Anyone who’s had a long-distance relationship, knows that it’s hard to maintain that personal connection. It needs a bit of work to keep that spark alive.
As a Zionist community here in Sydney, that’s one way to view our relationship with Israel. Sometimes it’s tough for our students to remember what Israel is all about when we’re not actually there, and especially for those who have never been to Israel before.
In their guidebook “Teaching Israel”, Arnold Eisen and Michael Rosenak write of the myth of Israel in the Diaspora being perpetuated by a sense of distance. They write, “Diaspora Jews generally relate to the land, the state, and even the people of Israel as myth. And they have no choice but to do so. For myths can be appreciated from afar, whereas the complexities of everyday reality cannot.”
At Moriah, we don’t want Israel to remain as just a “myth”.
We try to bring that taste of Israel to as many activities as possible and encourage all our students to develop their own relationship with Israel – first from afar, and then in person on experiences such as the Israel Study Tour (IST) in Year 10.
In the High School for example, we’ve just welcomed Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Israel musical sensation Ishay Ribo to the College. Last week, some of our students heard from Arab Israeli IDF veteran and anti-BDS activist, Yosef Hadad, as well as Noah Shufutinsky who is an educator with pro-Israel advocacy organisation StandWithUs and also spreads Jewish identity through Hip Hop as rapper Westside Gravy!
To be able to hear first-hand from influential Israelis such as a former Prime Minster, is an incredible opportunity, and the best thing about it, is that it inspires our students to want to learn more.
We are unapologetically Zionistic at Moriah. We absolutely believe that Israel should exist, that Jewish people should have a homeland of their own, and that we’re so lucky to be living in a time when we have the State of Israel. We want our children to be proud of all of that and we also want them to understand that they can criticise and question Israel.
It is important for our students to hear all sides. We encourage our students to question and to think for themselves, and we want them to be knowledgeable enough to form their own opinions that are well-grounded in fact.
We’re not trying to blindfold anyone and claim that Israel is above criticism. Every country in the world has its flaws and shortcomings that can be subject to criticism, including Australia and including Israel. The difference is that some people believe that Israel itself is the mistake. Our students need to be knowledgeable enough to be able to make the distinction between those who present a justified and reasonable criticism of Israel and those who are anti-Israel, anti-Zionistic and antisemitic.
I personally feel that it is our responsibility to enable our students to leave High School with the confidence to feel an overwhelming Zionistic pride as well as to be able to have a conversation and articulate it. Especially when those conversations take place on university campuses or in the workplace, in a world where contemporary Jew-hatred focuses on the most important symbol of Judaism, Jewish life, and Jewish existence – Israel.
This is why we are launching a new Israel advocacy program and introducing it as an option for Year 11 students as part of the Day 8 structure.
Called ‘Bitachon’, meaning ‘confidence’, the program is all about enabling a small group of committed and passionate students, to have that combination of knowing what to say about Israel, and having the confidence to say it.
Through Bitachon, students will be equipped with facts and knowledge about Israel’s history, policy and current events as well as the skills to confidently articulate themselves and enter those difficult conversations that often manifest in hostile situations.
We want those conversations to reflect more than just the anti-Israel side, with Moriah graduates who can represent the many of us who are really proud of Israel and what Israel is achieving or just simply stand up and call it out, when anti-Zionism masquerades as thinly veiled antisemitism.
The program is not compulsory for every student in the Year group, because it’s not about quantity. The aim is ultimately to have ten graduates from every Year group, who are highly skilled and highly confident to speak about Israel. We want these students to understand the Australian political landscape and develop relationships with decision makers, who can influence the dialogue. We honestly believe that this will make positive changes throughout the whole Sydney and Australian Jewish community and eventually perhaps even across the globe.
Ultimately, just like with our closest loved ones, we can criticise them and they can drive us crazy, but we will also be their biggest advocates and be immensely proud of them. If anyone would dare to defame our loved ones we would not hesitate to speak out and defend them. It is the same way with Israel. Even though we must settle for a long-distance relationship we constantly strive to find ways to overcome the divide and develop our own unique relationship with our very special homeland.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Talya Wiseman is the Head of Jewish Life, High School, at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.