One message conveyed directly to the 42 high school seniors visiting Israel last month as part of the Write On For Israel program was that the Israel Defense Force seeks to maintain the highest moral standards.
Write On, a project of The Jewish Week, is a two-year educational program for high school juniors and seniors from public, private and Jewish day schools to prepare them for the Mideast debate on campus. A highlight of the program, in which I serve as education director, is a week-long mission to Israel for seniors where they meet top Israeli journalists, government officials, military officers and a range of change makers in Israeli society, both Jews and Arabs.
Our tour started in the north where we were privileged to meet with Major E. (IDF policy is not to provide full names) at an Israeli Air-Force base. During a briefing the Major explained that great care is taken to avoid civilian casualties as part of the IDF’s commitment to ethical warfare. A similar theme was repeated by Corporal O., an IDF shooting instructor and Write On alum, during an informal meeting a few days later in Jerusalem. The soldiers we met said they were proud to serve in the IDF. Hearing directly from the faces “beneath the helmet” deeply moved the students, countering the stereotype of callous Israeli soldiers propagated on North American college campuses and throughout Europe.
Another stereotype was shattered during our visit to the Ziv Medical Centre in Sfat Israel, where we met with Dr. Michael Harare, an Australian immigrant in charge of caring for Syrian victims of the ongoing civil war who come to Israel for medical treatment. We met the Israeli-Arab social worker and visited the wards, encountering several Syrian patients who expressed gratitude for Israel’s help.
We also visited “Save a Child’s Heart” (SACH) at the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon. SACH provides cardiac surgery and other life-saving procedures for children from developing countries free of charge. According to the mission statement on its website (www.saveachildsheart.org), the project is “dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child’s nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation.”
Our group volunteered at the recuperation center where the children and their parents or caregivers are either preparing or recuperating from the surgery that will allow them to live normal lives. Many of the students wondered why there is so little awareness and appreciation outside of Israel for the good that Israel does for the world. Daniel Gordis, a noted author and academic, told them: “This has become a country, with all of its imperfections, that sees as part of its purpose looking out for other people.”
A highlight of The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel program is a week-long mission for seniors where they meet top Israel journalists, government officials, military officers and a range of change makers in Israeli society, both Jews and Arabs.
Frequently, unplanned moments during an Israel tour become major learning opportunities, and that was true with us as well. We attended a beret ceremony at Ammunition Hill for paratroopers finishing their basic training. They were only a bit older than our students, who were aware of that and noted the ethnic diversity of the families attending. That reality hit home when our bus driver, a Muslim Bedouin who served in the IDF, explained that he would be away for a day to be with his son who was completing an IDF commander’s course.
On a personal note, this is my third year as director of education for Write On, and it has been a fascinating experience for me. I find that despite our students’ different backgrounds, levels of religious observance and political views, the group atmosphere is of mutual toleration and acceptance. They learn that Zionism is not a monolithic movement. Rather it is multi-faceted and dynamic, with factions on the left and right, religious and secular, connected by a shared commitment to the state. I am confident that the Write On for Israel participants will be able to take with them to campus the magic of their visit to Israel and three rules for advocacy: knowledge, delivery and — after this Israel mission — passion.
Dr. Tuvia Book is education director of Write On For Israel and author of “For The Sake Of Zion,” a curriculum of Israel studies.