By Robbie Gringras
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.
We suggest that the Western world (beyond the Jews and Israel!) is grappling with four fundamental questions.
- How do we stay safe? (Terrorism, War, Violence in the streets)
- Who are “We” and how should “we” behave? (What does it mean to do/say something “un-American”? How should my behavior towards a fellow American differ from my behavior towards someone who is not American?)
- How can we maintain our freedom? (In particular: What happens to our belief in democracies when the wrong guy wins the election/referendum?)
- How do we relate to our territory? (Where are our borders? Who should we allow to cross them? Can we exploit our land or only sustain it?)
When Donald Trump talked of refusing Muslims entry to the US, he was answering all four questions in one fell swoop. When Germany tackles refugees, or the UK Brexit, they are also arguing over answers to these four questions.
These are fundamental “spiraling” questions can be addressed by 5 year olds, by 15 year olds, and by 50 year olds.
The Jewish/Zionist expression of these questions emerges in the penultimate line of the Hatikvah Anthem: To Be | A People | Free | In Our Land. When presented as four questions – the Four Hatikvah Questions or 4HQ – we have the overall framework for addressing Israel education. Zionism is the ongoing attempt to implement ever better answers to these four fundamental questions.
We suggest that while a school should be free to favour particular answers, they must always address all four of the questions. (For example, only focusing on the Biblical Land of Israel addresses only one question.) Any student who emerges from a Jewish school without realizing that Israel is the result of the ongoing creative tension between 1) security, 2) Jewish Peoplehood, 3) democracy, and 4) the Land of Israel – has missed Israel.
From 4HQ Makom has developed a flexible, modular curriculum. We have developed and run teacher-training courses to cultivate educators who are fluent in this approach. And we have an online tool that allows teachers to find videos, music, images, songs, and texts to cut-and-paste their own lessons.