Getting Ready for Israel History Month 2020

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Although there is a general prohibition (with many qualifications) not to add or detract from the Torah, not to add new holidays or new rituals, last year we decided to be mavericks, and we created a new holiday period. We established November as Israel History Month

Why? 

At our most recent partner school program webinar, one Israeli educator who was on the call was moved by seeing how Australians, South Africans, Brits, Canadians and Americans were approaching Israel education. At the end of the session, he said: “The one thing I’m confused about is that I heard all these educators talk about teaching Israel once every few weeks, or for three months a year in 10th grade or a seminar in 12th grade. I am in Israel. Israel education is what we do every day.” 

This comment left me — and a few of the educators on the call — to pause and consider the implication of this point. We must find ways to integrate Israel education into what we do throughout the year. But we get it. We know that this is easier said than done, and we know schools, youth groups, synagogues and trip providers are inundated with competing priorities. So, in order to create engagement, we created something special for each November. 

Go nuts and revolutionize your programming for the month of November. Ensure that every day of the month is infused with Israel education in some form. Or simply integrate our curriculum and content in a more modest way.

See below as we unpack five momentous days in modern Jewish history. We hope you will join us in making this November the second annual Israel History Month.

Best, 

Noam

Why We Created Israel History Month: A Brief History

Ponder these rhetorical questions: How many Jews in America have heard of the Titanic, are unfamiliar with the story of the Altalena? How many of us know the name of the mayor in our home city, but do not know the name of the mayor in the capital of our homeland (Jerusalem)? How many of our students can tell you every statistic about LeBron James but have not heard of the legendary American-Israeli basketball player Tal Brody? Or Deni Avdija?

This coming November 4 will be the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. But how many of our students know who he was, what he stood for, and how his assassination impacted Israeli society? 

In 2019 at Unpacked for Educators, we decided to meet this challenge head on by creating a new Jewish holiday season during November, and we decided to honor this month each year moving forward.

November often falls around the Hebrew month of Marcheshvan. Rabbinic tradition has it that the prefix “mar,” or “bitter,” is added because there are no Jewish holidays during this month. It seemed like there was a ripe opportunity for a new holiday, with November becoming Israel History Month.

As educators busy with running the day-to-day lives of our schools, camps and youth groups, we often relegate much of our Israel education to the big days: Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut and, for some, Yom Yerushalayim. Learning about the history and culture of Israel may not always feel like it has the same urgency as other topics in our curriculum. So why designate a full month to teach this topic?

Teaching Israeli history intermittently throughout the year can go only so far in terms of helping our students develop both literacy and connection to the Jewish State. Developing a generation of Jews that has only a superficial connection to this history is devastating when the story of Zionism is so remarkable and inspiring.

Zionism is the world’s most successful national liberation movement. Russian British social theorist Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) said: “Israel has restored to Jews not merely personal dignity and status as human beings, but what is vastly more important, their right to choose as individuals how they shall live.” In a pithier way, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said on Dec. 9, 1910: “Zionism gives the Jews power to realize their dreams.”

During Israel History Month, our goal is to help ensure that our young people gain both knowledge and confidence in this extraordinary story. We want them to care enough about this history to have opinions, and we want those opinions to be informed by facts. And we want to give our students Israel content that is comprehensive, nuanced and presents multiple sides of issues, rather than leave out the parts of the story that challenge us.

Although the value of historical and cultural literacy is unmistakable, as the example of Seth Rogen made clear, that does not mean education is about telling people what to think. It is about giving them tools for how to think. Professor and historian Gil Troy pointed out in his 2018 book “The Zionist Ideas” that “modern Zionists would best turn some exclamation points into question marks while preserving some exclamation points.” This means our educational battle is not a difference of opinions, but of indifference. We need to help our young people achieve self-confidence in their story, without feeling like they know it all.

Five Critical Events That Happened in November:

Five major events happened in November that defined Israel. Let’s take a quick glance at each of them and some questions they raise.

  • The Balfour Declaration: On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter promising a “Jewish home” to the Jewish people in the land of Palestine, which the League of Nations ratified in 1922. Why does this document carry so much significance, and why was it so ambiguous?
  • Yitzhak Rabin Assassination: On November 4, 1995, Rabin was assassinated. He was both a war hero and a peacemaking icon. Admired by many and abhorred by some, Rabin was a real person and complicated figure. Why does his legacy matter? As we noted, this year in particular is a critical year to commemorate Rabin as it is his 25th yahrzeit.
  • “Zionism equals racism” U.N. Resolution: Your students might know about the complicated relationship the United Nations has with Israel, but they may be surprised to discover it goes back decades. On November 10, 1975, the United Nations declared that “Zionism is racism.” Why did this concept come about, and what effect does it continue to have today, even after being repealed?
  • Operation Moses: Beginning November 21, 1984, Israel brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to its shores in this large-scale rescue mission. This “ingathering of exiles” or “kibbutz galuyot” has been part of Israel’s raison d’etre from the beginning. What is Israel’s relationship with world Jewry? How far will Israel go to take responsibility for Jews worldwide?
  • The Partition Plan: On November 29, 1947, the UN passed Resolution 181, or the “Partition Plan.” This plan was to divide the land into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. What led up to the resolution, and how did the Jewish and Arab communities react to it? What happened to this resolution?

How to Bring Israel History Month to Your Classroom

Ready to bring these events to life in your classroom? Here are simple ways to utilize our videos, experiential activities, podcast and other resources to create a multimodal learning experience with your students, whether they are with you in person or virtually:

  • Flipped Instruction: Send video links to your students in advance, then utilize the questions for discussion, reflection and review, suggestions for further reading, and interactive Kahoot! quiz associated with that video.
  • Host a Podcast Listening Party: With your students, listen to an episode of “Unpacking Israeli History” (on the Balfour Declaration or another topic). Hosting a podcast listening party is simple: Just gather your students in person or virtually, play the episode, listen together and discuss using the discussion questions provided.
  • Run an Experiential Learning Activity: Each video comes with a themed experiential learning activity, produced together with experiential activity gurus M², to supercharge your student activity. Follow the steps in each guide to run your activity, watch the video, and lead a discussion with relevant questions.
  • Play Israel History Month Bingo: We’ve created two bingo boards to engage your students in all of this material. See the boards below or access the PDF version. Award prizes to the winners for some friendly competition!

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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