It is not every day I get to study Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, a major American Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist and modern Jewish philosopher. Rabbi Esther Lederman shared his teaching several months back on a pasuk in the Torah, set during the time the Israelites trekked through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:
Related Blog Posts on NFTY, Summer Youth Experiences, Journal of Youth Engagement, and Youth Engagement
NFTY recently convened its annual leadership retreat, Veida, to set priorities for the 2016-17 program year. Teen leaders representing all 19 regions came together to vigorously debate and brainstorm new types of programs, the role of teens in shaping peer experiences, and the social justice issues they would dedicate themselves to in the coming year – such as racial injustice, global climate change, and gun violence prevention. And, they elected the next NFTY North American board members who will begin their new roles this summer.
When it comes to teaching our youth about Israel, how do we foster both a deep love and a nuanced understanding of the issues at the same time? How and when do we teach a view of Israel to our children that embraces her beauty and history, her challenges and shortcomings? How do we equip our youth to learn, to enquire, and to develop their own informed understanding of her complexities? How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland?
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? The Israel I grew up with – the Israel of the 6-Day war, the Israel of the Munich massacre, of Entebbe and the 1977 European Basketball championship – is not the Israel that resonates with young people today. Today’s youth are not as willing to take on Israel “hook, line and sinker” the way many of my generation did. They have easy access to information, form their own opinions, and want to be heard. They demand discourse, diversity and accountability.
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? Recently, I led a URJ Roswell Klal Yisrael Fellowship program Israel trip for a group of international Reform teens. We got to meet Rabbi Noa Sattath, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). Noa discussed how, in some of Israel’s religious neighborhoods, when an advertisement features an “exposed” female model (sometimes the only part ‘exposed’ being her face!), religious men hurry to cover it up.
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? Two years ago, I became a full-time Israeli Shaliach at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach. For the past three summers, I’ve also served as the head of the Israeli delegation at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia. My job is to strengthen the bond between Israel and local communities in the United States. Israel is clearly my home, but how can I help others feel closer to it?
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? Growing up in Israel, I visited almost all the places that groups from Birthright, Masa and other organizations visit – many times. During those visits I was with fellow Israelis who, like me, didn't find much significance in being at these historic sites. Masada, the Western Wall and the Dead Sea had always been a natural part of our horizon. That changed when I led NFTY in Israel and URJ Kesher Birthright trips.
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? Sitting in my study with my post-Confirmands, the conversation started off in a way that might have been different if I still lived in Mamaroneck, New York. Growing up and then working in the New York City metropolitan area, I was used to people being fairly critical of Israeli politics and policies. Of course, many of us were passionate Zionists, raised on the stories of the glorious Six Day War.
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? Think of your favorite sports team. A team you would jump to defend in an argument. For me, it’s the Washington Capitals. Now, imagine being at your team’s games. Surrounded by fans from both sides, cheerleaders, and even a couple of merchants. Your team scores a goal and the arena erupts in cheers. Think of your favorite sports team.
How do we teach the full story while fostering a love for our homeland? I learned about Israel in a “crush-like” way, as a “perfect Israel,” a place where everything was good, right and just. I was not introduced to the “real” Israel, a place with imperfections. The Israel as “crush” approach worked for me. Ultimately, I moved from crush on to deep love with to moving to Israel.