June 1995-Sivan 5755
The complex web of threats and opportunities in the Jewish world poses a great challenge to the National Institutions of the Jewish People.
Those who believe today that we can do without the National Institutions and allow the Jewish world to develop without coordination, may, within a few short generations, find themselves closing one of the finest chapters ever written in the history of nations and human civilization. They may find themselves witness to no less than the destruction of the Jewish People.
Nonetheless, the claim that our National Institutions in their current form do not meet the needs of the Jewish People is not unfounded. We must redefine the tasks of these institutions and implement a range of projects and methods of operation to fulfill the tasks. We must restructure our institutions accordingly and provide the services which Jews need as we approach a new century.
Part Two describes the central missions which loom before us: the battle against assimilation in the Diaspora, the battle against alienation from Judaism and Israeli estrangement from the Jewish People, and the battle to bridge the widening gap between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. Toward this end, we will recommend several methods of operation, and propose a range of programs and projects for consideration and implementation.
The proposed projects are in various stages of development: some are ready for immediate implementation following approval by the appropriate agencies; some are still being worked on; others can serve as food for thought by Jews around the world who, by offering their comments, can take an active role in shaping the destiny of the Jewish People.
Challenges in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century
Addressing the Outcome of the Holocaust and of the Establishment of the State of Israel
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the Jewish People has had to deal with two polar events of overriding significance in its history: the annihilation of European Jewry and the emergence of a sovereign Jewish society in the Land of Israel.
The Jewish People has had to marshal all of its powers in order to survive the trauma of losing more than a third of its members. On the eve of the Second World War, there were some seventeen million Jews. Only eleven million were left when Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies. Six million persons were slaughtered because they were Jews.
And out of the destruction, like a phoenix whose spirit could not be broken, arose a new entity for which the Jewish world had yearned for two thousand years. A state emerged in the Land of Israel, opened its gates to every Jew in every corner of the world, and proclaimed itself the nation-state of the Jewish People.
Jews throughout the Diaspora gathered together and gave their all to ensure the existence of the State of Israel; Jews in Israel sacrificed their lives to defend its security; Jews in the Diaspora worked unceasingly to guarantee the prosperity of the young state.
During the latter half of this century, the National Institutions focused their efforts on assisting the Jewish ingathering in the Land of Israel. They were the central instrument for enlisting the forces of the Jewish periphery in order to build a Jewish national center. The fragile state of the Jews in the Land of Israel was faced with challenges which no other people has ever had to meet. After two thousand years of dispersion, the Jews managed to breathe new life into an ancient language, to build an impressive economy and an unparalleled military force which ultimately brought its Arab neighbors to accept the State of Israel as a fact of life.
Now that the political and military configurations in the Middle East have undergone a transformation, the focus of activity of the Jewish People must change. Today the National Institutions face new challenges, no less important than those of the past.
Challenges of the Twenty-First Century
The Battle Against Assimilation in the Diaspora
To halt assimilation, the greatest danger to the Jewish People in the next century, our National Institutions must present a program of principles, values and ideas, along with the organizational, political and economic tools to implement them.
The premiere tool at the disposal of the Jewish People in its fight against assimilation is Jewish-Zionist education.
There are three million children and youths in the Jewish world today. Half of them are being raised and educated in Israel, and half in the Diaspora.
Of the 1,500,000 Jewish children in the Diaspora, approximately 1,115,000 live in North America. Only half of the children in the Diaspora receive a Jewish education of any sort. Only a small minority of children living in Israel receive a Jewish-Zionist education which gives them the ability to weigh the long-term implications of life in the state of the Jewish People against other options. These children are the target population for the Jewish-Zionist educational activities of our National Institutions and we must reach them.
The Values and Content of Jewish-Zionist Education
The urgent need to redefine the values and traditions we will impart to our young people is not unique to the Jewish People. There is a general difficulty in conveying humanist values in a technological society. The world of the twenty first century, in which young people wander through the virtual reality of cyberspace, may become a world in which the only values are those of economic success and material achievement.
