Is IfNotNow Correct?

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Did I get your attention?

As we enter the new year, I want to share with you a quick thought on the state of Israel Education and our aspirations at Jerusalem U. When IfNotNow (INN) started making its voice heard, many Jewish organizations responded with “Here’s what we need to do to shut them down,” or “It’s just a fringe group.” While I understand these sentiments, and I by no means endorse, agree with or support INN or its tactics, I think this discussion provides the Jewish and Israel education world with an opportunity to do our own cheshbon hanefesh, our own accounting of ourselves.

Are we providing our students with a thorough, meaningful and engaging Israel education? How many more articles from Jewish journals and college newspapers must we read, how many more college and graduate students must we hear from before we understand that our approach to Israel education, while well intentioned, has proven insufficient?

We at Jerusalem U do not presuppose to have all the answers, and we dialogue, debate, and yes, even argue with one another about this. But we have a clear vision on how we can help chart the path to an Israel educational experience that unites, that in following with our Jewish tradition, provides multiple perspectives and does not demand the uniformity that pushes so many young people away. Instead of worrying whether our students have a ready response to every possible argument from a BDS supporter, we want them to have the self-confidence and self-esteem in their Jewish identity – and an appreciation of the full story of Israel – that the arguments from BDS just become noise.

Our choosing indoctrination over education has failed to hit home with our students. We should allow students to grapple with issues, to be exposed to the broad contours of dispute so present in Israeli society and leadership, to allow for the possibility of finding comfort in ambiguity, to borrow a term from Frank Bruni’s recent opinion piece. We must strive to enable our students to develop passion and conviction without sacrificing empathy, to construct their own role within Jewish peoplehood, and to foster their personal identity based on a rich knowledge of the modern story of Israel. Our firm hope and belief is that engagement in a process that treats our students with the respect they deserve will bring out their authentic selves, and create a life-long attachment to Israel.

This weekly digest of current issues emerging from Israeli society is one step in that direction. Without the leading Jewish and Israel educators of all affiliations staying current on current Israeli events, and without your encouragement to show your students the multiple perspectives within Israel, your students remaining engaged seems a daunting challenge.

Each week, we hope to be practical, helpful and relevant. Please hold us accountable. I have really appreciated your feedback, as your perspectives are so important in helping us shape Israel education for the Jewish future. Please continue to share your thoughts and suggestions. I am all ears.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is the Senior Vice President of Education at Jerusalem U. Noam holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design. Before joining Jerusalem U, he was the principal of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, where he spent 9 years actively engaging and empowering students to find meaning in their Jewish learning.

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