Posts Tagged ‘Israel education’

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May 25, 2010

This is the pre-1948 travel poster used to illustrate Ingall's article in Tablet, titled "Never Never Land: I can't talk to my kids about Israel"

Sometimes I have to wonder whether people actually bother to read an article through to the end before launching into a tirade against its author. I really feel for Tablet Magazine’s parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall, who got feedback like, “Thank you for helping me understand why most of my family burned in ovens while American Jews like yourself stoodby doing nothing,” in response to a piece she wrote on her ambivalence about talking to her two young daughters about modern Israel. Those who attacked her for being an ignorant, self-hating Jew and knee-jerk liberal may have gotten their jollies projecting their hate and frustrations on to her, but they clearly missed her point by a mile (at least).

While I don’t completely agree with Ingall’s stance on Israel and how one , as an American Jew and a Jewish parent, should relate to it, I can sympathize with her reticence in talking to one’s children about something that is fraught with moral complexity. Anyone who says that talking about Israel is not a morally complicated undertaking is not in touch with reality, in my opinion. But then again, an awful lot in life is morally complex, and we as parents should not disengage from or ignore any of it. If we don’t engage and expose our children to the grey hues that span between the poles of black and white, then how on earth will they ever know how to do it for themselves when they are older – or how to model this delicate juggling act for their own children further down the line?

As I have stated, I don’t exactly see eye to eye with Ingall. Statements of hers like the following get my dander up (my responses in parentheses):

  • “…the word ‘Zionist’ makes me skittish.” (“Zionist” is not a dirty word. But if you don’t feel comfortable with it, substitute something like “supporter of Israel” for it. Don’t get bogged down in semantics, especially when they main focus is on getting your kids to connect to Israel.)
  • ” I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert.” (As a Jew – even of a centrist/moderate/leaning to liberal stripe, I find this a bit disturbing. Not really sure how to respond to this, other than to say that Justin Bieber is likely to be a flash-in-the pan in our kids’ lives – not to mention in the larger scheme of things – but Israel won’t.)
  • “I found myself trying to convince her [Ingall’s eight-year-old daughter] that Israel did have that right [a legitimate historical claim to the Land of Israel]. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies.” (Israel has a legitimate historical claim to the Land of Israel – at least some of it – and a legitimate right to exist in a state of peace and security. Period.)
  • “Until now, I’ve taught my children about Jewish identity through ancient history, through food, through songs and prayers, through the story of American immigration. I’ve left any Israel talk to their teachers.” (This can be a big mistake. Parents should not assume that teachers know what they are doing Israel education-wise. Research has shown that Israel education is weak and undefined in many non-Orthodox schools and other educational settings – hence the recent focus of educators and funders on developing good Israel education programs and initiatives.)
  • “So, exactly how should liberal parents who want to foster Jewish identity, but who see Zionism as the conversational equivalent of an Alar-coated apple, teach their children about Israel?” (Maybe I don’t get the metaphor here -but is Ingall saying that Israel is supposed to be good for you, but that it is actually poisonous?!?!)

Marjorie Ingall and her daughters

It is only toward the end of her piece that Ingall brings in the expertise of Alex Sinclair, an Israel education expert, who encourages teachers and parents to expose children to a plurality of voices on Israel and to let them try on different stances to see how they fit. She quotes him as saying, “Educational thinkers since Socrates have known that one of the soundest ways in which to get people to feel committed to and invested in a given issue is to ask them to take a stand on it: to debate. In good schools, from the earliest grades, children are asked to collate evidence, analyze data and evaluate positions. Indeed, ‘evaluation’ is the highest order of thinking,…Yet, in Israel education, we seem to want to prevent Jewish children (to say nothing of adults) from aspiring to that level.”

Indeed, why is that Jews – who by nature like to disagree with one another – think that it isn’t okay to argue about Israel? Israelis argue among themselves – LOUDLY –  all the time about their government’s policies and where their country is going. They do it from the position of already having some skin in the game, of being engaged with something that matters deeply to them. That’s what American Jews can learn from Israelis, and what American Jewish parents can model for and transmit to their children.

