A bit of Jewish culture never hurt anyone

An insulting video maligns young women in national service.

Flag of Israel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Flag of Israel
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ever since I was small, I was raised on the value of contributing to society, both to my people and to my country. It was always a given that upon graduating from high school I would volunteer for national service, just as my brother would serve in the army.
Toward the second semester of my senior year in high school, we girls were introduced to the various possibilities where we might serve, including the roles we would take upon ourselves and the places we would go. I knew that I wanted to choose a position that would connect me to my people as a whole, not in order to be a role model for others, but rather to become acquainted with populations and groups that I had not had the opportunity to get to know before.
During the course of applying and being accepted for national service and interviewing for various positions, I decided that I wanted to meet and work with Israeli children who were studying in secular state schools and expose them to a bit of our world and our culture, as one people who live together in one country. I chose to teach in the Givat Gonen School in Jerusalem on behalf of the organization called Neshima.
My role was to teach the children about Jewish identity and culture through a variety of arts and activities.
During the most intense year of my life, I met with tens of children. Nearly all of them waited for each lesson in order to hear and learn more about our culture, our roots and our common values.
But more than this, they were anxious to find another friendly person closer to their own age with whom they could form a different, special connection. Since I was a link between their world and the more adult world, I could serve as a bridge, and as one who could help unify and solidify the complex and disparate elements of their world into one whole.
The connection between us had become so strong that when I didn’t join the sixth grade for their annual trip, they complained, since I was an integral part of their class.
I must say that this came as a real surprise to me, since I taught this class only one hour each week.
Each time that I sat down to prepare a lesson or an activity for my classes, I chose one specific value that I wanted us to deal with and explore together. These were based on various experiential activities in order to develop a deep understanding of the topic at hand.
EACH VALUE that I chose had something to do with our culture or the yearly cycle.
The subjects were extremely varied and touched on many different issues. They included discussions on the weekly Torah portion, on a holiday which was soon to occur, a special day for the recognitions of our soldiers of the IDF, or a good quality or trait that I wanted my students to adopt, especially in interaction with one another.
The lessons I conveyed included biblical sources along with songs written by Naomi Shemer or Yonatan Gefen. We always considered Jewish culture throughout different periods and in all its aspects. Never once did I utter the words “you must” or “you may not,” which we know from their context in halacha, Jewish religious law.
Nor did I ever say that something is either obligatory or forbidden. Indeed, during the many training sessions during the summer before I began my national service, my friends and I were told time and again that it is not our job to proselytize or to make the children more religious. Our goal was simple: Expose them to and teach them the values on which we are raised – not the religion, but rather, the culture.
MK Merav Michaeli recently publicized a demagogic and insulting video the purpose of which was to malign the girls who serve in national service. Although she did not address me personally, I was most insulted. Beyond the fact that the allegations she made were patently false, she chose to speak about something she knows nothing about, about girls she never met, and about lessons which she did not attend.
The video is irritating, to say the least.
In the course of my service I gave hundreds of lessons. In not one of them did I come with any missionary purpose.
I came from a place of deep love for Israel and love of Israeli culture. My desire was to make a connection between different sectors of the population and to help bridge the gaps between them. Throughout the entire year I was careful not to insult the cultural or sectorial backgrounds of my students’ parents. These parents were pleased with the lessons I conveyed to their children. They wanted to meet me and to hear more from me at the parents meetings at school and at the graduation exercises.
And now I turn directly to MK Michaeli. I invite you to come and meet with me, to sit together and see my lesson plans. A bit of Jewish culture never hurt anybody. It was important and interesting to both my students and their parents to increase, if only a little, their connection to their roots. What about you?
The writer is a graduate of Bnei Akiva Shirat HaYam High School. During her year of national service she taught Jewish identity and culture classes in the Givat Gonen.