We Need an Educational Iron Dome

The existential security threat presented by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is not the sole threat facing the Jewish people. A second threat of existential proportions is the weakening of Jewish identity that we are facing in the western countries and particularly the United States of America.

by Jonathan Mirvis

The political and military outcomes of Operation Pillar of Defense will only emerge in the future, however a clear achievement has been the success of the Iron Dome anti missile defense system. This system which cost almost $1billion to develop (according to The Marker), intercepted 421 Hamas missiles during the operation; all destined for civilian targets. It is hard to grasp the potential carnage which would have been caused by these missiles which were all on target to explode in the midst of civilian populated areas. Since the system does not intercept missiles destined to fall in unpopulated areas, each and every one of the 421 missiles had the potential to inflict major damage.

The development of the Iron Dome which began in 2006, initially met with major opposition both within the Israeli military and the finance ministry. The $1billion price tag was considered to be exorbitant and in 2007 Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi vehemently opposed the project; he felt that it would come at the expense of other IDF priorities. It was only due to the determined leadership of former Minister of Defense Amir Peretz and the present Minister Ehud Barak, that Rafael who was awarded the contract to develop Iron Dome, received the necessary funding. Despite delays in the development of the project due to the opposition, Rafael ensured that with the outbreak of hostilities, Israel had four platforms in place to protect the south of Israel, with a fifth added later in order to protect the Tel Aviv area.

The existential security threat presented by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is not the sole threat facing the Jewish people. A second threat of existential proportions is the weakening of Jewish identity that we are facing in the western countries and particularly the United States of America. In this wonderful age of choice, the future of the Jewish people depends on the choice of our young generations. While we are hoping that they will all choose a strong Jewish future, current demographic research shows that far too many are choosing otherwise.

As research shows, the crucial vehicle for developing Jewish identity is high impact, quality Jewish education. Regretfully too few young Jews have accessed a quality systematic quality Jewish experience. We thus need to build an “Iron Dome Educational System” which will make quality comprehensive Jewish education accessible for all!

The cost of this enterprise will not be low; it could require an investment in the region of $1billion. Indeed there may those who are daunted by this high price tag, however we have little alternative. We must confront this challenge with urgency and mobilize the necessary resources to meet it head on. Similar to the development of the Iron Dome anti missile system, the funding for an Iron Dome educational system needs a high level of creativity. Within the universe of Jewish philanthropy these additional resources do exist and it is our responsibility to mobilize them. For example, a review of the Jewish philanthropists who have pledged half of their wealth to charitable causes within the Warren Buffet and Bill Gates Giving Pledge reflects that there are literally billions of charity earmarked dollars “on the table”.

The emphasis of this article is that we need to build a comprehensive accessible system. There is no doubt that systematic thinking drove the developers of the Iron Dome project to define and remain focused on their objectives. In addition they needed to make an inventory of the available technologies and to draw up a roadmap for the development of new technologies. Similar systematic thinking is necessary for the development of the educational Iron dome

Within Jewish education we are aware of the high impact “technologies” which exist, e.g., the growing Hebrew after school programs, Jewish Day Schools, Hebrew Charter Schools, and Jewish Camping, PJ Library and the Israel experiences which include Birthright and MASA. In our quest to build an educational system, we need to identify all the necessary “technologies”, to support and integrate those which exist and to invest in the development of new ones that will ensure accessibility for all.

While a comparison between the development of the Iron Dome anti-missile system and an educational system is useful, there is an important difference between them. In the anti-missile system the crucial variable is technology with the human element being important for its development and its use. Within the educational system it is the human element which is central with technology providing an important supportive function. It is the passionate brilliant teacher and inspiring caring camp counselor who are at the heart of the educational endeavor. The development of an engaging educational system is totally dependent on the recruitment and retention of quality personnel. There is no shortage of Jewish passion, creativity and genius; the challenge we face is how to recruit this talent for this exciting and important challenge.

The connection between the anti-missile Iron Dome and its educational counterpart is not only metaphorical. A key partner in the funding of the anti-missile project has been the US Government. In April this year Congress allocated $675million for current and future development of Iron Dome. In addition President Obama has pledged to find additional funds for further development as part of the recent agreement between Israel and Hamas. While this funding was given in keeping with US interests, there is no doubt that the role of the strongly identified Jewish community was crucial for ensuring US Government support and it will certainly be so in the future.

It is our hope that the Jewish brilliance which developed and deployed the Iron Dome anti-missile system will inspire the development of the “Iron Dome Educational System” we so desperately need.

Dr. Jonathan Mirvis is a Senior Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Melton Centre for Jewish education. He lectures to students enrolled in MBA, Non-Profit management and Jewish Education graduate studies