Ingall begins to wonder, “Maybe instead we should encourage kids to be able to engaged in informed debate and be able to appreciate Israel’s history while also feeling empowered to urge its government—and ours—to take positions we think are right.”

She concludes: “When you’re an American Jewish parent, ambivalence and sorrow about the state of Israel aren’t necessarily bad. Disengagement is. What I need to fight in myself is the tendency to tune out when I’m confused and upset. When I tune out, I can’t learn, and I can’t teach my own kids. Disagreement with Israel doesn’t mean not loving Israel, just as being upset with your own children doesn’t mean you don’t love them. But I need to engage with what frightens me, and my failure to do so is why it’s taken eight years to write this column.”

I’m sorry Ingall did not express these sentiments earlier in her column. It could have saved her some grief. The upside is that it has brought her and Tablet more attention and furthers an important discussion (ergo this blog post). But I do still wonder about people who can’t stick with an article until its conclusion. That doesn’t bode well for civil discourse, which is something sorely needed when it comes to the topic of Israel.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Update: Ingall has written a follow-up column addressing much of the commentary that followed her initial article. Click here to her read her excellent reflection and response a week later.


Begging To Differ

May 20, 2010

Well, it looks like the article by Peter Beinart that I referred to in my last post has generated some pointed responses and heated debate. A lot of the criticism leveled against his argument boils down to accusations that Beinart is:

  1. Alarmist (vis à vis what he views as growing “fascist” – or at least anti-democratic – tendencies through the increased strength of the settler movement and among the parties currently in power in Israel);
  2. Too blind to the fault of the Palestinians in the failure to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
  3. Incorrect in his estimation of the level of alienation of young American Jews from Israel;
  4. Defending a type of Zionism and Judaism (the liberal kind) whose death knell has supposedly already been sounded.

A caricature of Peter Beinart

In my opinion, it is definitely worth reading some of these responses to Beinart, as well as a rebuttal by Beinart himself to one of them. The discussion is complex, and the arguments really make you think. They also make me wonder whether there can really be a significant place for moderation and centrism on this issue going forward.

However, from my perspective as a professional who has been around the Jewish education block more than a few times, I do think that Beinart’s characterization of the split between Orthodox young people and more religiously liberal ones is correct. Zionism and love of Israel continues to be a given in Orthodox schools’ curriculum, but liberal Jewish schools and synagogues struggle to teach a Zionism that is not the default national-religious type that comes so naturally in the Orthodox institutions. It is not a coincidence that as of late we have seen large amounts of money and time go in figuring out how “to do Israel education” in the 21st century. I can also vouch for the fact that young Jews today are extremely keyed into the universalistic and ethical aspects of Judaism – to social justice, human rights and tikkun olam. Indeed, that is now a major focus of many Israel travel programs designed for Jewish teens and 20-somethings.

Click here to read Jonathan Chait’s critique of Beinart’s article, published in The New Republic.

Click here to read Beinart’s rebuttal to Chait’s piece, published in The Daily Beast.

Click here to read Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview of/conversation with Beinart in The Atlantic. (It’s in two parts, with more to come.)

Click here to read David P. Goldman’s dismissal of Beinart’s article as an unintended eulogy for liberal Judaism and an ineffective rehash of points already known, published in First Things. I have to say that I was disturbed by Goldman’s lumping together of secular Judaism with all liberal Judaism, as though there is no place for a religious attachment to Israel on the part of practicing and involved non-Orthodox Jews.

And finally, you can click here to read Bradely Burston’s column in Ha’aretz, which is an example of the warnings- from within Israel – against the Israeli “fascism” to which Beinart has referred.

I know – this is a lot of reading. However, I found it wasn’t a slog at all, because it was interesting and important. You may (amazingly), as I did, get through it all without even getting a headache.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.