Beer and Bible promote Israel’s cultural future

Group aims to inspire potential teachers.

Young academics discussion (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 works.
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, Yehi-Shalom said.
“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.
“Not all 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 objectives.
“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 said.
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, creation.
“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 said.