A revolution in Diaspora Zionist education: Teaching Israel ‘warts-and-all’

A revolution in Diaspora Zionist education: Teaching Israel ‘warts-and-all’

To some educators from Canada to the UK, an idealised view of Israel is neither moral nor effective education.

It’s hard to get Diaspora Jewish schoolchildren to love Israel when most of what they hear about the country outside the comfort of their Sunday school classes tends to spark a mix of discomfort and shame.

For Rabbi Lawrence Englander, a prominent Reform educator from Canada, the conclusion is clear: If the goal is to prevent these disillusioned kids from cutting themselves off entirely from Israel, then the way Israel is taught needs to be changed radically.

“If you want kids to love Israel, then they’re going to unlove it as soon as they learn what’s going on there,” says Englander, a former chairman of the international Reform movement’s political branch, Arzenu. “So, we need to stop talking about getting them to love Israel. Instead, our goal needs to be deep engagement – which means teaching them about Israel, warts-and-all.”

A new program Englander helped create for teaching school-age children about Israel and encouraging “critical thinking” about the country, as he terms it, was introduced in several Jewish supplementary schools in Canada this past year on a pilot basis.

It will have its official launch in the upcoming school year in supplementary religious schools run by the Reform movement across Canada.

“I’ve been long concerned about what was being taught or probably not taught in our Reform religious schools,” says Englander, the founding rabbi of the Solel Reform congregation in Toronto. “It seemed to me that a lot of what our kids are being taught is very superficial, a kind of ‘Israel Disneyland’ sort of thing, and many of the teachers don’t feel competent or confident teaching about Israel because of everything going on there.”

In the UK, the CEO  at the London School of Jewish Studies, Joanne Greenaway, warned this week that Jewish educators lose credibility if they do not speak out against extremism in Israel.

“As an educator and leader of an organisation seeking to teach inclusive and relevant Torah that trains and develops teachers to engage our young people across the community’s Jewish schools, I am committed to inculcating our children with a love of Israel. But our children deserve to be part of an honest conversation,” she wrote in the Jewish Chronicle.

“We are already presiding over a crisis in Israel education. Despite the excellent work of UJIA and the spectrum of youth movements sending record numbers to Israel for trips and tours, there are record numbers disengaging, struggling to communicate a modern Zionist narrative.

“Gen Z is values driven; where our values are attacked, Gen Z expects us to stand up, to speak out. If we stay silent, we will lose credibility. While I am profoundly fearful of lending even the slightest support to those who question Israel’s legitimacy, I believe that in the current crisis, it is right and necessary to speak out against extremism.”

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A revolution in Zionist Education?  Teaching Israel ‘warts-and-all’ (Haaretz)  

We have a religious duty to speak out against extremism in Israel (JC)

Photo: Child with Israeli flag (URJ)