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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Not what we had in mind


Galilee Diary #418, November 30, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein


At the end of the twenty years during which Solomon constructed the two buildings, the Lord's House and the royal palace – since King Hiram of Tyre had supplied Solomon with all the cedar and cypress timber and gold that he required – King Solomon in turn gave Hiram twenty towns in the region of Galilee.

            -I Kings 9:10-11


The ORT network of high schools in Israel (which includes dozens of schools all over the country) has been supporting a "Jewish roots" program in all of its schools, designed to encourage pluralistic Jewish study, both informal and formal.   It is an impressive effort and many teachers and principals – and students – have been "grabbed" by the experience, finding personal satisfaction and empowerment in this exposure to Jewish sources in an open, non-Orthodox, non-judgmental setting.   We have been part of the effort for the past year, providing in-service training and support for the Jewish Roots teachers and coordinators in several schools in our area.


Recently I was meeting with a group of 10th grade homeroom teachers for our monthly in-service session to review progress and plan activities for their classes.  We got into a discussion of goals, and I mentioned that for me, a key goal was helping the students to find roots for their ethical values in Jewish texts.  Several teachers raised the question of how the non-Jews in their classes would relate to that goal.  That left me speechless for a while – I guess I knew, in the back of my head, that there are non-Jews in Jewish schools here – after all, there are many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, for example, who while Jewish for the Law of Return (one Jewish grandparent), don't actually identify as Jews – and in some cases are practicing Christians.  But it turns out that here in the Galilee that's only part of the non-Jewish population.  There are Arabs (Moslem, Christian, and Druze) who choose to send their children to Jewish high schools in the cities, seeking a higher academic level than may obtain in their village schools.  And there are the South Lebanese Army (SLA) kids: During Israel's presence in Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, our close ally there was the South Lebanese Army, consisting of Christians from the region (remember, Lebanon has been, from its inception, in a state of intermittent internecine strife among Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, and Christians).  When Israel suddenly withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, it seemed obvious that the SLA members and their families, if left without Israeli protection, would face terrible retribution from their neighbors.  Therefore, Israel granted them asylum here and a few thousand of them have settled in Jewish towns across the Galilee, seeking, ambivalently, to integrate into the Jewish culture, sending their kids to Jewish schools.  Many of them are well-educated, multilingual – Lebanon was always seen as a piece of Europe in the Middle East.  They are sad here, cut off from family and culture, not at home anywhere.


Indeed, one of the teachers confided, there is a successful, cute, popular SLA kid in one of her classes, and when she sees him hugging and kissing a Jewish girl, it freaks her out.  So there you have it: there is no escape from the problems of modern life for Jews, even in the Jewish state.  The Jewish state never has been and never will be 100% Jewish – and whether we like it or not, as long as it is a democracy that recognizes individual freedom, as long as it engages in the world – in trade, in intellectual exchange, in military alliance – it will have to struggle with the same problems of open society that Jewish communities elsewhere face.  Perhaps in a different dosage, perhaps with different emphases; but we cannot cut ourselves off the "identity marketplace" that characterizes open, western societies.  If we want our children to have strong Jewish identities, if we want them to marry Jews, we can't count on the environment, on isolating them in a nominally Jewish state.  Israel, of course, is a very special place, in some ways a Jewish place.  But at the same time – it's just like anyplace else.


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