Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar_311.
(photo credit: Muki Schwartz)
Last week, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced the launch of a profoundly
important Zionist educational initiative, one that will have a transformative
effect on Israel’s youth. Speaking in the Knesset, Sa’ar said that a pilot
program enabling students to visit Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs will
soon be expanded to include schools from across the country.
the outings, known as “heritage tours,” had been limited to students from the
Jerusalem area on a trial basis. In the past year, approximately 3,000 Israeli
high school teens, two-thirds of whom attend secular schools, took part. This is
an invaluable undertaking and Sa’ar deserves praise for pushing it through. It
will go a long way toward inculcating Israeli youth with a greater appreciation
for our link to this land.
Last June, the education minister accompanied
children from a Beit Shemesh school on a visit to Hebron, where he told
reporters that “visits by students to Hebron will acquaint them with the
historical roots of the people of Israel. Every Jew needs to recognize the
historical roots of his own nation.”
Indeed, it is widely acknowledged
that Israel’s educational system desperately needs a strong injection of Zionist
and Jewish values. Israeli students must gain a deeper understanding of our
past, and there is no better place for them to do so than in Hebron, the burial
place of our Biblical patriarchs.
Anyone who is exposed to the heroic
story of the return of the Jewish people to Hebron cannot help but be moved by
the faith and perseverance which it embodies.
Walking through the ancient
streets of the city where King David ruled, and offering a silent prayer while
standing beside the tomb of our father Abraham, are powerful and emotive
experiences which should be part of every Israeli child’s education.
surprisingly, however, the proposed plan elicited howls of protest from the
extreme Left, which cannot seem to tolerate the idea that Israeli youth should
learn about their heritage. When the pilot program was first launched last year,
Meretz Chairman MK Haim Oron blasted it as “brain-washing” while MK Ahmed Tibi
said that “requiring students to visit occupied territory is ideological
This past Sunday, after the expansion of the program was
announced, more than 200 teachers took Sa’ar to task when they signed a joint
letter declaring that they would refuse to participate in what they deemed to be
a “manipulative” effort. Some of the teachers, in interviews with the press,
actually went so far as to criticize him for trying to promote Zionist and
nationalist values, as though there was something inherently wrong in doing
What they seem to have forgotten is that schools exist not merely to
teach the mechanics of math or the structure of a sentence, but the qualities of
good citizenship too. And to be a good citizen means to appreciate and
understand one’s nation, its history, legacy and traditions.
The Land of
Israel is a living curriculum, with a wide array of sites that impart our
people’s story and evoke pride in its very special saga. We are blessed with so
many evocative symbols, from the Western Wall to the Cave of the Patriarchs to
Rachel’s Tomb, which far too many Israelis no longer go to see.
that trend by making them a part of every student’s education is critical to
fortifying our national resolve and ensuring that the next generation will love
and cherish this country. If our schools can find time to discuss trapezoids and
hexagons, then surely they can also strive to instill a healthy dose of Jewish
national pride. Raising Israeli patriots, people who are virtuous, self-assured
and confident in the justness of our cause, is key to safeguarding our
As the 18th-century political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu
once pointed out, the promotion of love for one’s country “ought to be the
principal business of education.” That must become our motto as well.The
writer is Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org) which assists lost tribes
and hidden Jewish communities seeking to return to the Jewish people.