In November, I wrote an article for the Jewish Journal in which I made the case for establishing “cultural literacy,” as it pertains to our personal relationships with Israel.
The crux of my argument about having the proper background to advocate for and support Israel boiled down to one important question: How many of us really know our story?
“How can we ask our young people to go to college and advocate for Israel without knowing the history of Israel?,” I wrote. “How can we ask our young people to lobby for Israel without demanding they have cultural literacy? How can we ask our young people to represent Zionism when they often do not know what Zionism represents?”
But, to be fair, properly answering those questions only leads to more questions. How can we hope for cultural literacy when the vast majority of young Jews are not in a Jewish educational infrastructure? How can we expect our young people to know their story without a way to learn it? I am certainly not the first person to ask this question, but during Covid-19, like the rest of us, I have had ample time to think about it.
This is not the place for a theological conversation on “the meaning” of the Covid-19 pandemic. Too many of our loved ones have died, fallen ill or lost jobs to enter into that conversation. For me, however, this pandemic amplifies a unique reality: there is currently some measure of equity for all of us. Without buildings to learn in, without youth groups to attend, without the camaraderie of communal prayer in synagogue, we are all in our homes and trying to determine the best course of action for learning. Teachers are doing a remarkable job ensuring learning continues, but we can all acknowledge this is not the same experience as being in the classroom. Now, we are all learning either on our smartphones or our computers and all of us, now, more than ever, have the opportunity to leverage the power of digital.
We are so passionate about ensuring there is a robust, meaningful Jewish educational experience that lives online because we believe there ought to be equity through access.
Every single Jewish person in the world has the right to know her story in a thoughtful, nuanced, meaningful way — regardless of their political affiliation, religious denomination, socioeconomic status, or geographic location. Whether a young Jewish person is in Dusseldorf or Denver, Helsinki or Harrison, he has the right to know his story.
The question is how?
During the Yom Ha’atzmaut season, I want to offer solutions.
A deep affection for Israel without substance can be facile. Conversely, depth of knowledge without a profound connection is sterile. We need to know our story, and we need to feel our story. The ups, the downs, the good, the ugly, the textured complexity. It’s our story, and we each have the right to internalize it. That is why we are doing this Yom Haatzmaut Global Trivia Challenge! There are six videos on the history of Zionism. Imagine how much more we can all know if we spent 10 minutes a day learning the history of Israel.
2. Connection (and competition)
We know that while “content is king,” from a Jewish educational perspective, content is not enough. We all crave connection. With well over 11,000 students signed up from all over the world – from Singapore to Seattle – we are making sure that everyone learns the same content and can compete fairly. When a student from Los Angeles is learning the same content as a student from Boca Raton, St. Louis, or Vancouver, he knows he is part of something bigger. This fosters a sense of belonging. Moreover, an appropriate amount of competition to raise stakes can help increase intrinsic motivation for your students to learn, but not too much competition to the point where it is disincentivizing. Join the 11,000 students from across the globe to participate in this friendly competition.
In his groundbreaking novel East of Eden, John Steinbeck declares: “There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy.” Thankfully, he excluded Jewish education from this list. Some might dislike working together, but good collaboration is a tenet of Judaism. It is called havruta. Whereas Steinbeck believes, “The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man,” we believe creativity and impact are the results of teamwork, brainstorming, and working together. Therefore, this coming Sunday, May 3rd, we invite everyone to join Unpacked, the Center for Israel Education, the iCenter, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Education Project, and JFNA in ensuring we have a full day of Yom Haatzmaut related activities. For those who cannot celebrate Yom Haatzmaut on the day itself (and if you want to celebrate again), this is the way to go. It is a full day of programming! Team up and “collaborate” with your families to win the trivia challenges, the games, and all of the activities.
Theodor Herzl announced: “Whatever we attempt to accomplish there [in the Jewish state] for our welfare, will have its powerful effect, promoting the happiness and wellbeing of all Mankind.” Too often, there is a mistaken impression among young Jews outside of Israel that Israel is the weak relative of American and other “Western” Jews, and that Israelis are on the receiving end of American/Western giving. This is false and causes harm to Israel’s reputation. Rather, our young people need to see Israel – and more importantly Israelis – for what and who they really are. The notion that Israelis are simply living off the donations of American philanthropy is farcical. That is why we are ensuring every single person can watch our award-winning film Sustainable Nation this week during its YouTube premiere. Together with JNF, we are partnering with an additional 115 organizations for the Digital World Premiere of the award-winning film Sustainable Nation. Through May 2nd, this film will be available for free on YouTube. Make sure you tune in to watch the story of these Israelis who brought Herzl’s “prophecy” to life, ensuring it is not just Israel who benefits from their innovations to fix the global water crisis, but the whole world.
Ultimately, if we spend time learning content; we figure out ways to connect with the ideas in a competitive way; we collaborate to ensure the best experiences can be had, and we learn about Israel’s unique contributions to the world, we will all be able to do the most important C – Celebrate Israel’s 72nd birthday.
Senior Vice President, Education