This activity uses experiential problem-solving to explore how governments and societies organize. By playing out how to set up a community on a desert island, the students will begin to understand the founding of the State of Israel.
- The students will internalize the benefits, as well as shortcomings, of organizing as a collective as opposed to individuals
- The students will understand the complexity of having power, dividing/sharing power, (and how power is managed)
- The students will learn about the life story of Rachel Bluwstein, and connect her story to their exercise
- Through Rachel’s story, the students will explore what it may have been like for the founding fathers and mother of Israel to build a new, historically unprecedented Jewish society
STAGE A: Desert Island Challenge
Part 1: Individual vs. Collective: The group will be introduced to the desert island challenge and explore the notion of individual vs. Collective organization
Part 2: division of responsibility and shared goals
- In this part of the activity, the students will divide up the island responsibilities and learn about the goals they can achieve together as a unit
- “Lehiyot Am Chofshi Be’artzeinu” (To be a free people in our land) – the students will learn about this concept, and the hierarchy of needs they need to address together
STAGE B: Israel application: Rachel Bluwstein’s story
In this last part, the students will learn “Rachel the Poet’s” story, and discuss its relevance to the Desert Island challenge.
Divide the class into smaller groups of about 5-6 each.
Ideally, there should be one teacher/facilitator with each smaller group.
Give out the following instruction card:
You are the sole survivors of a plane crash that has landed you on an island that appears to be uninhabited. You have been on the island for two weeks already, waiting to be found by the search-boats that you assume are out there looking for you. You have spent your days building S-O-S signs out of stones and finding food for yourself. At nights you and the other plane-mates stoke large bonfires hoping to be seen by a passing plane (which deep down you know many never come). While you’re not busy trying to be found, you sit alone in sad solitude, wondering if you’ll ever see your family and friends again.
On the eve of your third week on the island, one of the others calls together a meeting, the first one you’ve had. Up until now, you’ve avoided getting to know the others.
She says: “We’ve spent the last two weeks on this terrible island hoping to be found. We’ve managed to stay alive, each of us fending for ourselves, eating fruits and fish. It’s time to face the reality that we may not be found. It’s time to think about how we want life on this crazy island to look, because we may all be here a while longer than we’d hoped.”
Her idea seems nice and all, but you don’t really know these people, and you were doing just fine on your own. Besides, you might still be discovered and saved and brought back home to your warm bed and loving family.
Discussion: To become a collective – or not to be a collective…that is the question
At this point, conduct a discussion with the students about the pros and cons of organizing on the island as a collective unit (as opposed to staying with the “every man for himself” strategy)
Here’s some thoughts to help you guide the discussion:
In MAKOM’s view of the line from Hatikva “להיות עם חופשי בארצנו” (to be a free people in our land), the notion of “AM” (עם) refers to a connection to the beliefs, history, and aspirations of the Jewish People. Both the terms “am” and “artzeinu” hint at the spirit of collectiveness, of being tied to one another as well as to our past.
In the case of the desert island challenge, working independently has its up-sides: you only need to worry about yourself, feed yourself, keep yourself warm, etc. Hunting for 1 is a lot less work than hunting for the entire group. On the other hand, if you’re not a good hunter, you’ll be eating a lot of berries…
It is important to point out to the students that even though the island-mates are strangers to one another, they all have shared a very important, identity-building common experience (getting plane-wrecked!), and they certainly share a common destiny and outcome (getting found and saved!).
The discussion should certainly illuminate the fact that both functioning independently, and functioning collectively have their limitations and opportunities. Yet, we would like to argue that in order to really build a thriving community of people, there needs to be shared responsibility, and a division of power.
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) weighs in on the subject: (4:9-12)
|Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
|טובים השנים מן האחד אשר יש להם שכר טוב בעמלם
|If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
|כי אם יפלו האחד יקים את חברוואילו האחד שיפול ואין שני להקימו
|Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
|גם אם ישכבו שנים וחם להם ולאחד איך יחם
|Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
|ואם יתקפו האחד השנים יעמדו נגדווהחוט המשלש לא במהרה ינתק
- What are the benefits to living as an individual?
- What are the down-sides?
- Why might it be a good idea to function as a collective unit?
- What is Kohelet’s argument in favor of collectivism?
- In what ways do you (island dwellers) share a common history/memory and destiny/future?
- If you think you should operate together, how do you organize yourselves?
- Isn’t this what governments do?
Give out the next card to the group:
Though some of you initially stormed off in denial, by the next morning, you know she was right. You believe that you will all be better off if you embrace the situation and work together as a group to ensure your survival.
You spend the entire day coming up with a work plan. You keep in mind, as much as it hurts, that you may still be together once the seasons change, when the weather is not so warm and tropical, or when food is more difficult to find.
