We began this week commemorating the fallen soldiers of Israel and then celebrating Israel independence. This followed on the heels of the failed Peace Talks orchestrated by Kerry. Our school has a particular way of teaching about Israel and it is this potent formula that holds the promise of achieving lasting peace in the Middle East – ambitious perhaps, but a possibility.
Six years ago, our school was part of a special project funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and coordinated by Jewish Learning Works to weave Israel education into the school from Kindergarten through 8th grade and to move it from the exclusive domain of the Judaic Studies faculty. The initiative was named BASIS (Bay Area Schools Israel Synergy Initiative) and eleven Jewish day schools in the Bay Area participated. The evaluation of the project in 2012 recognized our school as the paradigm that the funders were hoping to achieve (read pages 11 & 12 of the report).
What was it that happened at Wornick to make this teaching more organic and deeper than typical in most schools and where are we now two years after the funding ended for this project? Nearly all of our teachers – Judaic and general studies (Jewish and not Jewish) have been to Israel. The Jim Joseph Foundation funded those trips before I arrived at Wornick. Since that funding is no longer available, newer teachers have joined our 8th grade trip and three of our teachers have been sent to Israel for science education training through the CIJE foundation.
Another factor was that we built into our curricula units at each grade level that use Israel as a comparison case to a core curricula item (i.e. the land configurations of the San Francisco and Haifa bays; or demographic data from Israel and the United States; or a comparative literary piece). This stance, which launched our curriculum mapping efforts for the entire school curricula, means that our students have broader and deeper knowledge about Israel developed over nine years. Some of these units still live on and others have been edited.
We have also created a ritual whereby each grade charges the 8th graders with a task to bring back from their 8th grade trip. One grade may ask for samples of rocks from different parts of the country, another grade asks for water samples, and still another for pictures of animals and plants. This connects our youngest children to the trip as they anticipate the return of the 8th graders with their class gifts. And then it sets off another lesson in each of the classes as the younger students study these artifacts. This part of BASIS continues.
Throughout the year, students in each grade exchange information with their counterparts at REALI. Every fall, we welcome our 8th grade friends from our sister school, the REALI school in Haifa. Students look forward to meeting those that they’ve been writing to over several year. Families host these students and long time relationships grow during these yearly encounters.
Finally, one of the items of which I am most proud is that we have made sure that our Israel education is nuanced to encourage critical thinking. Our 8th grade Israel trip this year focused on the many different “Israeli identities”. Our students met Ethiopian Jews, Arab Israelis, Druzim, a Reform Rabbi, Orthodox Jews, settlers, Bedouins, etc. Our goal was for the students to hear their different stories and perspectives and to process current issues in Israel from these different perspectives.
Last week, Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel wrote a piece entitled “The Day After the Negotiations Fail” anticipating the failure of the peace negotiations that did indeed fail days later. He listed many things that we must do “the day after” – not to blame, but to take control, to understand, to treat our own citizens (Israeli Arabs and Jews representing a range of beliefs) with serious understanding and compassion. He notes,
The success of Israel has lured us into believing that if we will it, it will become a reality. As a result, we articulate our aspirations but have difficulty holding onto them in the midst of our imperfect reality. If aspirations for peace, justice, and compassion are going to continue to define Jewish identity, we must learn to talk about them, write and sing about them, dream about them, despite the pain and disappointment which accompany our inability to as yet fulfill them.
I know some day, it will be a Wornick student that will be a thought leader like Donniel Hartman. Our students will be the ones to talk, write and sing about our aspirations, our pain and disappointment in our struggle to fulfill our dreams of peace...and just maybe, it will be a Wornick graduate who will lead us to peace and to prepare us for the day after peace is achieved.