By Hannah Grossman
The recent semester I spent on the Davidson School’s semester program in Israel, Kesher Hadash, was not only one of the most intellectually stimulating experiences of my student career but one of the most impactful on my work as an educator.
Throughout the semester the eight other students and I explored various conflicts affecting Israeli society. While much of our learning occurred in a classroom, we had the privilege of traveling throughout Israel and the contested West Bank to further our learning. Having the opportunity to discuss our experiences at length within our cohort as well as with Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis with whom we took courses personalized the academic experience.
While studying Israeli history and contemporary society were invaluable to me in being an informed Jewish member of the world, they were also essential to me as a teacher. With every experience on Kesher Hadash we considered how or if it would inform the curriculum we were each writing for respective North American Jewish educational settings.
As I began to write my curriculum I considered in which setting I would most like to implement my work; I soon decided to reach out to Young Judaea Camp Tel Yehudah, a camp which I had attended as a camper and staff member for many years. It was in this camp that I developed profound interest in and care for Israel and social justice and thus felt it was an appropriate place to introduce my curriculum.
Believing that it is essential for Israel education to develop in ways that address the changing nature of Israel and Zionism, I eagerly approached the summer hoping that I would be able to do just that. Within the safe, supportive and passionate framework of Young Judaea I worked with other staff members to introduce challenging questions relating to Israel within a Zionist context.
My curriculum relates to the question of how/if Israel can remain Jewish while embodying the Jewish value of loving the stranger [ahavat hager (ger in the biblical definition)]. In grappling with this question chanichim were introduced to several big ideas: That the ger in Jewish tradition provides a useful lens for examining Israel’s multicultural struggles, that Jewish values are a key component in what makes Israel a Jewish state and that when transformed from theory to practice, values offer interesting questions about their implications for society.
In order to address these questions, chanichim partook in two days of activities that somewhat imitated challenges of the early building of Israel.
After analyzing various texts relating to ahavat hager and experientially learning about various Jewish ethnic groups (edot), chanichim were tasked with designing a society that would be welcoming of all Jews. As chanichim used knowledge they gained about the edot in debating the structure and function of a community center, an education system as well as the design of the society’s symbols it was evident that they realized the difficulties in creating one home for all Jews. In the midst of their debate, three different Arab narratives (based off of individuals I met in Kesher Hadash courses) were introduced and the definition of ger was expanded. Being asked how the society could maintain its Jewishness while welcoming non-Jews engaged chanichim in a plethora of demanding questions faced in Israel today. I hope that in giving chanichim opportunities to be invested in critical conversations about current challenges in Israel from a place of care will keep the next generation positively engaged in Zionism.
Further opportunities I had to execute components of my Kesher Hadash curriculum included turning a film I made during the semester with a classmate into a trigger for conversations on the dialogical relationship between American and Israeli Jews (a relationship in which both sides give and take teachings from each other). The film highlights how an Israeli Jew’s experience in a North American Jewish summer camp provided him with ways of viewing and practicing Judaism which he had not seen in Israel. Watching chanichim realize the effect their own Jewish lives may have on Israelis in the camp and listening to conversations between them brought the film to life. The dialogical relationship is key to the future of Judaism in both America and Israel and witnessing it take place in camp was remarkable.
I am thankful for the multiple opportunities I had this summer to bring products of my learning to life. Seeing chanichim actively engaged in American Judaism and Zionism proves to me that Kesher Hadash was an invaluable experience for the future.
Finally, I owe an enormous thanks to the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary for bringing Kesher Hadash into the world of Israel education.
Hannah Grossman is currently studying towards her MA in Jewish education and spent spring 2014 in Israel on Kesher Hadash. Prior to that, Hannah spent a year studying at the Center for Jewish Educators at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Hannah is from West Orange, New Jersey.