Israel Advocacy in the Jewish High Schools

By Dr. Laurence Kutler and Monica Mendel Bensoussan

The appeal of the Palestinian narrative to graduates of Jewish Day Schools is unnerving at best and shameful at worst. Having spent years of education on texts, traditions, and values, we find that once on college campuses our youth are easily persuaded to sympathize with the plight of Palestinians and what they come to accept as the overt racism of Israelis. Our Jewish Day Schools are blamed for one-sided education and for the failure to recognize “the other.”

Our institutional response has been weak as well. Not only have we failed to address the emotional, political and demographic challenges facing our youth as they try to defend Israel on campus in the face of BDS and Israel Apartheid Week, but we have also not developed a cognitive curriculum that educates and provides tools to advocate for Israel. A proper response to this challenge would need to address curricula in Jewish High Schools, partner with Hillel and collaborate with the political arms of the Jewish Federations in order to prioritize Israel Advocacy on the North American agenda. The end game is to empower our students with a practical guide to a Jewish life on campus. Our Jewish young adults must be well armed and empowered to confidently and proudly take a stand and speak out in the name of Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.

Les Ecoles Azrieli Herzliah, with the strong backing and commitment of the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation, has boldly and courageously stepped into the breach. The school is embarking on a new path toward Israel Advocacy that seeks to emotionally, academically and politically educate its students. The Family Foundation has commissioned a compelling curriculum designed to educate, engage and empower high school students. The program addresses the need to have students first fall in love with Israel, then engage with Israel and ultimately advocate for Israel. This program, the first of its kind, is a spiral five-year curriculum, written with clear pedagogic parameters: Know, Understand, and Do.

The commitment is to first implement the program at Herzliah High School in Montreal and then share it with interested Jewish high schools across Canada and elsewhere. The outcome we expect is a more confident and informed group of students who can engage in a productive dialogue rather than be impressed by false information, drawn into conflict or remove themselves completely from the debate.

The time is ripe for the investment in a relevant and thoughtful educational initiative to help our young adults navigate the all too often adversarial political landscape of campus life today. The political climate is changing with anti-Semitism on the rise, in the form of the BDS movement et al. It is imperative that we work together with external partners to proactively respond.

A professional team of educators comprised of Dr Laurence Kutler, Dr Karen Gazith, Jeff Bicher, Leila Roiter and David Azerad will be designing and delivering both the teacher training and the student seminars. The Board of Directors of Les écoles Herzliah stands firmly behind this initiative. Our past will inform our future. Our Jewish traditions and history will be combed in order to address the challenges of today and inspire the future Jewish leaders of tomorrow to tackle the issues of tomorrow … today!

Dr Laurence Kutler has served as Head of School in Jewish Day schools in Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Montreal. A founding member of RAVSAK, a mentor in the Sulam program and an avid participant in Moot Beit Din, Dr Kutler has helped forge the Jewish leadership of tomorrow by closely working with Jewish Day school teens.

Monica Mendel Bensoussan served as the President of the Board of Directors of Les écoles Azrieli Schools Talmud Torah | Herzliah for 2 consecutive terms. She is currently the Immediate Past President and Chair of the school’s building project and capital campaign. Monica has been involved in Jewish education for over 25 years believing that it is a key ingredient in ensuring Jewish continuity.