In the traditional Jewish community, long before there was a Zionist movement or a state of Israel, the “connection to Israel” was built in to everyday life. The entire calendar of holidays, the words of the daily prayers, the everyday detail of the stories of the Bible and the laws of the Mishnah – all were permeated with Israel: its landscape, its climate, its agriculture, its geography.
The success of Zionism has led to the crisis of Israel education. Now that Israel is a modern state, now that we have “returned to history” with all the unpleasantness and difficult dilemmas that that entails – and now that in our modernization we have lost much of the substrate of tradition in which our Israel connection was rooted – we are left trying to create a new connection to Israel, based on the assumption of the Zionist revolution: that Judaism is a nationality, not a religion.
The difficulty that the modern or post-modern North American Jew has in defining his/her Jewish identity (religious? ethnic? national? universalistic?) creates a parallel difficulty in defining his/her relationship to Israel – and this in turn leaves educators without clearly defined goals and outcomes. This whole course is designed to help teachers grapple with this situation and formulate their own responses. This first lesson is meant to articulate the problem, and start the deliberation process that will, hopefully, run throughout the course.
The beginning of Jewish peoplehood occurred in Egypt. This is striking in the first verses of Exodus where the text lists the sons of Jacob who came to Egyptas individual families and then just a few verses later Pharaoh designates them – for the first time ever- as the nation ofIsrael. The birthing process of our people included enslavement, redemption and revelation, all which occurred disconnected from a national homeland. This lesson will explore the historical, philosophical, social, theological and moral significance of that process. Through discussion and comparative sources we will attempt to understand the implications of those particular beginnings: how they imprinted the nation ofIsrael, their consequences, the effects they had on our character, self image and destiny. (more…)