You also pay attention to the fact that if you really are going to be here for weeks, months, or years, your life will need to have more meaning in it than simply getting through the day and surviving until the next. Perhaps together you could find a way to remember what happiness felt like, what hope felt like. Help each other out, rediscover kindness, get to know each other, make friends. Down the road you may want to take it even further: maybe someday you can create some sort of monument for those who didn’t survive the plane crash?
But the first thing you need to figure out is just how to organize yourselves. (like forming a sort of mini-government). Democracy is ideal, but it gets complicated. For example, one of you may be an expert in tent and shelter building, and can realistically do the job the best, so why should everyone else have a vote in how to build the shelters?
To what extent do you need to accommodate everyone’s desires into the group decisions you make? (for example, one of you is a vegetarian, but does that matter here on the island? Or should they just get over it? Is it an unfair burden to expect the food catchers to find an alternative for the vegetarian? Is it important to try?
What comes first, the needs of the group, or the needs of an individual within the group?
What happens if someone gets sick? On the one hand, you want to take care of each other, but on the other hand, if you all catch the disease, you’ll all be sick (or worse)
By the end of the day, you’ve managed to divide your goals into three categories, ranked in level of priority and urgency:
- Survival Needs – the very basic things that need to be set up in order for the group to survive
- Social Benefits – the things that would make living together on island more pleasant and enjoyable
- Social flourishing – the things that would allow you to make the most of your time on the island, and possibly come up with creative inventions, art, or innovation you wouldn’t have created anywhere else/with anyone else.
Before the group divides up the workload amongst themselves, introduce them to the following model, based on Maslow’shierarchy of needs:
People, as well as wider society’s various needs can be understood in the following way, with the lower, more basic levels needed in order to reach the higher levels.
להיות עם חופשי בארצנו – To be a free nation in our land
- להיות- To Be – refers to the most basic needs, the lowest rung on the pyramid. This is what has to happen on the island for you to survive
- עם- Nation – this is the collective element, the decision to be part of something bigger than yourself, for the good and, at times, the bad
- חופשי- Free – liberation, not from the island (which is out of your control), but from the mindset of being trapped and not really living your life. It also echoes of responsibility for the future
- בארצנו- in our Land – in Hatikva, it refers to the playing out of Jewish fate in the land of Israel. In broader terms, it is the situation at which you become self actualized as a people, when you take all of your potential (People, land, heritage and Culture) and channel it fully. This is the highest stage, known as “transcendence” for the collective.
Discuss these varying degrees of existence. Note that the higher up on the pyramid you go, the more complex it is to meet the needs, especially when working as a group. But based on the pyramid, there’s no question that the most positive way and highest degree of living is to reach as high on the pyramid as you can get.
Once the model is clear, give out the worksheet (below, on page 6) to start dividing up the tasks among the group. Challenge the sutdents to really think out of the box about what they can do together on the island as a group. Have them fill out the worksheet below.
Instructions: Please come up together with a list of your needs and goals as a group, and decide who will be in charge of implementing each, and what supplies, tools, or skills you may need to achieve your goal.
We’ve already thought of some examples, feel free to use them, or reject them and replace them with your own.
Survival Needs: להיות – To Be
|Tools, weapons, cooking utensils, time and skill
Social Benefits: עם חופשי – A Free Nation
|Group bonding/ friendship forming
Social Flourishing: בארצנו – In our Land
|Write a book of the group’s experiences
|Writing utensils, paper, imagination, some writing talent?, time
Israel Application: Rachel Bluwstein’s Story
Rachel Bluwstein’s Biography:
Rachel was born in Russia on September 20, 1890. She began writing poetry at the age of 15. At the age of 19, Rachel visited Eretz Israel with her sister en route to Italy, where they were planning to study art and philosophy. They decided to stay on and join Zionist pioneers in their work to build up the Jewish settlement in Israel. They settled in Rehovot and worked in the orchards. Later, Rachel moved to Kvutzat Kinneret on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where she studied and worked in a women’s agricultural school.
In 1913, on the advice of A. D. Gordon, a great influence in her life, Rachel journeyed to Toulouse, France to study agronomy and drawing. When World War I broke out, unable to return to Palestine, she returned instead to Russia where she taught Jewish refugee children. It may have been at this point in her life that she contracted tuberculosis.
After the end of the war in 1919 she returned to Palestine and joined the small agricultural kibbutz Degania, a settlement neighboring her previous home at Kinneret. However, shortly after her arrival she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a then-incurable disease. At first she was instructed to eat separately from the rest of the group. But eventually she was unable to do physical labor or to work with children on the kibbutz (for fear of contamination), so she was expelled from Degania. A kibbutz member simply informed her one day “You are sick and we are healthy. Therefore, you must leave”. Her friends on kibbutz went out to work on the fields that day, so as to avoid saying goodbye, which deeply hurt Rachel. The kibbutz sent a nurse to care for her for a short while.
