By Rabbi Leor Sinai
Transmission of Jewish continuity and Israel connectivity does not take place in the formal classroom setting on its own. Israel and Jewish education must include an experiential component; it is through experientialism that our children explore and discover meaning that they can connect to. Transmission to the recipient in a more practical – less theoretical – approach provides the individual the opportunity to explore the multi-faceted complexities of any given data, an experience rooted in intellectual, emotional and internal ties to the information that is experienced.
Israel studies are rooted in such an exploratory experience. The explorative process of walking the land with primary sources in hand, of utilizing Israel as the classroom provides the kind of experience that reveals a level of comprehension not found in formal Jewish education. This type of revelation is continuous if experienced properly.
Continuous revelation, discovering answers to questions, permeates throughout Israelite practice, Rabbinic Judaism as well as Zionism, all firmly rooted in taking action – experientialism. It was only after Jacob’s wrestling with God’s presence on earth was his name changed to Isra-el, as it was explained: for you have struggled with God and with humanity and have prevailed (Genesis 32:28). Jacob underwent a transformation, as did the Children of Israel who upon revelation at Sinai transformed to the People of Israel and later on to the Nation of Israel, all experiential, all transformative, and all-purpose driven journeys.
Today’s Zionism, part and parcel of this continuum of revelation, seeks its next exposé. Early Zionist idealism left no room for debate for the future of Israel. Early Zionist thought was fed by visions of utopia, of an Israel that would be perfect and once it came to be, the modern nation-state would initiate a wave of understanding and co-existence resulting in a utopic global community. And yet our people’s desire to realize the utopian vision of our founding ancestors ought not to remain an end within itself, rather an endless means of continuous purpose, through the constant experiencing of things, which purpose is realized. Indeed we ought not to expect anything less; we should definitely strive to build a world anchored in universal values of peace and harmony – imagining the world as it could be tomorrow – tempered in co-existence with the world as it is today. The quagmire we the People of Israel, global Jewry, currently find themselves in is of nothing less than apathy; an apathy that is self-inflicted, but can be lifted.
Being apathetic is quite simple, indifference has no emotional or intellectual capacity; lifting the veil of apathy requires nothing more than effort and desire. Question is: what do we as a collective, the People of Israel, desire?
At the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, transmission of Jewish memory, history, and belonging to something greater then self is an active undertaking. Through the passage of knowledge, experiential field trips, and activities, our educators encourage students to forge their link to the chain of transmission. Extended programs in Israel provide the participant with the effective bandwidth of space and time to explore and discover their entry point visa vie identity, peoplehood and Israel whether through a historical lens, religion and philosophy, arts and culture, politics and sociology, environmentalism and more.
We know that this next generation wants to belong and wants to lead, as generations of past have. This generation also wants to ask the difficult questions, the type of questions asked by the sages of the Talmud and commentators of the Torah who all attempt to make sense of the their world and their purpose, why should this next generation be any different? Should they not be urged to explore, ask questions, and find answers to their understanding of identity, tradition, peoplehood and Israel?
This is a next-generation tasked with guiding the world’s greatest and fastest information systems. They are told to dream, be creative and take initiative. The invitation to be bold is embedded within information technology’s open-access approach to impacting and acquiring knowledge, and it is years ahead of traditional Jewish learning and pedagogy as we know it. Yes there have been major strides to Jewish learning around the world. The strides, in part, have to do with recognizing that long-term experiential learning is engaging, and when applied to formal study increases the chances of a lasting impact bound in the intellect of the mind and wisdom of the heart.
It is time for the People of Israel to agree on matters as they pertain to our next generation, to our collective future. We mustn’t deny this next generation’s privilege of standing atop the shoulders of our ancestors, as we all do today, rather we must trust those who are next in line and embolden them to take the lead. To ask the difficult questions, to struggle and debate, give and take, as have those who have come before us. It is only through this process of experiencing Israel and Jewish learning; of exploring the unknown and asking “why” – will we find that we have been successful in the age old transmission from generation to generation, of transforming tomorrow’s generation today.
Rabbi Leor Sinai is co-CEO at JNF’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel.