Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Priority Israel?

I’ve been living in the States—a temporary abode for studies—for about a year now, and I still haven’t gotten used to the reaction of other members of the tribe when I tell them I’m from Jerusalem. The response is often a momentary look of utter confusion that reads “What? Why?” which is quickly replaced by a smile and a “How nice.” This has happened too many times for me to write it off as a rarity.

Last year, when Ariel Sharon fell ill, I was glued to the Internet, watching Channel One news. I could talk about nothing else. And my American Jewish friends, well, they shrugged. It didn’t really touch them. When I returned from my three-month stay in Israel over the summer, I was asked about the war, but the conversations died quickly—either they could not find anything meaningful to say or just did not find the topic of serious interest. While the people I am referring to donate hard-earned money to Israeli causes, participate in Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities, and visit when they can, they are unable or unwilling to engage in higher-level conversations about Israel—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sadly, it seems to me that for them Israel is almost a fictitious Never-Neverland—whether a spiritual utopia, a punching bag, a sunny holiday destination, or a war-ravaged country that they can do without.

Israel was a serious priority in my high school. For instance, instead of offering standard Hebrew language classes that focused on grammar, they had two options: Sifrut and Itonut—that is, classes where students studied classic and modern Israeli literature or analyzed modern Israeli newspaper articles, so that we were introduced to the challenges Israeli society faces. A subtle message that we were somehow connected to Israel and Israelis was channeled through school programming—hearing Hativka on the PA system in the mornings, discussing various Israeli inventions in Science classes, staging a mock debate of the first Zionist convention, etc. I’m not on the Jewish Agency payroll here, but shouldn’t basic knowledge of Israel be part of Jewish literacy taught in our schools/camps? Shouldn’t our students be able to answer elementary questions about Israeli history and modern politics? Don’t we want Jewish citizens who can transcend the role of tourists?

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