We believe you may be interested in the following materials:
We recommend taking a look at the video on the Makom Matrix: it sets a useful context for our work. Beyond this, we have divided our materials into age cohorts: Schools/Camp, Campus, and Adults. We are constantly adding material to these sections – keep checking back!
We like to think that Israel Engagement thinking can’t be summarized in a couple of tweets, and we also believe that a few great lessons or programs do not a transformation make. Sometimes a framework is needed, or a different way of thinking. Here we have gathered, and will continue to gather, our longer articles and though-pieces about Israel and Israel engagement.
The Israeli popular arts offer us a perfect tool and vehicle for Israel engagement. Celebrating complexity, embracing multi-vocality, touching both head and heart, the potential is huge. We are constantly adding to these resources – keep checking back!
Below you can also find all the materials posted that have been earmarked for your interest.
May 8, 2013 by Robbie Gringras
There is a terribly ugly phrase here that is used whenever someone (usually Ashkenazi) doesn’t want someone (usually Mizrachi) to talk about anti-Mizrachi racism in Israel. The whistle-blower, the moaner, the inciter is accused of “letting the ethnic genie out of the bottle”. That is the literary translation, though a more literal translation would refer to the escape of the ethnic “demon”.
It’s a shocking phrase, which is used by the most seemingly enlightened of public figures, and its connotations are so widely accepted that it is gradually falling into cliché. Historically, anyone who has tried to call the Ashkenazi establishment on its appalling treatment of Mizrachi Jews has been accused of rabble-rousing, of irresponsibly inciting uncontrollable violence on the streets. Though in many ways the Israeli phrase is more insulting, suspecting the Mizrachi of uncontrollable destructive urges, literally demonizing Mizrachim who protest at their treatment.
It is heart-breaking to realize that this is a prejudice that dare not speak its name while its effects are seen everywhere. In academia, the justice system, government, finance, Mizrachim are rarely seen, despite their making up over 50% of the Jewish population of Israel. Only in the percentages of those under the poverty line, those with poor academic results, and those who populate the prisons do Mizrachim score highly.
And yet to point out this state of affairs is so frowned upon it is like pulling out a rotting carcass in the middle of a dinner party. Not only does it stink, but it is a spiteful act, designed only to spoil the party.
It is perhaps only to be expected that the latest example of this phenomenon is connected to money. New shekel notes are being designed and printed with the images of famous Israeli role models. They are all heroes of the Ashkenazi establishment. None are Mizrachim. What is upsetting is not only the decision of the Finance folks, but also the fact that the media has no patience for anyone pointing out these hurtful and unnecessary choices. Mocking memes are rolled out, complaints are cut off mid-sentence, and damage is denied.
For many years I had accepted the standard definition and excuse for the problem. Mizrachim – Moroccans in particular – were victims of an insensitive absorption policy in the early years of the state that led to them being humiliated, poorly housed, and culturally deracinated by the host Israelis of the early 50s.
How could this have happened? How could Jews have treated their fellow Jews in such a way? I had always given much weight to the mainstream narrative that pointed out how Ashkenazi Israelis of the 50s were so numbed by the horrors of the holocaust and the ravages of the Israeli War of Independence, they simply did not have the emotional energy to empathize with someone who has “only” lost their belongings, language, and self-respect. “It is true,” they sigh, “that Mizrachi children were told to Hebraicise their names and forget their culture, but a new united nation needed to be forged. Don’t forget, even Yiddish was banned back then.”
And then a few months ago singer-songwriter Ehud Banai broke my heart. He recently brought out a collection of his memoirs called This is The Place, and in it he tells the story of the Kinneret Yemenites. As is his style and temperament, the story is told almost as a tangent, gently recalled and just as gently acknowledged. But still, a disturbed character in Banai’s book tells of a devout Yemeni community living on the banks of the Kinneret, at the same time as the Degania Group was busy weaving legends out of pioneering and working the land and inventing Kibbutz for the world.
The white European chalutzim did not take kindly to the presence of these Yemenites. They did not like their religious devotion, and had no respect for their work (back then it was simply accepted that Yemeni laborers were paid half what European laborers were paid). When Kibbutz Degania moved to its permanent dwellings in 1930, it desired the land on which the Yemeni community was living. And so the Yemenites were simply moved out. Expelled. Evicted. And Kibbutz Degania took their land.
How can I count the ways this breaks my heart?
First, I fell in love with Israel and Zionism through the stories of these very chalutzim pioneers. These foundation stories of Israel, shared around the camp-fire, of chalutzim and chalutzot, turned my relationship with Israel into a romance. The “inverted pyramid”, the ill-fitting clothes, the late-night discussions – I fell in love with it all.
We didn’t avoid questions about the status of women in the early kibbutz, nor did we duck issues of attitudes to local Arabs (remember that heroic and horrific story of uprooting and replanting a forest planted with Arab labor?) – but internal racism? Never. Who even knew that there were other Jewish communities by the Kinneret who hadn’t read Borochov and who wore kippot?
