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August 31, 2015 | 16th Elul 5775

Looking Back, Looking Forward

November 18, 2001
Marc Rosenstein


It was just a year ago when Rabbi Katzew asked me to undertake to write a weekly "diary entry" for educators in North America. The idea was to try to personalize Israel, to go behind or beyond the news media "feed," in order to give educators some insight into the life and concerns of a colleague living in Israel. The prime purpose as I understood it was to provide enrichment and depth for the educators themselves, while at least occasionally providing information or text that could be used in the classroom or for student background reading.

This has been an interesting and enjoyable challenge. In view of the purpose, I have tried to work according to certain principles and avoid certain temptations:

For me, a weekly soapbox offers the temptation of producing a litany of all of the disappointments I feel regarding problems in Israeli society. There is a journalist, Gideon Levy, who writes a regular feature in Ha'aretz weekend magazine, detailing in tearjerking fashion the oppression of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. It is hard going, and I know many people who cannot bring themselves to read it every week. It makes us feel sad and angry and helpless. It would have been easy for me to fall into such a pattern, writing about Israeli society in general. But I have tried not to.

Similarly, it is tempting to do a series of heartwarming, cute, or inspiring accounts of "only in Israel" episodes and personalities. The idea of a Jewish state is romantic, and the reality is too, sometimes. But this would be propaganda, not insight.

Israel is in the headlines all the time. We are all deeply caught up in a debate over issues of war and peace, life and death. Everybody has an opinion, including me. But I have tried to avoid more than an occasional treatment of the headline issues, as my own contribution remains just the opinion of an ordinary citizen, with access to no information beyond what I read in the newspaper, and no training in political science etc. I have tried to skew the topics more toward my immediate experiences as a Galilean and an educator, both areas in which I feel that my contribution might be more significant.

I assume that while many readers may have visited Israel, most have not lived here for an extended period. Therefore, I have tried to include, in addition to personal reactions and reflections, a certain amount of straight factual description about aspects of everyday life that might not be widely known to most North American Jews.

Finally, I have tried to make the educational watchword of my work here at Makom ba-Galil the motto of the diary: "don't look for simple solutions." The attempt to create a Jewish, democratic state in the land of Israel has turned out to be a complex process that raises no end of difficult dilemmas. I have tried, for each issue that I have treated, to illustrate its complexity, and to share my own ambivalence and uncertainty. Complexity can at times be paralyzing. But simplification can be fatal.

If the Galilee Diary is to continue, and to provide useful background for educators, it is important for me to receive feedback and input. In particular, it would be helpful to receive suggestions for topics and issues that are of interest to readers. And perhaps an occasional entry might relay feedback on how teachers have applied the material in the classroom and how students have responded.

And underlying the whole question of how the diary is written and how received is a larger question that I have tried to address occasionally but that deserves more serious discussion: what exactly is the place of Israel in Diaspora Jewish education? What are your goals in "teaching Israel" if you do? What outcomes are we seeking? What impact do events in Israel have on life in a North American Jewish school? To what extent are dilemmas in everyday life in Israel of any interest and relevance to North American Jewish children and teens?

I hope that the Galilee Diary serves to generate discussion and debate and creative thinking among educators and students about the dilemmas of life in Israel - and also about the nature of the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. I don't intend to turn the Galilee Diary into a forum for exchange of views, but I would very much welcome receiving emails from educators in the field, that can help me shape the direction and content of future entries.


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