Monday, August 10, 2009

Israel is a pretty special place

This past week Amos Kenan died. You may never have heard of him, but you can read about him at the following links:
Writer Helped Shape Israeli culture from the Washington Post.

According to these articles, Kenan was part of the heroic generation which fought for Israel's independence from Britain, and in his later years was also one of the leaders of the movement for Palestinian independence. Sounds like a contradiction. He also urged the formation of a new Israeli culture that would be separated from Judaism and would use Hebrew as its foundation, not religion.

This view was not uncommon among the early Jewish settlers in modern times, and is not totally gone today. There are many people who prefer to describe themselves as "Israeli" rather than "Jewish", even if they are in fact Jews.

What other country in this troubled part of the world is willing to acknowledge dissent - even dissent which argues against the very foundations of the country - Israel as a Jewish Country? Can you imagine Saudi Arabia separating its Arab culture from its religious connection? Or any other Middle Eastern country? Perhaps Lebanon, but we know how challenging that has been for that country.

I believe that one of the great strengths of Israel, and its uniqueness in the Middle East, is its ability to support critical differences of opinion among its citizenry. We may be disturbed by what looks like lack of civility in the K'nesset, but we can certainly admire the outspokenness of its members.

In teaching our students, who live in a culture of diversity and who learn from early in their educational experience that opinions can be expressed openly and without fear of retribution, this attribute of Israel can be a powerful idea to explore. It can encourage the kind of critical thinking that is so important in learning today.

Big Idea:
  • Israel is a country in which the right to think independently is strongly supported.

Essential Questions to think about:
  1. What different ideas about the nature of Israel are expressed by its inhabitants?
  2. How does the framework of the government support differences of opinion?
  3. What about the political process in Israel shows support for a variety of ideas?

Activities to support learning:
  1. Find out how many political parties exist in Israel.
  2. Divide the class into teams of 2 - 4 students each
  3. Have each team pick 1 or 2 parties and prepare a presentation to explain their philosophies to the rest of the class. Be sure that at least 8 different parties from different areas of the political spectrum are examined by the teams.

Assessment: Choose from among these activities
  1. Have the teams present the information they learned about the parties they studied.
  2. Discuss the similarities and differences among the parties
  3. Prepare a chart to compare and contrast the views of the political parties in the K'nesset
  4. Find out more about Amos Kenan and/or one of the groups he belonged to: Lehi, HaShomer HaTzair, the Canaanite Movement.

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