Our reading of the research and our own experience has led us to a few conclusions about Israel education:
1. If students are to develop an ongoing relationship with Israel that will live beyond their time at school, they need to emerge with a framework to grasp a dynamic and complex Israel, that does not avoid politics but does not fetishize them, and that enables them to explain themselves to their non-Jewish friends or family.
2. This kind of Israel education requires new or adapted curricula, but far more importantly, it requires teachers who are equipped or trained to teach according to a different approach.
3. This approach needs to be easily-grasped, ideologically flexible (works for orthodox and reform, left or right-wing), practical (don’t need to invest years changing everything!), and perceived as relevant/necessary by the teachers and their institutions.
Why write about fantastic Israeli music trends, when you can just as easily listen to them?
This is the first in a series of podcasts about Israeli culture, narrated by Robbie Gringras. This episode looks at two classics, one Israeli and one American, that received a fascinating upgrade by two Israeli bands…
The Arik Einstein/Judy Katz version of “What’s with me?”
Teapack version of “What’s with me?”
To buy the Teapacks track, click here
Tracy Chapman performs “Baby can I hold you?”
Red Band and Sarit Hadad perform “Baby can I hold you?”
To buy the Red Band/Sarit Hadad track, click here
Michal Barkai-Brody shares how her rage at inequality drove her to create change.
If I’m being honest, the main reason I chose to make aliya, was because in Israel I had a greater chance of getting a job that wouldn’t require me to shave every day. (It was 20 years ago. Designer stubble wasn’t fully respectable, and hipster beards were unheard of.)
So there are periods when I shave daily – mostly when I’m feeling old and don’t want all my white tufts to show – and there are periods where I can go a whole week without shaving. I am a crazy wild man, I know.
Yet while the informality of life in Israel perhaps grants me more freedom than I might have in the UK, it does not free me from being misunderstood in at least four different ways.
First, living in a majority Jewish land means that when anyone sees you are unshaven, their first instinct is to wish you long life. They sympathetically assume that you are in mourning, and so that haggard unshaven look is nothing to do with a hangover (or your advancing age) but only due to a loss in the family. When I dispel their side-angled-head with a “nah, I just couldn’t be bothered shaving”, they look somewhat disappointed.
Second, it is always dangerous to go unshaven between Pesach and Shavuot. It confuses people. They don’t understand why it is that I am strictly observing the counting of the Omer, and yet have no kippah on my head. One year I decided to tell people that I was indeed keeping the Omer, and went weeks without a shave. Got a lovely bush going. But then I forgot to shave it come Shavuot and all hell broke loose.
Of course, here in Israel, a man with dark hair and a scraggy beard may well be a terrorist. Most Muslim men in Israel go for the stubbly look, and racial profiling is nothing if not racially predictable in its predictions. My chances of getting double-checked at the entrance to a shopping mall if I’m unshaven rise exponentially with every morning I don’t put razor to face.
And finally, if we’re talking hirsute cliches, I have learned always to shave before getting on a plane. I’ll never forget the time I was stopped by a plain-clothed policeman at Ben Gurion airport. A scruffy-looking bloke in a short coat, unshaven and sneaky-looking, took one look at my three days’ growth and made a beeline for me. He identified himself to me as a policeman, showed me his badge, and then asked me, in an unshaven sneaky kind of way, “You got any drugs on you?”
It was kind of surreal. As if a) people hawk their razor blades for drugs, and b) lack of shaving makes you stupid. I told him, honestly yet perplexedly, that I didn’t have any drugs on me. And he came back with the classic: “Maybe we should take you off to search you. What do you think? You’re looking nervous. Why are you nervous?” Which of course suddenly made me feel nervous. After a stressful few moments, in the end I ‘fessed up. I told him he was welcome to search me, but all he would find was a few unused razor blades. “Sorry mate,” I said in my best Hebrew, “I’m not a drug-dealer. I just haven’t shaved recently.”
He put his head at a commiserating angle, and said disappointedly, “Ah, I’m so sorry. Death in the family? I wish you long life.”