Moreover, bountiful technologies, which provide an almost endless number of channels to convey educational messages, may sometimes overshadow the content of education. The medium may become the central message. Therefore, when defining our educational tasks, we must not only define the means and the technological tools we will use in our educational systems in Israel and the Diaspora, we must also conduct an open dialogue regarding the content and messages of Jewish-Zionist education.
Our proposal is that Jewish education in Israel and the Diaspora focus on Judaism as a multi-faceted world offering an ever evolving, unique and pluralistic national culture.
The Jewish identity which our National Institutions will try to impart to youth in Israel and the Diaspora will emphasize varied elements of religious tradition which touch upon bonds with the Land of Israel, knowledge of its past, its historical sites, its beauty and natural landscapes. It will emphasize the foundations of the Hebrew language and literature, and the values of personal and social morality and ethics which infuse Zionist ideology.
The educational curricula developed by our National Institutions will present Jewish studies from an interdisciplinary and critical perspective, examining texts and sources from different periods and cultures. Jewish studies will integrate general studies of personal and national moral dilemmas within the broad cultural contexts which give rise to tradition and shape values.
One of the important tasks of Jewish-Zionist education will be to define the basic components of Jewish studies which will be mandatory for Jewish children in all parts of the world. This will include exposure to the foundations of the Jewish religion, chapters in the history of Israel, contemporary Judaism in the Diaspora, ramifications of the Holocaust and Zionist history. The curriculum will also include Israeli geography, holidays and festivals (each year, one or two will be studied in depth), familiarity with the prayer book and exposure to Talmudic thinking through the study of a page of Gemara.
In addition to these mandatory subjects, supplementary programs will be developed in accordance with the needs of each community and may include in-depth study of the history and customs unique to a particular Jewish community.
The educational curricula will be developed for use both in formal and informal educational frameworks, including study groups, lectures, symposia, seminars and events connected to Jewish learning. They will be adapted for both single age and multi-generational use, including family programming which will permit parents and children to spend time together in experiential learning of Jewish texts.
The content of Jewish-Zionist education will be reshaped by experts prepared to contribute their talents, energy and expertise to this exciting task. However, not only the content must be revised, but also the means we use to convey it.
Although many children in Israel and the Diaspora regard Jewish studies as a joyless collection of boring facts, this does not attest to the poverty of the sources of Jewish culture. Rather, it indicates a poverty of creative thought and a failure to present Jewish-Zionist education in ways that are suited to the expectations, needs and habits of young Jews heading toward the twenty first century.
Jewish-Zionist education must be based on the values of Jewish religion, the study of Jewish history and heritage and an understanding of the many facets of Judaism. It must be accompanied by a study of the Hebrew language. Jewish study must become a source of pleasure. In this technological age, the acquisition of knowledge must be perceived by the student not only as a means to an end, but as a satisfying and pleasurable process in itself.
Thus, the study of Hebrew must be constructed so as to provide satisfaction and enjoyment in the learning and enable the young Diaspora Jew to feel at home when visiting Israel. A working knowledge of Hebrew must give its speakers a membership card into a worldwide club of partners in an ancient language which few others understand, and pose for them an intellectual challenge in understanding the roots of one of the most fascinating cultures in human history.
Conveying the Centrality of Israel to Diaspora Jews
A central goal of Jewish-Zionist education is to convey the centrality of Israel to Jews around the world. There is no contradiction between strengthening Jewish communities in the Diaspora in their struggle against assimilation and encouraging Aliyah to Israel while nurturing the centrality of Israel in the collective Jewish consciousness. The disappearance of the Diaspora is not something we can expect to witness in our lifetimes. Jews from the west are not expected to come to Israel en masse in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the State of Israel and the Zionist Movement have a clear interest in strengthening the Jewish consciousness of Jews in the Diaspora. The survival of strong, proud Jewish communities is the only guarantee of a reservoir of Jews who may someday choose to link their fates with the Jewish People and its nation-state, Israel. There is also no contradiction in the long-run between strengthening the cohesion of the community and preserving its Jewish character on the one hand, and encouraging Aliyah to Israel on the other If the State of Israel wishes to benefit from the enormous potential of Aliyah from affluent countries, it must first guarantee the continued Jewish identity of individuals and communities in the Jewish world. Without strong Jewish identity and a strong bond to the Land of Israel, there is no hope of reviving the idea of Aliyah.
