Balance on Israel: An educator’s dilemma

We strive to teach them that Israel is a bright, cheery place, while it is also under constant attack and no citizen can hope to be untouched by terrorism.

school supplies (photo credit: INGIMAGE PHOTOS)
school supplies
(photo credit: INGIMAGE PHOTOS)
The past few weeks have been tense in Israel. People once again are forced to choose between enacting the necessary measures of caution to protect lives, and not giving those who attack us the very victory they crave, namely forcing us to live in terror. While those on the fault-line between Israel and Diaspora communities can in no way be compared to the brave men and women who defend civilians while putting themselves in danger, explaining the full reality of a true Israel experience is also a complicated task in today’s reality.
As a virtual pedagogical platform, we employ more than 25 Israeli teachers who are faced with a peculiar challenge. Among the more popular courses we offer to American Jewish day schools are “Practical Zionism” as well as several Hebrew language courses. The classes encompass everything from a history of the establishment of the Jewish state to providing an accurate picture of what life is like on a daily basis in Israel. As the latest wave of terrorism shows no sign of abating, our teachers find themselves struggling to find the right balance in preparing their lessons.
Most of our students have been raised and educated to love the State of Israel unconditionally and our teachers want to encourage this special bond. During “normal” quiet times this means focusing on the special status Israel enjoys as a unique religious idea, the only Jewish state in the world, and the sum of our people’s dreams after 2,000 years of exile. Additionally, our teachers strive to present some of the remarkable feats of modern Israel which is now almost universally known as the “start-up nation.”
During a recent sessions of our “Israeli Innovations” elective, the students had the opportunity to go on a virtual tour of a shared hi-tech work space in Modi’in called MESH. This gave them the opportunity to see first-hand some of the amazing hi-tech products being developed right here in Israel. This is part of our efforts to showcase Israel’s innovative prowess, while also portraying the Holy Land as the ideal place for children to roam independently as their families grow and thrive.
At times like these when seemingly random terrorist attacks strike indiscriminately at Israel’s cities and towns, another important lesson must also be conveyed to our students. Our teachers make sure their students know how threatened Israel is and the unique security challenges it faces. They want their pupils to understand that Israel exists in a hostile region where millions of people strive each day to stay safe and to keep their loved ones out of harm’s way. It is important for our teachers to make clear that while Israel might be what former prime minister Ehud Barak called a “villa in a jungle,” it relies on ironclad support from fellow Jews around the world when it comes to protecting the country.
For the young minds we are trying to reach, these two messages are difficult to reconcile. We strive to teach them that Israel is a bright, cheery place, while it is also under constant attack and no citizen can hope to be untouched by terrorism. During a recent math class, one of our students how her teacher could live in a place where she was scared to even walk down the street. The teacher explained that while things were tense, Israel was still an amazing place to live. The student really saw how committed her teacher was to living in Israel. This is something that could not be taught from a textbook.
We want our young students to realize that we will need their support in the future to deal with these challenges, while at the time showing them that it is still safer to walk the streets of Israel than those of almost any major American city.
Daily life in Israel has not really changed. Yes, we are a bit more cautious, but kids are going to school, parents head to work each day, and a few hours of rain and moderate winds that would be considered a small storm in many countries somehow knocks out electricity for thousands of people. Even “extracurricular” activities continue – albeit with more caution than before – with school trips continuing as planned and restaurants and pubs still mostly full. I showed students in my technology class a photo of my son’s school guard. One actually commented that he would actually feel safer today in Israel, even with everything going on. Another student pointed to recent events in Baltimore and commented that statistically, any city in Israel remains a much safer place to live.
This is what our instructors are teaching to thousands of Jewish children across the US and Canada. Yes, we do face threats that are different than what they experience – though actually not more dangerous – and yes, this scares us. But we also wake up each day feeling lucky, even blessed, to have the opportunity to live as a free and prosperous people in our historic homeland with a government and security forces ready to protect all of us if needed.
The message we are trying to convey is a nuanced one, but it accurately reflects the lives that we are living these days in Israel. If we are successful in portraying Israel’s beauty together with all its complexities, I am confident that we will have played a small part in explaining what life is really like here and therefore strengthening the always important bond between the Jews of Israel and our brethren around the world.
The author is the CEO and general manager of Bonim B’Yachad, a virtual pedagogical platform which works together with schools and organizations to create the ideal online learning programs.