Israel and Family Education

In honor of Israel’s 60th birthday (and the upcoming publication of Artzeinu: An Israel Encounter) we’re going to be taking some space in the TAPBB to talk about some real Israel issues. This is the sixth in a series of essays about how Israel fits into the school curriculum.

by Joel Lurie Grishaver
(cross posted to The Gris Mill)

My understanding of the relationship between Israel education and family education starts with two working assumptions. (1) The most important out come of any Israel education is to get students to visit Israel in the future. We’ve talked in previous postings about the research that says the only significant way to influence student’s connection to Israel is to visit Israel. Also, we know from a study of family education in Boston that (2) parental attitudes towards the importance of visiting Israel have a lot to do with whether students will visit Israel (that’s obvious) and (more importantly) those attitudes are hard to change.

One not-so-secret truth is that family education is all about getting parental buy-in. While we do have objectives about building the communications and healthiness of family, and we are interested in Jewish growth within the family, most of this happens through changes in parental attitudes. We get Shabbat celebrated in the family more because parents become willing than because students ask for it. The same is true of Israel.

The shopping list is easy. We want parents to own pieces of Israel, to shop Israel, to read Israel, to watch Israel, to listen to Israel, and we would love them to visit Israel. And that’s the hard part. I don’t know how to design a family education program or five about Israel that can bring interest where there is ambivilence.

What you gotta remember is that studies have suggest that most Jewish adults don’t feel negatively towards Israel, they are not angry at Israel’s politics or actions, but rather, they just don’t care. Our job is to build caring.

So what do we know about caring? We know that passion can spark passion. People we can share their love and their commitment for Israel help to build it in others. We know that stories make a difference. We know that experiences build connection. But, I also think I know that one-hour pretend trips to Israel that start on a pretend airplane and end with falafel is not likely to make a great difference. I also have to admit that I am not sure how to do it better.

An example: Years ago I taught a seventh grade class that was twelve boys and three girls, and despite my best efforts I don’t believe I got them to change their attitudes towards much. The year after me that had a young Israeli guy just out of the army. He told them lots of “war” stories and they fell in love with him. He made a big shift in their connection with and commitment to Israel. I don’t know how to predict that again. It had a lot to do with chemestry (and a lot to do with boys who were enamored with stories about guns). If I could bottle the experience I would have the answer.

But at the same time, the class in question inspires cynicism. Despite having an engaging Israeli teacher, virtually none of the kids in the class visited Israel, though they pre-dated the Birthright generation. And further, the class’ intermarriage stats don’t speak well for the Jewish future.

So the question remains: How do we use family education to build parental connection with Israel?

My final take is that it’s the wrong question. The real question is, How do we transform synagogue culture (that includes school culture) to cultivate the connection between our families and Israel? I think the truth is that this is a bigger than a “change the school to fix things” issue. I think while we can plan better family education events, and we are working on them for the Artzeinu Wikki, the real question is, How can we change the nature of Jewishness to re-include a sense of peoplehood and a connection to Israel?