Update the Curriculum: Lose the Camel

 After spending the entire month of August in Israel, my son begins a new year back at his American Jewish day school and I am once again struck by the vast gulf between what he learns about Israel in school and what he experiences when he is there.
As an obvious example: chocolate milk. Every Israeli kid knows it's not just a drink, it's an adventure. You could easily spend twenty minutes choosing from fifty different types, in a wide variety of packaging. Shakes, sports bottles, flavors of popular candies, white chocolate, coffee chocolates, blends, Elite brand, Yotvata brand, the choices go on and on. And yes, you can still get it in a bag if you want. But in America, the kids only know about shoko besakit. Or more accurately, ordinary American chocolate milk in a ziploc, since the real thing can't be imported. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
In almost every way, the American "Israel curriculum" teaches a simplified, 1970s-era version of the country, when there were only a few local brands of anything available, the economy was still largely based on agriculture, and there was still a lot of scarcity. American kids are taught that the shuk is a place to buy fruits and vegetables. My son knows it as a kind of wonderland of sights and smells and shopping, full of toys and games and bakery goods and spice shops and all kinds of candy. And that leaves out all the grownup stuff like clothes, housewares, toiletries, foreign foods, and restaurants and food stalls of all kinds.
Along with the fruits and vegetables theme, there's the whole kibbutz thing. My son's teachers try to tell him kibbutzim are like farms with tractors and my son looks at them like they are speaking Hindi. He's been to two kibbutzim in his life: the one where his uncle lives that has a fabulous private beach, and one where we once stayed in a cabin in their beautifully manicured holiday village. Neither one had any connection to tractors. His uncle buys all his produce at the neighboring Arab village. And what's with the camel rides? Where do they find this camel? There's no camel in Tel Aviv or Haifa, that's for sure.
And then there is music. In school they learn Etzleinu Bechatzer, Eli Eli, and an assortment of Naomi Shemer and holiday tunes. At home in the shower he's singing Derech Hashalom and Ya Habibi Tel Aviv, plus the greatest hits of Arik Einstein and Idan Raichel, who he's seen live in concert - twice. At school they do the Hora. At summer camp in Tel Aviv they have Morning Mizrahit Dance Party. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? What American kids learn about Israel is old fashioned, boring, and dorky. But my son's reality is modern, fun and cool.
Sure, he is interested in hearing about the Temple and the Old City. He'd like to see it someday, but he's hardly begging for that. Like most Israelis, he's more interested in the beaches. He is happy to tell you which ones he likes best and why. And felafel is OK, but he'd rather have homemade pasta, fresh fish from the sea, an Israeli breakfast, gourmet ice cream and chocolate, or watermelon at the beach. When people ask him what his favorite thing to do in Israel is, he usually says "the malls" - he's obsessed with the giant climbing structures for kids you can find in most of the busier shopping centers .
There is nothing wrong with teaching kids about biblical history and the kibbutz movement, but this shouldn't be all they learn. If we want to keep the next generation interested in and connected to Israel, we need to drastically upgrade and modernize this curriculum. We need to teach our kids about the cool, modern, high tech, Mizrahi-majority and multiculural Israel that exists today, not just about the agrarian Ashkenazi Zionist movement of our grandparents. We need to teach them about this tech superpower that is on the cutting edge of medical innovation and water conservation. That the IDF runs cool programs like the one that trains high school hackers in cybersecurity, and the division of Autism spectrum soldiers that does satellite imagery analysis. That Israel is literally feeding the developing world through its agricultural technology. They need to know that Israel is modern, hip, and happening. It's time to retire the camel.