Do you recognize these names: Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Yitzchak Rabin? You probably do, but your children do not. How about these events: World Zionist Congress, Balfour Declaration, the Law of Return? Once again, you probably understand their significance, but your children do not. Jewish children should know these names and events that represent some of the epic changes of the last 200 years that have shaped Jewish life. During that time, Jews went from a religious minority living on the outskirts of European society to citizenship with full civil rights to mass emigration to America and, finally, to the rebirth of a Jewish homeland. But your children know little of this.
Jewish children are not taught the basics of modern Jewish history in Hebrew school and certainly not in public school. Yet we adults expect our children to have close ties – even love – for Israel without giving them the historical background of dedication and sacrifice that could tie their hearts to the Jewish homeland. There are some inverse exceptions to this lack of Jewish history education. On the North Shore we have the shining exception of the Lappin Foundation Youth to Israel program, followed by Birthright Israel programs for older Jewish teenagers and college students. I call them inverse because they first send young Jews to Israel and once there, or upon their return, do they learn the heroic story of how Jews fought for a homeland. It is a case of travel first, history second.
When Jewish educators are asked about including modern Jewish history in their curriculum, the usual reply is, “We don’t have enough time”. Their argument is that the short and crowded Hebrew school week does not have the time for even a cursory course in modern Jewish history. This leads to a question of values. Is the relationship of young Jews to Israel worth including Jewish history in their education? If you want your children to know about Herzl, Weizmann, Ben Gurion, Meir and Rabin, the answer has to be “yes”.
Herb Belkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.