Gaza conflict – for the educator nothing else matters

November 20, 2012 by

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David Bryfman is the Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership at the Jewish Education Project


If you’re in a position of Jewish educational leadership, and it really doesn’t matter which one, invariably in the last week you have been asked by some of your educators about how they should be teaching about the current situation in Israel.

Unfortunately many of us have been in this situation before, and regretfully many of us will be there again. As in the past many organizations will create resource guides, curriculum and send out talking points.

Since Israel’s last “war” social media has taken off and so people’s Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds will also be filled with many links, downloads and sound bites. With all due respect to these organizations (some of which I acknowledge and link to below) I want to humbly suggest that all of these resources are actually of secondary importance and perhaps even irrelevant.

There is however one conversation that must be have and from experience we all know is in most cases completely neglected.

This essential conversation doesn’t take place in a classroom, and nor does it involve any students/campers/youth movement participants.

It is the conversation that you, the principal, education director, rabbi, executive director, camp director, president, chairperson, can and should be convening. It is the conversation that we most commonly avoid because we are sometimes under the misguided opinion that when it comes to education people’s personal opinions don’t actually matter.

The essential conversation only has 1-2 trigger questions.

This conversation must be had (ideally in person, but also possible on the phone or on a webinar) because without it, anecdotal evidence has shown us time and time again, that nothing else matters.

Put a resource guide in the hands of an educator who has not had a chance to process and reflect about their own relationship with Israel is asking someone to distance themselves and to “read the script” at a time when learners most need authenticity and humanity.

Maybe after the personal processing is complete (or at least started) educators will feel more empowered to go and research about the current situation so that they don’t walk into a room full of learners ill-prepared.

But again, even in a moment of reacting to these current events, think carefully about what it is that you want your students to walk away with. Believe me, those that are so inclined to become political, be advocates, attend rallies, will undoubtedly find a way to do so. If you’re a Jewish educator all of these tactics should be secondary. Your primary responsibility is to allow your learners to navigate their own personal journeys through their individuals challenges and struggles.

These two questions might be ones that your educators want to ask their learners, but only after the educators themselves have had their own chance to dialogue and share.

No one is saying that this is simple. Yes, you might uncover some latent radical in your midst. You might discover tensions in your team that you never knew existed. You might have people raise their voices or shed a tear. And you might even need to give someone a hug, or ask to continue the conversation with them after this structured conversation.

If you’ve had an educator ask you for resources about how to handle the current situation in Israel, then this is the conversation that you need to convene. If none of your educators have asked you for these resources, then you have an even bigger problem, but luckily one that doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, in how to make Israel central to every Jewish educational process that you are engaged in.

To be a (Jewish) educator is to be human. It is to recognize that conflict is fundamentally not about facts or maps, or statuses or tweets. Conflict is raw and it is full of emotion.

Unless we provide opportunities for Jewish educators to ask these two questions right now, then I’m afraid nothing else matters.


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