easy place to live in. In seeking an identity, we forgot that the state
was established on the values of secular Judaism.
“Our NGO has taken upon
itself to act to return the Bible to secular [Israelis], and as such, initiated
the unique program for Bible teachers, and holds such evenings for teaching
Jewish culture,” he said.
Yehi-Shalom was not concerned that the informal
setting might compromise the level of the learning, and live up to the stigma of
secular people who have nothing to offer but a culture of bars.
“A bar is
like a computer or television,” he said. “It can be dangerous, or a wonderful
opportunity. In my secular world, with the man in its center, there is trust
that people will promote a useful and correct use of a bar.
secular people go to bars to immerse in lewdness, despite what some might
think,” Yehi- Shalom continued. “Important issues can be debated in a quality
manner. Besides,” he added, “the participants here are responsible adults with
clear awareness of boundaries.”
One such individual was Meir Arnon, the
Israel chairman of Masonite – a company manufacturing doors and door components
– and Volta – a car battery company – who supports Israel Education’s
“This is a fascinating topic. In the same manner that the
political Left is seeking to retrieve the Israeli flag, we are seeking to return
the Torah to secular people, and balance the prevalent extremities,” he
A young woman attending explained that she was here simply because
she was becoming more drawn to “our Jewish sources.”
At the end of the
Torah study, the lights dimmed and the music of the Doors materialized from the
hitherto dormant loudspeakers. Small groups formed, passionately discussing what
they had just learned, and how they might continue to promote the Bible,
arguably the Jewish people’s greatest heritage and, as some say,
“This is a barefoot reading of the Bible,” Yehi- Shalom said.
“We are continuing the pathfinding tradition of making the Bible a huge cultural
asset. It is my feeling that secular people perceive Judaism as a culture, and
not just a framework of commandments, like other Jewish literature that was
written by certain sects, such as the Talmud.
“We perceive the Bible not
as a book of directives, rather an inspiration that can teach us about
ourselves, our culture, in light of our forefathers’ debates and choices,” he