As they formulate a school response to the war, educators might consider three important lessons derived from “Hearts and Minds,” a recent report on Israel education in North American Jewish schools:
First, one size does not fit all students. Classrooms this September will contain some students who are largely ignorant about the Gaza war and others who have been exposed to it up close. Students who spent part of the summer in Israel undoubtedly will attest to what it was like to run to bomb shelters or sense the fear aroused in Israel’s populace by Hamas tunnels. Teachers will face the daunting task of bridging differences in what students heard from their parents and absorbed elsewhere about the war. The diversity of students and their families adds a considerable measure of complexity to an already challenging situation. All of this places a great responsibility upon teachers to prepare differentiated responses to a broad range of students.
Second, when teaching about Israel, it is imperative to work with students’ minds as well as their hearts. Jewish schools have focused their attention especially on the latter, an understandable approach with younger children. But by their middle school and high school years, students deserve to be exposed not only to the joyous dimensions of the Jewish state, but also to the complexities within Israeli society and outside of it in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East.
And third, teaching about other Jewish communities — their achievements and challenges — does not detract from a connection to Israel but strengthens the ties of students to the Jewish people and also Israel. In some parts of the world, notably in several European countries, Jewish communities are under siege. American Jewish students should not be shielded from these ugly realities. This is the time to teach students about the interconnectedness of all Jews, a lesson that will also strengthen their engagement with Israel and its people.
The Gaza war presents Jewish schools with a teachable moment, a time to explore with their students (in an age-appropriate manner) the asymmetrical struggle in which Israel is engaged and the surge in hatred confronting Jews — including children — in many parts of the world.
Jack Wertheimer, “How to Talk to Children About the Gaza War in Schools”, The Jewish Week (5 September 2014), 21.