Creating a Framework to Train Educators and Teachers
Deepening Jewish-Zionist education in Israel and the Diaspora requires an investment in teachers of excellence. To this end, we must make every effort to train professional educators who are capable of adapting general curricula to the specific needs of each community.
One of the most difficult problems in the sphere of Jewish-Zionist education is the creation of an infrastructure for training quality teachers. Many communities suffer from a severe shortage of talented educators. The pool of Jewish studies teachers in Israel is also insufficient: despite the availability of academic Jewish Studies programs, few graduates of these programs go into teaching. Between 1980 and 1992, the number of Israel university graduates attending teaching programs in Talmud and/or Jewish Philosophy (Ben-Gurion, Bar lIan, Haifa, Tel-Aviv and Hebrew Universities) rose from a total of two students to eleven.
The National Institutions of the Jewish People will establish a comprehensive system for training teachers and other educational personnel in Israel and abroad. The system will offer outstanding young people incentives to enter the field of Jewish education. Efforts will be invested in encouraging university and college students to choose this profession. Scholarships will be given to outstanding Jewish studies students who train as teachers and commit themselves to working in the field for a stipulated period of time. Similarly, scholarships will be made available to students in other disciplines who wish to switch their field of expertise to Jewish studies and instruction.
Together with the effort to enlarge the pool of Jewish studies teachers in Israel and the Diaspora, the National Institutions will establish comprehensive in-service training programs for teachers who now work in the field of Jewish-Zionist education. These programs will offer advanced study in various subjects, including integrative approaches to Jewish studies, contemporary Judaism and its different streams, Jewish identity and the study of the heritage of the communities of Israel. Summer courses will be developed for teachers, and incentives will be offered to teachers on sabbatical who participate in advanced courses in interdisciplinary Jewish studies.
To meet the different needs of Jewish communities around the world, teachers will be hired from within the community or from Israel. Some may move from one Diaspora community to another.
Involvement of Israelis Residing in the Diaspora in the Jewish-Zionist Education System
One of the resources at the disposal of the Jewish-Zionist education system in the Diaspora is Israelis who have left the State of Israel and, for various reasons, chosen to live in other countries. This population includes emissaries of institutions and organizations, academician on sabbatical, and a relatively large number of Yordim. The Jewish National Institutions will maintain an up-to-date databank of Israelis residing in the Diaspora who are interested in taking part in Jewish-Zionist educational activities.
Emissaries of institutions, organizations and economic companies, together with their families, will be invited to take part in this task. Academics on sabbatical will be invited to appear before various community forums. Among the Yordim, an effort will be made to identify people with talent for teaching Jewish and Zionist subjects. Those selected will receive training in their places of residence to ensure their skills in transmitting educational messages and their commitment to doing so.
The proposal to include Yordim in a Jewish-Zionist education system will surely arouse surprise. It would therefore be productive to examine more closely the approach which our National Institutions should adopt toward the phenomenon of Yerida.
The Jewish People has always wandered from place to place. In no period of Jewish history have individuals not chosen to leave their homes and build their lives somewhere else. A Jew who decided to move from one place to another could live a rich and full Jewish life in his/her new place of residence. Migration has always been legitimate in the Jewish world.