Second, very few people in Israel know about this story even now. Feminist reappraisals of Zionist history abound, and “New Historians” have raked over Israel’s treatment of Arabs, but assessments of this European Zionism’s attitudes to the Jews from Arab lands have never been received with the same respect. To this day the official history text book of Israel – a massive 500-odd page tome published by the Education Ministry – has all of four pages chronicling the aliya of Arab Jews (Ethiopians remind me it is still better than the one paragraph awarded to the story of Ethiopian aliya!). When called on this in a recent meeting between the Education Minister and Mizrachi activists, the editors proudly pointed out that the 4-page Mizrachi problem has been solved: The new edition will have seven pages.
Is it any wonder the racism continues? Is it any wonder the easiest way to create a funny character on TV is to give him or her a Mizrachi accent?
And if Israelis hardly teach themselves about the Mizrachi narrative, how can we Israel educators bring it up with our Diaspora-based students? Will they even care?
Finally the story of the Yemenite pioneers breaks my heart because this discriminatory treatment of Mizrachim was common practice many years before the Holocaust. These Yemenites were not thrown off their land by shell-shocked survivors of the Nazis: They were shooed away by bright-eyed ideologues who didn’t even see them.
I finally got it. There was no excuse for the early treatment of Mizrachim in Israel. It wasn’t an unfortunate by-product of post-Holocaust trauma. It was racism. That’s all. Plain racism.
And there is never a good time to talk about it. When elections loom, to bring up this racism is to make political capital (and indeed the Shas party does in my opinion work to exploit rather than heal the hurt). When elections are over, to point out the shockingly low number of Mizrachim in the government and leading parties, is to get in the way of kicking the Haredim. When the racist jokes are repeated, one must always keep one’s sense of humor. And when the only remaining symbols of value in this country – the shekels – are reprinted without a Mizrachi face – just stick it on your forehead, you monkey.
December 6, 2012 by Makom
First appeared in Times of Israel
As the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza maintains its tenuous hold and life in Israel returns to relative calm, we continue to mourn the human casualties of this latest conflagration. But there is another, less discussed casualty of the hostilities, not one suffered by Israelis or Palestinians, but by American Jewish education.
The damage was inflicted in heated battles like the Gordis-Brous controversy that raged in Jewish newspapers and social media outlets, as public intellectuals and private citizens jumped to condemn the positions other Jews expressed about Israel. Caught in this unfriendly verbal crossfire were Jewish educators and their students across the United States.
The adage, “anyone to my right is a lunatic and anyone to my left a heretic” has taken on new venom, and the poison is afflicting Jewish teachers and students.In print and online, Jews on the left have been excoriated as traitors or self-hating Jews, while Jews on the right have been castigated as racists or immune to the suffering of others.
It has not taken long for this kind of toxic language to have a stifling effect in Jewish classrooms, where teachers and students are increasingly wary of speaking about Israel lest they find themselves the brunt of such criticism.
To illustrate, I share with you three true anecdotes about the Jewish educational settings I encounter as a teacher educator and scholar of Israel education.
As rockets were raining down upon Israel, a talented religious school teacher knew she wanted to speak with her students about the situation, and yet she worried about the turn the conversation might take. “When talking about Israel,” she explained to me, “I no longer feel comfortable being the only adult in the room.”
Like sex education teachers who know it is always safer to have another adult witness lest conversations with students be misconstrued, Jewish educators are now carefully monitoring their words about Israel lest they be accused of betraying Israel or Jewish values.
These fears carry a steep price.
When this teacher’s colleague was unable to join her in facilitating a conversation about Israel, she admitted, “I found myself with very little to say when faced with the opportunity to have a class dedicated to talking about Israel.” And so, she continued with her regularly scheduled curriculum and her students did not discuss Israel at all.
Classrooms of students are not even talking about Israel because their teachers are hesitant to enter the fray of a public discourse that is so vitriolic. Educators in a variety of settings are beginning to self-censor to avoid being criticized for their beliefs about Israel.
A Jewish Studies professor recently shared her fears about expressing her opinion about Israel in public forums. “I’m scared of being effectively blacklisted,” she wrote. As a scholar and expert about Jewish topics unrelated to Israel, she is asked to speak at synagogues and organizations of all denominations and political orientations. If she makes public comments about Israel, she worries, “I’m afraid that I’ll be passed over in favor of other speakers.” And so she remains silent.
Any market-place of ideas benefits from a variety of opinions, and we should be encouraging diverse voices, especially among those who teach our youth. But recent public discourse has made no room for civil disagreement, causing skilled Jewish professionals and intellectual powerhouses to shutter their windows.