Identity is both given and chosen: it is given in that one’s choices are not unlimited and it is chosen in that there are multiple groups and ideas to which one subscribes. Identity is gender, profession, religion, ethnicity, and nation among others. What pulls these together is a story or a narrative. Groups need a narrative to justify who and what they are, because they do not want to perceive themselves as either totally eclectic or as totally self-serving. We want the stability provided by the anchor of story.
Yet narratives change; they are ‘puncturable’, and we sense their fragility in the modern history of the Jewish People. Let’s think of the Zionist narrative – on my teenage Israel experience there was no more poignant moment than when we visited the ‘magic mountain’ of Masada, exploring the story of heroism and the symbol of Jewish defiance and dignity, that we had heard so much about from when we were little children. Today, we go to Masada the tourist site and the tour guide relates: ‘But you know, maybe they weren’t heroes. Maybe the story happened in a different way.’ The narrative is punctured the moment we ask: do we really want to view suicide as the embodiment of Jewish potential?
It goes deeper. Think about what Zionism represents – the contemporary realization of millennial Jewish longing for the ancestral homeland. And then recognize that one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world today is in Germany. Germany! Put that in your Zionist pipe and smoke it! Can we just carry on? When there is compelling historical evidence, the narrative is undermined. Yet within the best, most exotic stories, and the Jewish story is certainly that, there is the power to rebuild, to reconstruct, to add and to change.
This Shavuot the festive celebration of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, I would like to remind myself that we would do well both to remember and to forget. Berl Katznelson taught us that: ‘Were only memory to exist, then we would be crushed under its burden…And were we ruled entirely by forgetfulness, what place would there be for culture, science, self-consciousness and spiritual life?’ Human beings are really good at both remembering and forgetting, although we sometimes get confused as to what should be in which category.
Eric Hobsbawm taught us that the ‘authentic’ Scottish kilt, which we suspect is an ancient tradition, only achieved widespread use as a result of an enterprising English businessman in the eighteenth century. This should give us heart. We can rewrite the lachrymose view of history, that Jewish life is an ongoing tale of woe, into a creative narrative that gives purpose for the future. The key property will be truth-likeness, rather than truth as the historical record, and its promise is that a people can rebuild and invite us into an ongoing conversation of the many and varied stories that we will create.
Our tradition teaches us that we were all present at Mount Sinai for the receiving of the Torah, those of us then and all those yet to be born, which means us. A few years ago, in a heated debate in the Israeli Knesset the interlocutors pressed their respective claims with reference to the Torah. One secular member retorted to a dismissive claim of her right to quote Torah by declaring: “I too was present at Mount Sinai.” And she continued, “even if it never happened”. Chag Shavuot Sameach.
Jonny Ariel directs Makom – the Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency
Dorit Rabinyan was born in Israel to an Iranian-Jewish family. She is the recipient of the Itzhak Vinner Prize, the ACUM Award, The Prime Minister’s Prize and the Jewish Wingate Quarterly Award (London). Her first two novels PERSIAN BRIDES and A STRAND OF A THOUSAND PEARLS were both best sellers and translated into fifteen languages. In 2014 Rabinyan published her third novel, BORDERLIFE, an immediate best seller in Israel. In January 2016 BORDERLIFE became the center of a political scandal in Israel when the book was removed from high schools’ curriculum.
Borderlife, by Dorit Rabinyan
Winner of the 2015 Bernstein Prize
A chance New York encounter brings two strangers together: Liat, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Hilmi, a Palestinian born in Hebron. For one frozen winter away from home, on snowy streets, filled with longing for a Middle East sun, Liat and Hilmi demarcate the place reserved only for them, an intimate short-term place, a universe for two. At the fissures and margins of things, in corners and in gaps, the reality lurking in Israel peers at them and snarls. The story, with its passions and twists, follows them even when they each go their own way – Liat returning to Tel Aviv and Hilmi to the village of Jifna, north of Ramallah – refusing to end.
