Regarding “Day Schools Need New Israel Ed Approach” (Feb. 18), I was glad to see editor Gary Rosenblatt’s consideration of Alex Pomson’s research on day school students’ attitudes towards Israel and Israel education. Rosenblatt’s conclusion about schools needing to explore new approaches, while undoubtedly correct, is not news. Students today are incredibly savvy and sophisticated in their approach to Israel and Israel advocacy. Many schools, including Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, where I teach, have recognized this reality and taken it into consideration in the planning of Israel education for the past several years.
Students today may see themselves as right or left wing when it comes to Israel, and have varied viewpoints ranging from extremely supportive to quite critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a host of other issues. What is important is that regardless of where they stand with regard to specific Israeli policies, today’s students must be vocal and passionate about Israel’s right to exist as a secure, Jewish, democratic state. An approach to Israel education that presents only one side of complex issues, and an all-or-nothing approach to advocacy are in fact counterproductive to this goal. These outmoded approaches lead students to question everything they’ve been taught the minute they realize they haven’t been told the whole story.
Extended study in Israel is essential for today’s students, and I am particularly proud that my students spend two months in Israel during their senior year, immersed in Israeli society with all of its complexity and contradiction. I am also grateful that Israel advocacy curricula exist today that are not predicated on Israel being a “perfect” country and immune to criticism, as this approach is simply unhelpful to students, not to mention inaccurate. At Schechter Westchester we partner with the David Project, whose curriculum is based not primarily on advocacy but on critical thinking, and is extraordinary in that it prepares students to speak up on behalf of Israel honestly and authentically without feeling that they have to adopt any sort of a uniform party line.
Rabbi in Residence
Solomon Schechter School of Westchester