Teaching My Kids About Israel

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One of the most contentious issues any non-Israeli Jew must face is how to think and speak about Israel. For almost 2000 years, Jews lived in forced exile, dreaming about but unable to reclaim the Promised Land. Israel became a focal point of Jewish theology and the idea of return from exile was interwoven into our liturgy. The formation of a Jewish state in 1948, therefore, was a watershed moment for the Jewish people. Coming just three years after the end of the Holocaust—perhaps the worst moment in Jewish history—the creation of Israel was seen as miraculous. American Jewish attitudes towards Israel’s creation, especially following the malicious attack by Arab states after Israel’s declaration of independence, was pretty much universal support.
Today, however, the picture is much murkier. There remain many reasons to praise and support Israel. From a theological perspective, it is still the Promised Land, and its existence as a Jewish State validates the biblical promises of return to the land. From a secular perspective, it remains the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle East (we still have to see what transpires in Egypt and Tunisia), where all minority religions have the right to worship as they please, free speech is supported, and Arabs and Jews alike serve in the legislature. It also is an economic marvel, transforming a desert wasteland into a hi-tech powerhouse. And Israel often gives expression to some of my religious convictions, such as its leadership role in bringing humanitarian aid whenever there is a crisis (i.e., after the tsunami, in Haiti, etc.).
I do, however, have several critiques of Israeli government policies. I do not agree with the way Israel treats the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; Israeli policies towards constructing settlements harm rather than support the peace process. I also don’t think Israel extends enough religious tolerance to non-Orthodox branches of Judaism.
So what should I teach my kids about Israel? Especially when they are young, how nuanced a picture should I give them? On the one hand, I want to be balanced. But on the other hand, there is so much anti-Semitism in the world currently being disguised as anti-Israel policy that I feel I should be more partial than impartial. Plus, regardless of the politics of the state of Israel, I do want to imbue my kids with a love and appreciation of the land of Israel. I want them to access and not over-intellectualize the holiness–a special, palpable quality—felt when in the land.
So how can I reconcile all these factors? For starters, we have decided to go on a family trip to Israel for two weeks to give the kids a chance to see Israel with their own eyes. Sure, we will do some tourist things, but I will also take them around to different neighborhoods and communities, so that they can see for themselves what makes Israel Israel. I hope this will enable them to move beyond the propaganda of the left and the right, to begin to make an informed decision for themselves about the relationship they want to construct with Israel. I look forward to letting you know how it goes.

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