“What does your school do on Rabin Day?”

October 6, 2013 by

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For two years at the turn of the millennium, I would ask this same question at every school I visited in Israel.

Studying Jewish Educational Leadership with the Mandel School, we would go out on field trips throughout Israel. Dialogical alternative schools, Shas schools, Haredi schools, different shades of Orthodox schools, Jewish/Arab schools, teaching colleges – the lot. And at every school I would ask only one question, the answer to which would tell me all I needed to know about the school.

“What does your school do on Rabin Day?”

The most painful answer, that I received in several different orthodox schools, was always delivered with a combination of defensiveness and dismissiveness: “Well I didn’t kill him…”

But no matter the school, the response was always guarded. Tragically, in my mind, the marking of Rabin Day had become a sensitive, political, and professionally dangerous issue in schools. Rabin Day was enshrined, or enforced, by the government. But the exact nature of the day, its mood, content, and importance, was in the hands of the school.

What could the answers teach me?

I learned a lot about education.

Each answer would teach me what each school felt about history. It would teach me what each school wanted their students to know about democracy, loyalty, government, citizenship. It taught me much about whether the school believed the student should be an autonomous learner or should be a sponge. It taught me about the way in which a school would often unconsciously blend political bias with education.

And I learned much about the way in which the teachers and their leaders viewed the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Was the murder judged according to its motivation or according to the law? Was it seen to be a manifestation of a quarrel over Judaism, or over our relationship with the Palestinians?

And I wonder also about Jewish institutions in the Diaspora.

What does your school/JCC/Federation/Hillel/synagogue do on Rabin Day?

And what does that teach you?

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