Loving the Other Israel

Idie Benjamin and Dale Cooperman

Dale Sides Cooperman and Idie BenjaminSoon, we will gather with family and friends, at a Pesah seder, where we will celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery. Many of us will reflect that Jews throughout the world from Alaska to Katmandu, are participating in a seder. We will marvel at being a part of Klah Yisrael, the people of Israel. Our children are a part of this family as well.

What (and who) is Israel? What probably first comes to mind is “Israel” the country, the historic homeland of the Jewish People. But “Israel” is more. There is Israel “the place,” and Israel, “the people.” The mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael, loving Israel, calls us to love both the land of Israel and Klal Yisrael, the people of Israel. Loving Israel links us to both the land and the people.

Teaching our children about “Israel” is about teaching both of these ideas.

Israel is a large family spread all over the world. We are a diverse group with different opinions, cultures, lifestyles, levels of observance, and beliefs. However, we are still all one family with responsibilities to each other.

Although home rituals are central to Judaism, much of Judaism also happens when we come together as a community.

  • We come together to celebrate and to pray.
  • We support each other in good times and bad.
  • We welcome our newest members with family and friends at a brit milah (circumcision) or simhat bat.
  • We support those who are ill or have experienced a death in the family.
  • We communally give voice to our shortcomings and our wishes for peace and good health in the coming year during the High Holidays.
  • We read the megillah and bring Purim alive, and then celebrate together at a Purim carnival.
  • We connect with those we care about when we share a Passover Seder with family and friends.
  • We strengthen each other as members of a vibrant Jewish community as we celebrate Israel on Yom HaAtzmaut.

We are the family of Israel, Klal Yisrael.

We know that young children are experiential learners who use all of their senses as they discover, make sense of, and make connections with their world. They learn best when presented with concrete encounters with things and events that are meaningful for them and that build on their previous knowledge and experiences. They must see, touch, smell, hear, and even taste these experiences as they strive to make sense of something new. As educators, we also know that teaching abstract ideas to children is never easy, and is often developmentally inappropriate.

The concept of “country” is one of the most difficult ideas for young children to grasp. Second and third grade teachers report that many of these “older” children do not yet grasp the idea that they live in a neighborhood, town, county, state, and country. They are not yet developmentally ready to understand geography.

Israel – both the country and Klal Yisrael – are too central to Judaism for young children not to have some exposure to them. When we introduce Jewish concepts and the story behind Jewish holidays, we understand that this is the beginning of what we hope will be a lifelong exploration for them. With this in mind, we thoughtfully introduce the youngest members of our community to their global family and community.

This raises the important question of what an appropriate curriculum might be, one that teaches our young learners about Klal Israel in a way that is suitable for their age and supports understanding. As always, we have to begin by asking what we want the children to come away with, and what they can remember and return to as they grow and learn more about Klal Israel .

Initially, children can learn about Klal Israel simply by hearing about it. One of our goals in an early childhood classroom is to provide a language rich environment. We surround children with words that they understand and words that they will come to understand through experiences. To facilitate these learning opportunities, we create a Jewishly enriched environment by using Jewish words and values that children come to understand and adopt as part of their vocabulary and their growing Jewish identity  ensch, brakhah, Torah, mitzvah, boker tov, Shabbat, tzedakah, shalom , and Israel and Klal Israel.

Young children may not fully comprehend what something happening “long ago” means, but they can have an understanding that what they do now has been done for a long time. First, it happened in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. And now, today, Jews living all over the world continue to observe these mitzvot/practices. This must be important if their family, their teachers and friends give it such meaning.

As we strive to integrate secular and Judaic curriculum, consider the concepts of same and different – core concepts for literacy and math – as support to make these ideas more understandable.

The earth is full of different people. Some of those people are Jewish. Children go to the park or the beach. They see children with the same colored hair as they have. They do not know them, but they are all a part of the brown hair community. Perhaps a child likes mac and cheese. Many other people like mac and cheese. A child does not know them, but they are all part of the mac and cheese club.

Children go to synagogue for Purim, Shabbat or another holiday. There are so many people there. They know some of them, but do not know all of them. But they are all Jewish and are all there to celebrate together.

Being Jewish is being part of the Jewish club with other Jews who live all over the world. We are the same that way. We are all a part of the Jewish family even if we do not know them, and they do not know us. We are connected to other Jews all over the world even if we have not met them.

Torah/Bible stories are a place to start. When we tell the stories of our ancestors, say, “This story happened a very long time ago in the land of Israel. Israel is our special Jewish place.” Explain that the people we read about in the Torah are our great, great, great, great, great … grandparents. They were the first Jewish people. We are a part of Klah Yisrael, the big Jewish family.

As the children learn about each Jewish holiday, the rituals that surround it, and the values and mitzvot that guide us, we should share with the children that these observances began long ago in the land of Israel long ago and continue today with Jews all over the world. Whenever the topic is something Jewish, you can point out that other Jewish people in the world are celebrating, eating and doing and reading and learning, just like they are.

Introducing the idea of Klal Yisrael creates a budding awareness, beginning children’s understanding and connecting a Jewish child to his or her extended family of Jews all over the world. So, as you talk about what Jewish people “do,” emphasize that there are Jews in places all over the world who are also doing these Jewish things. Connect them to our history, to Klal Yisrael. Being a part of Klal Yisrael, the Jewish family, must be very special, if they and families like theirs are all doing the very same thing – from Alaska to Katmandu!