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Teacher with students 58.(Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem)
Back to school, Part II
To nurture future generations of leaders and visionaries, we must galvanize a loyal passion toward their country and their people.
Two years ago I wrote an article for this paper entitled “Back to school: Back to basics.” The article addressed the fact that all Israeli education emphasized the accumulation of data as opposed to developing the procedure needed to to extrapolate information. I pointed out how schools in Israel do not promote exploration, nor do they teach creative expression, largely because the Israeli educational system was predicated upon quantitative education as opposed to qualitative education. Hence, our schools are engrossed with the importance of capacity as opposed to compassion; they program our children to amass volume as opposed to values, and this breeds egocentricity.

NOW, TWO years later as both an educator and guidance counselor in the school network (perhaps even more as a concerned parent), I continue to assess education, and while my analysis leaves me far from satisfied, I do see an improvement.

We’ve lived in Israel now for almost 22 years, and I have frequented many museums and popular sites around Jerusalem, yet this summer we took our children (8, 10, 13 and 16) on a number of tiyulim to places we had been before, and I was both inspired by and often pleasantly surprised with what I found. At the Davidson Center by the Southern wall excavations near the Temple mount there was a wide array of exhibits with films that intentionally made the period of the Temple in Jerusalem lifelike via a reenactment of what it was like for someone offering a sacrifice in the Temple for the first time. I watched as my children listened attentively and focused on the images. A young man offered a guided tour of the Temple Mount and its approaches on a large screen, and I was comforted by my children’s earnestness to answer and ask questions relating to the material. Visiting “The Burnt House” in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, I noticed they have incorporated a new film shown within the ruins as actors told the story of the priestly family that apparently lived in this house. Through lifelike images and interaction with the audience, the film effectively transmitted a lesson of the importance of tolerance and unity. It was clear to me that efforts had been made to keep history current and to package it in a palpable fashion for younger children.

This attempt was evident not only with regards to events of long ago but applied as well to museums unfolding events leading up to the establishment of the modern State of Israel (a history which is also in danger of being forgotten).

While visiting Atlit – a detainee camp established by the British at the end of the 1930s to prevent Jewish refugees from entering then-Palestine – I was hoping my children would get a sense of the yearning these people had felt for years under the torment of the Nazis; to live as free Jews in their biblical homeland. I had been to Atlit twice before, but this time I noticed the guide was a teenaged girl who was excited to relate the courageous story of the maapilim (immigrants who, in spite of Britain’s strict limitations on Jewish immigration from 1934 until 1948, came to Israel in old, damaged boats). Her enthusiasm was contagious. I was most impressed, not only by the clear efforts which had been made to engage the children, but also by the fact that the Ministry of Tourism had hired a teenager to lead the exhibition. The Atlit museum added a new tour inside one of the boats taken by the British on the shores of the Mediterranean.

As one moves throughout the boat there are film clips of the maapilim, and children can appreciate the conditions they endured. So taken was I that I commented to our young guide: “I sincerely hope many schools come here,” to which she responded by informing me that the Ministry of Education now requires all students from the fifth grade and up to visit Atlit at least once during their primary school years.

I was reminded that only two years ago, as he assumed his position as Minister of Education, Gidon Sa’ar made a bold move. Based on data which showed that up to 50% of the country’s pupils do not visit Jerusalem during their studies, he began an initiative which required that all elementary and high-school pupils visit the nation’s capital at least once. The visit would include historical sites such as the Kotel, Ammunition Hill and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, as well as national institutions such as the Knesset and the Supreme Court. The initiative proposed that pupils visit once while in elementary school, and then again at some point during high school.

Following my summer excursions with my children, I was reassured that not only were these initiatives sensible, but that they could be implemented in a productive manner. They could represent a child-friendly learning experience that would ensure the pervasiveness of history in an age of technology.

As we begin the new school year, it is crucial that to nurture future generations of leaders and visionaries, we must galvanize a loyal passion toward their country, their people and the Zionistic ideals that both represent.

We must further implement programs and initiate curricula which address these issues, and challenge our students to appreciate what it means to be a Jew. Let’s go “back to school” by incorporating graphics and experiences into the classroom, and concentrating on creative ways to arouse our children’s interest.

American social philosopher Eric Hoffer said: “The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned, but learning people.” Back to school should mean implanting a desire to explore and experience.

Once this desire is rooted, our children will value a society of patience, tolerance and human decency.

The writer teaches at the Kiryat Gat hesder yeshiva and serves as a lecturer under the Harel Division for the IDF Chaplaincy Corps. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel, religious Zionism and Jewish education.
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