The only conversation that matters…

Last Updated on Sunday, 25 November 2012 04:40 Written by bryfy Sunday, 18 November 2012 09:12

Now that the ceasefire is in place…from my friends and colleagues at MAKOM – Thank you!

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If you’re in a position of Jewish educational leadership, and it really doesn’t matter which one, invariably in the last week you have been asked by some of your educators about how they should be teaching about the current situation in Israel. Unfortunately many of us have been in this situation before, and regretfully many of us will be there again. As in the past many organizations will create resource guides, curriculum and send out talking points. Since Israel’s last “war” social media has taken off and so people’s Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds will also be filled with many links, downloads and sound bites.

With all due respect to these organizations (some of which I acknowledge and link to below) I want to humbly suggest that all of these resources are actually of secondary importance and perhaps even irrelevant. There is however one conversation that must be have and from experience we all know is in most cases completely neglected.

This essential conversation doesn’t take place in a classroom, and nor does it involve any students/campers/youth movement participants. It is the conversation that you, the principal, education director, rabbi, executive director, camp director, president, chairperson, can and should be convening. It is the conversation that we most commonly avoid because we are sometimes under the misguided opinion that when it comes to education people’s personal opinions don’t actually matter.

The essential conversation only has 1-2 trigger questions.

  • What is your personal relationship to Israel?
  • How are you feeling about the current situation in Israel?

Now you might want to put some parameters around this conversation. For example, try to remain personal and avoid being political (as if the two can exist without one another). But ask people to start their sentences with an “I feel…” statement. Or encourage others not to react (verbally or with body language) to what people say, instead just thank them after they speak.

But even with those parameters, the conversation must be had (ideally in person, but also possible on the phone or on a webinar) because without it, anecdotal evidence has shown us time and time again, that nothing else matters. Put a resource guide in the hands of an educator who has not had a chance to process and reflect about their own relationship with Israel is asking someone to distance themselves and to “read the script” at a time when learners most need authenticity and humanity.

Maybe after the personal processing is complete (or at least started) educators will feel more empowered to go and research about the current situation so that they don’t walk into a room full of learners ill-prepared. But again, even in a moment of reacting to these current events, think carefully about what it is that you want your students to walk away with. Believe me, those that are so inclined to become political, be advocates, attend rallies, will undoubtedly find a way to do so. If you’re a Jewish educator all of these tactics should be secondary. Your primary responsibility is to allow your learners to navigate their own personal journeys through their individuals challenges and struggles. These two questions might be ones that your educators want to ask their learners, but only after the educators themselves have had their own chance to dialogue and share.

No one is saying that this is simple. Yes you might uncover some latent radical in your midst. You might discover tensions in your team that you never knew existed. You might have people raise their voices or shed a tear. And you might even need to give someone a hug, or ask to continue the conversation with them after this structured conversation.

If you’ve had an educator ask you for resources about how to handle the current situation in Israel, then this is the conversation that you need to convene. If none of your educators have asked you for these resources, then you have an even bigger problem, but luckily one that doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, in how to make Israel central to every Jewish educational process that you are engaged in.

To be a (Jewish) educator is to be human. It is to recognize that conflict is fundamentally not about facts or maps, or statuses or tweets. Conflict is raw and it is full of emotion. Unless we provide opportunities for Jewish educators to ask these two questions right now, then I’m afraid nothing else matters.



And despite this post, for resources about the current situation in Israel here are some organizations (and I am happy add more) that I believe offer good material for educators.

The iCenter: Operation Pillar of Defense: A Resource for Discussion

The Lookstein Center: Operation Pillar of Defense – Classroom Materials

JESNA – Israel & Hamas: A Handout for Educators and Parents

RAVSAK: Parent and Educator Guide for Operation Pillar of Defense

The David Project: Pillar of Defense: Special Briefing and Discussion Guide


Jewish Education Center of Cleveland: Israel in Times of Crisis

For a more historical and factual approach you might want to link to the Center for Israel Education’s Facebook Group

And then every so often i am reminded about the real people and the real conflict. This entry, Notes from the Red Zone, by Shira Reifman, a resident of Yad Benyamin, 38 kilometers from the Gaza border, and is posted with her general permission.



  1. An Open Letter to Jewish Campus Professionals and Educators   |  Tuesday, 04 December 2012 at 2:20 am

    […] young people in the discussion, you must be confident in your views and able to articulate your own connection to Israel. Read lots of articles and opinion pieces. Talk to your colleagues in the field. Hold a series of […]

  2. Benji Lovitt   |  Tuesday, 04 December 2012 at 6:26 am

    Great post, David. I wish it went without saying but apparently it doesn’t: there is no substitute for visiting Israel for developing the identity and connection required to have these conversations. Even…especially…when stuff hits the fan. It’s easy to love Israel during the good times but as with friends and family, we really learn about relationships during the hard times.

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