In 1925 she lived briefly in Jerusalem. She spent the rest of her life traveling from city to city and finally settled in a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Gedera. Rachel died on April 16, 1931, at the age of 40. She is buried in the Kinneret cemetery in a grave overlooking the Sea of Galilee, following her wishes as expressed in her poem “If Fate Decrees”. Rachel’s poetry contains deep and emotional descriptions about connection to the land of Israel, feelings of loneliness and loss, longing for love, and dealing with human fate and mystery.
Rachel settled in the Land of Israel, which at the time was in the very early stages of its formation. Before the Pioneers, the land was desolate and deserted, much like the island exercise the students embarked on above. Rachel and her contemporaries set about shaping a Jewish country, and laying the foundations for what was to come. It was a time inspired by socialist values, and the active Pioneers operated out of a strong desire for the collective good. This was the time when the kibbutzim (communes) were started: each member worked for the collective good of the other members. The value of an individual was measured by how much the individual (פרט/ “prat”) could contribute to the collective (כלל/ “klal”).
Rachel was an asset to her fellow pioneers while she was healthy and contributing to the unit. But when she could no longer give, and might have even posed a threat to the unit, she was banished. No one on the kibbutz saw to it that she would taken care of outside the kibbutz.
Rachel wrote about her feelings of deep loneliness and abandonment in her writings. Her story is very much a story of early, struggling societies choosing the collective needs over the needs of the individuals. This story should shed an interesting and important light on the desert island exercise above.
- What were the kibbutz members so afraid of, if Rachel would have stayed on kibbutz?
- How does Rachel’s story bears resemblance to our island exercise?
- How does it differ?
- Do you feel badly for Rachel?
- If you were a decision-maker on Degania, what would you have decided for Rachel?
To close the program, read the following poems with the students:
בְּלֵילוֹת לֹא-שְׁנָתOn Those Sleepless Nights –
|מַה לֵּאֶה הַלֵּב בְּלֵילוֹת לֹא-שְׁנָת,
|How weary is the heart on those sleepless nights
|בְּלֵילוֹת לֹא-שְׁנָת מַה כָּבֵד הָעֹל.
|On those sleepless nights how heavy is the burden
|הַאֶשְׁלַח יָדִי לְנַתֵּק הַחוּט,
|Should I reach out my hand to sever the cord
|לְנַתֵּק הַחוּט וְלַחְדֹּל?
|To sever the cord and just stop?
|אַךְ הַבֹּקֶר אוֹר; בְּכָנָף זַכָּה
|But the morning light shines, on the wing it wins
|עַל חַלּוֹן חַדְרִי הוּא דוֹפֵק בַּלָּאט.
|It slowly taps at the window of my room
|לֹא אֶשְׁלַח הַיָּד לְנַתֵּק הַחוּט.
|I shall not reach out to sever the cord
|עוֹד מְעַט לִבִּי, עוֹד מְעָט!
|Just a bit longer my heart, a bit longer.
|MY DEAD“Only the dead don’t die”
|מתי“רק המתים לא ימותו”- י.ש.ק.
|Only they are left me, they are faithful still
|הֵם בִּלְבַד נוֹתְרוּ לִי, רַק בָּהֶם בִּלְבַד
|whom death’s sharpest knife can no longer kill.
|לֹא יִנְעַץ הַמָּוֶת סַכִּינוֹ הַחַד.
|At the turn of the highway, at the close of day
|בְּמִפְנֵה הַדֶּרֶךְ, בַּעֲרֹב הַיּוֹם
|they silently surround me, they quietly go my way.
|יַקִּיפוּנִי חֶרֶשׁ, יְלַוּוּנִי דֹם.
|A true pact is ours, a tie time cannot dissever.
|בְּרִית אֱמֶת הִיא לָנוּ, קֶשֶׁר לֹא נִפְרָד
|Only what I have lost is what I possess forever
|רַק אֲשֶׁר אָבַד לִי – קִנְיָנִי לָעַד
לְשַׁבֵּר וְלִבְכּוֹת To Break Down and Cry –
|לְשַׁבֵּר וְלִבְכּוֹת עַל גַבֵּי שְׁבָרַי –
|To break down and cry over my fragments
|זֶה חֶלְקִי הָאָיֹם, גוֹרָלִי.
|This is my dreadful lot, my fate
|יַד אַחִים טוֹבָה לֹא תוּשַׁט אֵלַי,
|The kind hand of brothers has not reached out to me
|לְהָגֵן מִפָּנַי עַל שֶׁלִּי.
|To protect me from myself
|יַד אַחִים טוֹבָה לַשָּׁוְא בַּלֵּילוֹת
|The kind hand of brothers is for naught in the nights
|מְשַׁוֵּעַ אֵלַיִךְ נִיבִי.
|כּמוֹ עַל הַר הַזֵּיתִים אַעְפִּיל לַעֲלוֹת
|Like Mount of Olives, I will brave the climb
|וּקְבָרוֹת מֵעֶבְרֵי נְתִיבִי.
|And tombstones beyond me are my path