Chayuta Deutsch was born and bred in Tel Aviv. She has taught at Ulpana Kfar Pines, at Bayit VeGan College, Maaleh Film School, Hebrew University, at Bar Ilan University, and at Bet Morasha Academy for Jewish Zionist Leadership. She began her writing career with the children’s magazine “Otiot” in 1983. Between 1997-99 she edited “Otiot” and “Sukariot”. She was the literary editor of “HaTzofeh”, and the deputy editor of “Nekuda”. She has written op-eds for “HaTzofeh”, Ynet, Maariv online, and currently writes her own column “L’pnai ulifnim” in the Shabbat supplement of “Makor Rishon”. “Were I to hear another voice” is her first novel, after having published a collection of short stories “This is what redemption looks like”, and a biography of Nechama Leibovitz. She was among those who established Kolech, Israel’s first Orthodox Jewish feminist organization, and was on the Board of Directors for several years. She is currently the head of publishing for Bet Morasha, and the editor of “Akademot”.
Were I to hear a different voice, by Chayuta Deutsch
After having tried again and again to realize her dream of having a family, Uzia decides to leave her home town of Tel Aviv, and build herself a new life in a small village in the North of Israel. She leaves everything behind: Her memories of her life in Tel Aviv as an only daughter of National-Orthodox parents; the man she had loved all her life; her close childhood friends; and her work as a respected journalist.
A friendly little café in the village becomes her refuge and source of income. She opens up a writing workshop at the cafe for local characters both charming and mysterious, but the demons of her past do not leave her. As the writing workshops become an arena for secrets and confessions, it turns out that Uzia’s refuge is no safe space at all, and that those around her are not who they seem to be.
And all this while, threatening graffiti that appear throughout the country lead a team of secret police to set off in search of the members of a messianic sect who threaten to sow violence and destruction. At the head of the sect stands a charismatic man called “Levi”, who sweeps up youth into acts of rebellion not just against the State of Israel, but also against the world of Jewish religious law. When his dangerous teachings lead the State to the brink of civil war, his pursuers realize they must hurry and uncover the identity of this “Levi” before it is too late.
Joe is an alienated confused and charismatic young woman doing occasional drug errands. One night she comes across a suicidal woman called Belle who has broken into her bathroom in order to slit her wrists. Somehow this later leads to a gun going off a few times in the direction of Joe’s ex-lover, and Joe and Belle need to disappear. But where? When your entire country is the size of New Jersey it’s not easy to disappear, unless there’s a convenient war zone in your neighborhood…
David Deri is a successful film director – a gay man living in Tel Aviv, the pink center of Israel. “Say Amen” follows his journey of coming out to his family in Yerucham. His sisters already know, his brothers suspect, and his traditionally religious parents – devout immigrants from Morocco – continue to pray for him to find a wife. As we follow Deri’s journey, we learn about the distance between Tel Aviv and Yerucham, and the mixed blessing of a close-knit loving family.
In collaboration with the Rabin Center, top Israeli band HaDag Nachash have just released a brand new song for Rabin Memorial Day.
Entitled “What would have been if?” the song remembers and laments.
Here is our translation, officially endorsed by the band:
The past we know, some of us even remember
How a few moments after the end of the speeches
We were all as one fixed to the receivers
Until the message reached our ears – and left us without words or utterance
And with a slightly bashful glance we were sucked back into the cycle
Of wounded and licking and wounded and flogging – like a wave
But you should know, that there are moments
When I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A bubble floats and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”
The present is known with no need to expand
How it drains and shakes how it pressures with no quiet
And how every winter we race after the left-overs of the left-overs
Because maybe in the summer we’ll be running to the bomb-shelters
But know that there are moments
In which I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A floating tear and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”
And our untrustworthy future what does it have in store
What more can it bury
Your Six Days blossomed a hundredfold
And nowadays not only we declare victory
And to think that you had the courage to change
And to think you knew how to plant hopes
And to think that you raised up to fly and went far enough to see
And to think that you managed to understand:
“What would be if…?”