Perhaps most troubling of all is the story of Dina, a high school junior at a Jewish day school. Born in Israel and raised in the U.S., Dina refuses to even mention the word Israel. This is because, as Dina explained, “Israel is such a touchy issue in our school.” Dina fears being ostracized by peers who disagree with her opinions about Israel. “I know this is terrible,” she admitted, “but I try to avoid conversations about Israel with other people in the school.” She, and classmates of hers who identify with both the right and the left, whisper in hushed voices to trusted adults, but do not speak with one another about Israel out of concern for the social stigma that would come from openly stating their positions.
Many of today’s American Jewish youth and, increasingly, the educators who are most qualified to teach them about Israel, are opting out of the conversation.
This new reality should give pause to all those who care about the State of Israel and the future of its relationship with American Jews. For today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders, and if they are unwilling to discuss Israel – or unable to because those tasked with educating them have avoided the topic – then there can be no lasting relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Creating a more civil discourse among Jewish adults would go a long way towards preventing further collateral damage.
Dr Sivan Zakai is Director of Research & Teacher Education at the Graduate Center for Education at American Jewish University.
Makom is delighted to announce the publication of “Sippur Aharon ve’Zehu” – “Definitely the Last Story” – by Etgar Keret, in a specially edited version. Rafi Bannai, Makom’s Hebrew language expert, worked with the author to adapt ten of his stories into simpler Hebrew that might be more accessible to those with good but not great Hebrew…
“Anyone who has reached Kita Dalet or Hey should now be able to enjoy Keret’s brilliance in Hebrew. I also added a vocabulary list at the bottom of each page in English, French, and Spanish, to save you having to run to a dictionary all the time.”
The published price is 38 shekels a copy, but if you mention Makom the price is only 30 shekels a copy.
To order the book, contact email@example.com
Yonatan Ariel, Executive Director of Makom, spoke engagingly and entertainingly at the General Assembly of 2011. On this panel, Yonatan plays out what Israel education must become. (Starts at 11:16)
The panel, entitled “Israel: A New Narrative”, was chaired and introduced by John Ruskay, Executive Vice-President and CEO, UJA-Federation of New York, and Yonatan Ariel shared the panel with Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America (7:52), and with Elizabeth Wolfe, Chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
Yonatan Ariel focuses on the Hatikvah Vision: To Be A Free People In Our Land, Yehuda Kurtzer explores the latest work of the Hartman Institute in Israel engagement, and Elizabeth Wolfe speaks of the experiences of Toronto in working with us (26:00).
One of the most difficult series of questions in the Jewish world today concerns demography. How many Jews actually exist in the world today? What is happening to the Jewish population in different centers of the world? What are the relative shares of Israel and Diaspora in the overall Jewish population of the world? And as important as the numbers themselves are, the really crucial questions lie underneath the surface.
What is the meaning of the numbers? What is the nature of the changing balance of demographic power between the State of Israel and the Diaspora as a whole? What trends do they suggest? What are the implications of today’s numbers for tomorrow’s future? And perhaps the most difficult question of Jews for those who spend their lives counting Jews: Who, exactly do you count? In other words, for the purpose of demographic calculations, who is a Jew?
In order to understand the Jewish community of today – we need to examine all sorts of phenomena that explain why the Jewish community today, in different places in the world, looks the way that it does. We need to understand too, why the idea of Jewish community has been so central to Jews for thousands of years.
For this and the next two chapters, we will be following the strange path of the Jewish community as it wends its way through time, changing and developing as it encounters new situations and finds itself forced to adapt to strange and often difficult circumstances. We will see how the framework and the content of the lives of our ancestors changed and indeed revolutionized themselves in the three periods in question. Let us now open our story and plunge into the first period: how does the whole story begin?
In this chapter we will examine the dynamics of Jewish community in the emerging Diaspora center. We will see the growth and the decline of great Jewish communities, each with their own Rabbinic leadership in different parts of the world. The basis had been laid in Palestine. The results were to be seen throughout the world. The story of the Jews was changing yet again.
Towards the finishing line
We live in a modern Jewish world. The world that existed before modernity was a very different kind of a world, organized in a totally different way, based on different premises. In this chapter we are going to try and survey the changes in the Jewish world and the reasons for those changes.
Looking for a place to park our weary bones
We will be looking at themes connected with the idea and the practice of Jewish community within the historical framework that we have already established. The development of the Jewish community is an inseparable part of that story. The question that we are going to examine in this chapter is ‘why?’ Why was the Jewish community such an important part of the historical story? What was it in the Jewish community that made it so central in Jewish history?
So what did the whole thing look like?
In this chapter we will examine how the Jewish community was structured and how the values and beliefs that lay behind the whole Rabbinic system produced an institutional structure that reflected them. We will examine the institutions of the community and we will acquaint ourselves with the main types of personality that could be found in such communities. We will then go on to examine the way that individual communities fitted into a wider structure within a given center and finally we will look at the issue of relations between different centers.