How to Think for Yourself
By Sharna Marcus
One of the great aspects of social media is that sometimes my former students friend or follow me on various platforms. For teachers, this brings more joy than one can imagine as we get the privilege of seeing teenagers grow into adults and get a glimpse into where they are going and what they have become. Recently, a former English student of mine shared and offered her support to an organization, made by and for millennials, that shames liberal Jewish movements and their day schools, religious schools, camps, and Israel programs for not teaching about the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
While this campaign both highlights the beauty of the millennial generation, independently creating new facets of engaging young people outside of pre-existing and perhaps or perhaps not outdated structures, it also demonstrates the stereotype of the self-serving narcissism that often makes it difficult for this generation to work within a system to further their own agenda. (To my former student – I’m not calling you a self-serving narcissist. You are amazing.) As Jewish organizations are holding plenaries, publishing studies, and begging for millennial participation in the Jewish community – all important and critical work – there does come a time to dialogue with the founding supporters of the group that is hashtag shaming (Can I trademark that?) to point out the logical fallacies in their arguments and conversely, hear and even act upon their legitimate criticism. However, this paradigm for discussion and debate doesn’t exist because the “big tent” approach has been rejected by the status quo, professionally exiling anyone who has a different take on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Whose side are you on anyways?
To this organization and its followers, and their catchy, graphically pleasing, Pinetresty (Can I trademark that, too?) there is an inherent hypocrisy in your blame campaign. I would argue that if not the entire reason, the motivation behind, your support of such a movement is because of your liberal Jewish education and upbringing. If you were taught Judaism and Israel from a purely dogmatic perspective, you would not be questioning the single narrative that has been “kept from you” (I thought Al Gore invented the internet in the 1990s) and therefore, what, has caused you irreparable harm? Indeed, the fact that you care at all stems from the Jewish approach to questioning, using primary texts for analysis, and the liberal focus on Tikkun Olam. I’d like to see a campaign that says, “Thank you for teaching me to think for myself.”
Also, truth be told, the Palestinian narrative wasn’t taught to you not because, in most cases, your teachers were holding out on you. It’s because very few of them know it well enough. They haven’t studied it themselves. For example, I am a social studies and literature teacher. I was once offered a great job if I could teach AP Economics. I had to turn it down. Why? I got a C in Microeconomics in college. Technically, the state of Illinois says I could teach AP Economics, but I didn’t feel that I could do so well enough to take the job. (MC=MB or is it CE=AD) If a teacher isn’t qualified to teach you something, you should be grateful that she isn’t teaching it at all.
One solution to the dual narrative problem would be to better train teachers at liberal Jewish day schools and on Israel programs and to ensure that there would be no retaliation of consequences to teaching it or developing supportive curriculum. (Please don’t argue that they don’t teach about “us.” That is an anti-intellectual argument that I just can’t support.)
However, I’m not sure that is entirely necessary. What’s more important than teaching a wholly objective history is to provide students with the tools to learn more, be it formally or informally throughout their lifetime. By instilling a love of Israel and Judaism in your Jewish upbringing, can and should teach you to love Israel, but that doesn’t mean supporting every single thing that it does, and if you are compelled, to protest its policies.
Sharna Marcus teaches History and English at a secular private school in Israel. Within her Middle East class, she teaches both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism to Jewish Israelis, Muslim and Christian Israeli-Arabs, Bahais from all over the world, and teenagers from every almost country in which Israel has diplomatic relations.