What We Teach Our Children About Israel

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Perelman's head of school  writes about the intricacies and importance of teaching the next generation about Israel.

Let’s face it — if you’re Jewish, Israel is not just another foreign country. Whatever our politics, whatever our religious practices, we’re going to be engaging with Israel throughout our lives, as something more than just a vacation spot or a place in the news.

And that means wanting, and needing, to educate our children about Israel. At Perelman Jewish Day School, we see Israel education as an intricate mosaic. How we teach Israel is as important as what we teach. Our curriculum is broad and not limited to textbooks and special programs.


We start each day with the entire student body saying the Pledge of Allegiance — and singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Beginning in Gan (kindergarten), the intensive Hebrew program at Perelman offers the opportunity to fully immerse our students in the acquisition of the language. Not only do they learn to read, write and understand Hebrew, but the multimodal approach allows children to experience the country’s culture through authentic conversations.

Children role-play shopping for fruits and vegetables in Machane Yehuda, the Jerusalem market, or finding the right bus in Tel Aviv. Familiarity with Hebrew doesn’t just open a window to understanding the modern Mideast nation; it gives our children access to — and a level of comfort with — the original texts of our people.

Israel education is also integrated across all areas of the curriculum. A science unit compares desalination in Israel to that in California; a ceramics class examines archaeological finds at Beit Guvrin; and a history unit on Ancient Egypt includes modern scholarship along with the Hebrew text of the book of Exodus. Our new civics program will draw connections between the democratic pro­cesses in the United States and in Israel.

But teaching about Israel isn’t merely a parochial exercise. It’s a way of opening minds, by placing the Jewish experience in a wider context. Growing up as a Jewish kid in America, you might think that most Jews live pretty much the way you do.

But Israel is an ingathering of Jews, and we display their diversity. That includes not just religious diversity, from secular to ultra-Orthodox, but socio-economic diversity, where Jews fill every job on the scale. Jews who come not just from Europe, but from Ethiopia, Russia, China and India — and look like it. The tapestry is even more vibrant when students discover the intersection of Islam and Christianity in the very same location.

After teaching at Perelman (then Solomon Schechter) as a young woman, I made aliyah in 1984 and lived on a kibbutz. I retain dual citizenship of both Israel and the United States. But in a sense we are all dual citizens. Last week, we commemorated Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

This week, we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. These two events — these extremes — are without doubt the seminal experiences of modern Jewish history. There is no way for our children to find their way forward as Jews unless we give them an intimacy with Israel.

In doing so, we provide more questions than answers. Israel education is, by nature, didactically disruptive. The Jewish state, still young, is plainly a work in progress. We struggle to live together with Muslim and Christian Arabs, with Druze, Bedouin — and with each other. There is a constant tension between idealism and reality, elation and frustration.

Despite the tension, we share our pride in Israel’s strengths and contributions to the world — pride that USB drives were developed in Israel, that WAZE was invented in Israel, that Israel arrives first to help with search and rescue after an international disaster. Israel faces unique challenges and, yes, even makes mistakes. But we do not love her any less.

We can’t fully explain all these complexities to elementary school students, of course. Jewish educators worldwide are grappling with how best to address topics in Israel education that do not garner universal agreement. Our goal is to cultivate a lifelong commitment to Israel through knowledge of our history, appreciation for its diverse cultures and facility with Hebrew language.

We help each child develop a unique relationship with Israel. And we provide them with the tools to wrestle with more multifaceted issues as they mature. As we celebrate this 67th year of Israel’s independence, we are proud to provide the foundation for an enduring love for Israel and Am Yisrael.

Judy Groner is the head of school of Perelman Jewish Day School.

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