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Pick your school: Pick your Israel?

The theme this Shabbos seemed to be “teaching Israel.”  I was talking this over with friends while the kiddies played this afternoon, basically discussing what our criteria had been in choosing schools for our kids.

I’m either a great person or a really mixed-up person to listen in because I have had kids in both a more right-wing yeshiva setting and a more Zionist modern orthodox setting.  And also because I’m currently opting out and homeschooling, partly because of the false dichotomy that has been made of the whole ISRAEL ISSUE.

What Israel issue?  Oh, you must not have gotten the memo:  you can’t be frum and love Israel… sorry!  And if you love Israel, it’s tough finding your way in a frum school.  It goes way beyond what the school does for Yom HaAtzmaut, though that’s definitely a symptom.

The bad news:  it turns out most Jewish kids – of all ages – are being taught NOTHING about Israel.  Even the schools one would assume are teaching Israel are given very little information about the historical backdrop and legitimacy of the Jewish claim to the State of Israel.  Even Jewish history is apparently not mandatory in this city’s biggest Jewish high school.

So basically, kids are given NOTHING with which to either defend Israel or, let’s be positive about this, build their pride in the country either.  And then the graduate, face the anti-Israel apartheid forces, and say, “gee, what they’re saying kind of makes sense…”

(this is true in Israel as well, he says, where some 30-something percent of high school students have apparently never seen Jerusalem)

And the frummer schools seem to be even worse offenders.  The kids still travel to Israel, love Israel, have family in Israel, spend a year in Israel, go on Birthright maybe even plan to make aliyah, but it’s kind of a dirty little secret… like “sure, I love Israel, too, and I won’t tell anybody if you don’t.”

Those schools prefer to leave any semblance of “controversy” (ie politics, history) to be taught in the home while, in my experience, the more Zionist schools leave other “controversial” topics – like reverence for righteous men and women, tznius, or any part of our Jewish background beyond the Zionist identity itself.  Herzl and the Chofetz Chaim:  why can’t they have pictures of both up on the wall?

According to one parent, a high school teacher who actually spoke at shul this morning, denying Israel is becoming dangerous.  He believes it is only because of the stability and security of the State of Israel that the rest of us Jews are safe anywhere in the world today.  Needless to say, they have chosen the modern Orthodox Zionist route for their daughter’s school next year.

He seemed to suggest that this is a critical time, when world opinion could shift against Israel in an instant.  And it looks like anti-Zionist Jews may be leading the charge.

Yet the schools here are doing so very, very little:  either preserving a shred of Zionist identity at the cost of Jewish identity, or vice-versa, turning out good Jews who (on the face of it) couldn’t care less about Israel.

Individual vs collective good.

“We want our kids to grow up true, erlicher, hearts-on-fire Yidden.”  Great!  Pick a yeshiva school and stick with it.  Your kid will do just fine.  Am Yisrael?  Maybe not so much.


“We want our nation to have a home in the Middle East they can love and feel proud of.”  Great!  Pick a Zionist school and stick with it.  That and the Shoah may be all they learn about being a Jew, but hey, it’s our country, and if we don’t love it, who will?

Individual vs collective good.  At least, that’s what the schools seem to promise.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh.  But if you happen to seek a place where your children can affirm the value of the holy Torah of Israel in the holy land of Israel… well, hmm.  I guess you’ve gotta pick your favourite Israel.