The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA, is helping to sharpen Israel's image in the eyes of adolescents. The Boston-based group has just released "Eyes on Israel," a secondary-school curriculum currently being used by more than 500 Jewish educators and institutions around the globe, including Stern Hebrew High School in Philadelphia and the Jewish Community High School at Gratz College.
Comprised of lesson plans, handouts, teacher's aids and multimedia components, "Eyes on Israel" strives to encourage students to think critically and analytically about Israel and the Middle East, and how they are being portrayed in the media.
The curriculum is split into four modules, which can be taught successively or independent of one another. The topics include: journalism and its responsibilities; a modern history of Israel; strategies for advocating balanced coverage of the Middle East; and a case study in media coverage of a United Nations resolution.
A Plan With Flexibility
According to curriculum coordinator (and Lower Merion resident) Hillel Zaremba, the program was designed to operate in a sequential fashion, while still giving teachers the ability to pick and choose. That flexibility among modules was crucial to making the program effective.
"One of our fundamental goals here is to explain to kids how journalists operate, and what is meant by a code of ethics that journalists are supposed to abide by," said Zaremba. "For older kids, it's sufficient to give them an actual code of ethics and base a lesson plan off of an examination of that."
Zaremba said that the real impetus for the program came after the second intifada and the reporting that came out of that event.
"There began to be more and more attention focused on Israel, and it was clear to CAMERA's rank-and-file audience, as well as to CAMERA staff, that something needed to be done to reach an audience before they went off to college."
While the program has just completed its pilot distribution phase -- and is currently being offered free of charge -- it's already widely in use locally.
Used in Confirmation Class
Both the program's content and its flexibility were part of the draw for Rabbi Lisa Malik of Suburban Jewish Community Center B'nai Aaron in Havertown, who began using the curriculum last year with her 10th-grade confirmation class.
She said that the class is structured around Jewish ethics and values, and that she has adapted the CAMERA curriculum in her discussions of "the Jewish value of emet, truth and lashon hara," or evil speech.
She plans to devote roughly one-third of the year to "Eyes On Israel," an increase from last year, when she said she had to "squeeze it in." While it's a good fit for her students, Malik said she thought secular schools could also benefit.
"It not only teaches you specifically about Israel and the media, but I think many of the skills can be used for reading the media in general -- applying it, for example, to election coverage."
She said she often finds herself referring to some of the course material outside of the classroom, such as when she sees campaign commercials on TV.
Malik said she'd also had the opportunity to work personally with Zaremba on how to best implement the curriculum within a certain time frame, and that this type of one-on-one interaction was enormously helpful to her in the classroom.
"I think having the curriculum support really helped. If I had just bought this at a conference and been left to my own devices, I probably would not have been able to do it as well," said Malik.
Teaching Life Skills
While the curriculum maintains a focus on Israel and Jewish issues, Zaremba stressed that the skills students learn are useful beyond these topics.
"All of what we're teaching should be done all the way down the line -- it's relevant to whether you're talking about Israel, global warming or taxes in your township."