That fact should inform the attitude of our National Institutions toward Yordim. The individual who chooses to live his/her life outside the borders of the State of Israel is entitled to do so. After all, the establishment of the State of the Jewish People was never intended to build walls which would prevent its citizens from living elsewhere. Heaven preserve us from a country in which its citizens feel like prisoners. Jewish-Zionist education for Israelis should stress the advantages of life in their country. It should present the State of Israel to the young Israeli as the only place in the world where s/he can live a full Jewish life in the deepest sense of the word, with an unconditional connection to one’s roots and the surrounding cultural, political and social environment.
But if, nonetheless, a young Israeli chooses to go abroad to study, or to travel around the world for several years, or to make his/her living abroad, the Jewish People must not turn him/her into a "public enemy" to be ostracized.
The principle which should determine the attitude of our National Institutions toward Israelis living in the Diaspora is that a Jew who leaves the State of Israel is not a Yored to be shunned, but rather a fellow Jew. S/he is worthy of all the respect due a human being and a Jew, and if s/he wishes to be a partner in Jewish education or other spheres of activity in the Jewish world, s/he should be allowed to do so. The saying that Israel, despite its sins, remains Israel, must certainly apply to people who have committed no sin other than trying to build their lives.
Furthermore, given that one of the declared and agreed upon aims of the Jewish National Institutions is the encouragement of Aliyah, the attitude toward Israelis living abroad should follow accordingly. Bringing the Israeli who lives outside the Jewish world closer to spheres of Jewish and Zionist activity may strengthen his/her connection to Judaism and Zionist ideology.
It is possible that for some individuals, participation in Jewish educational activity will serve as a springboard for heightened status or economic gain which will actually help them build a home in the Diaspora. However, there is no doubt that many others will discover the advantages of affiliating with the Jewish People and disseminating its age-old values.
Determining Qualitative and Quantitative Goals for Jewish Education
An educational program aimed at hundreds of thousands of Jewish children who currently receive no Jewish education cannot be valid if it is not based on a multi-year plan. In addition to the qualitative definitions of the program content and the means of implementing it in the educational process, we must also define quantitative goals with respect to the number of pupils in Jewish-Zionist educational systems and the specific amount of core material to be learned.
Together with local Jewish leadership in Diaspora communities, it will be necessary to establish priorities for educational programming and the size of the target population each year, in each community.
Each community will be asked to prepare a plan for local dissemination of Jewish education. Jewish communities will be able to make use of "expert services", including questionnaires, computer programs and consultants. This will assist them in determining their qualitative goals, the tools to be employed and their budgetary resources.
Development of General Educational Programs
With a Jewish Perspective Development of General Educational Programs With a Jewish Perspective
Our National Institutions must offer Jewish students not only programs with sectarian Jewish content, but also combinations of informal and formal educational programs which emphasize the Jewish contribution to world civilization in the spheres of science, academia, literature and the humanities in various historical periods.
Jewish-Zionist values cannot be conveyed through an exclusively patronizing attitude toward other cultures and traditions. They must be founded on a sense of respect and appreciation of others combined with knowledge and pride in the unique contribution Jews have made to civilization.
Establishment of An Open University of the Jewish People
An ambitious plan for revitalizing Jewish-Zionist education is the establishment of an Open University of the Jewish People based in Jerusalem. Although the university may be associated with the Hebrew University and other Israeli institutions of higher education, it will develop programs tailor-made for its students. The Open University will offer B.A. and M.A. degrees in Jewish studies to anyone wishing to study for an academic degree.
Psychographic segmentation (social status, life style): Psychographic factors will affect the consumer patterns for education al services. In communities with a five-day workweek, the leisure time available to potential consumers of Jewish-Zionist education is obviously different from that of other communities.
In some communities, adults will prefer group learning and peer group sessions while others may choose individual study tracks.
Behavioral segmentation: Our market study must include behavioral factors of potential education consumers. Some local institutions will organize intensive family study vacations while others will prefer enrichment courses. In some places, educational activities will be multi-generational and in others, they will be based on professional affinity or peer groups.