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March 07, 2013 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-03-07

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metro >> on the cover

Israel Advocacy

Local Jewish high schools have different approaches, different goals.

Louis Finkelman I Special to the Jewish News


Some Jewish educators offer Israel advo-
cacy courses. They teach their students the
hard facts and strong arguments the student
needs to resist the arguments of glib anti-
Zionists. These educators say our students
need to know how to win debates for Israel.
Other educators offer the Israel experi-
ence. They offer students rich, complex and
positive experiences of Israel. According to
these educators, preparing for futile argu-
ments with the glib anti-Zionists misses the
point. We need to have Jews who connect
with Israel.
Still other educators design their courses
to help students find accurate information
about the history of Israel, both beautiful
and ugly incidents. They say that indoctri-
nation does not work, and we should not
try to make it work. Self-respecting history
teachers have an intellectual responsibility
to present evidence as accurately as possible.
According to these educators, we have to
trust students.
In this three-way dispute, a major Israel
advocacy and education organization has
reversed its strategy for its high school
programs. The Boston-based David Project,
founded in 2002 in response to anti-Israel
activity on campuses around the country,
until last year concentrated its high school
work on getting students ready to win the
debate on campus.
This year, the David Project has unveiled
a complete overhaul of its approach. Its new
mission, as described by Executive Director
David Bernstein, focuses on creating "a
more thoughtful, nuanced and supportive
environment ... for Israel and its support-
Stephanie Hoffman, a
former Detroiter, man-
ager of David Project
Pre-Collegiate Programs,
sums up the softer
approach, used at more
than 130 Jewish high
schools: "Israel education
is strongest with a combi-
nation of personal experi-
ence, collective memory
and historical context:' Students, she says,
should learn to articulate "their own per-
sonal connection with Israel:' Each person
will have different reasons for a connection
to Israel.
Hoffman says the David Project made the
change because the old curriculum was "not
working as well as we wanted. You do not

10 March 7 • 2013

that Israelis broadcast a warning to alert
civilians] so that they can properly educate
the general public about the event. The key
to proper advocacy is being able to disprove
the negative propaganda and answer with a
positive aspect about Israel"

Memory Vs. History

StandWithUs student interns Joey Jubas of Akiva, and Jesse Arm and Andrew
Moss, both of Frankel Jewish Academy, at last year's annual dinner

tell today's teens why they should support
Israel or do anything else; you teach them
the differing reasons why different people
have supported Israel. We can trace commit-
ments to Israel throughout Jewish history:'
As Todd Young, director of Campus &
Educational Initiatives at the David Project,
points out, any substantial change will have
opponents who prefer the old way of doing
things. Indeed, one Michigan educator
laments the change at the David Project and
prefers the approach of a rival organization,
Los Angeles-based StandWithUs (SWU).
Roz Rothstein, CEO of that organiza-
tion, explains that when anti-Israel groups
actively demand that universities divest
from Israel, as they have at University of
California-Irvine, then pro-Israel groups
have to fight back politically. She politely
dismisses the "Israel experience" approach:
"You have the luxury of doing education on
Israel technology and humanitarian aid"
only when anti-Israel groups are quiet, she
told the Forward.
SWU recommends that high school
teachers draw their curricula from the
pamphlet, "Israel 101" (available at
StandWithUs.org). This pamphlet ends with
"Hot Topics:' instructions for how to refute
the hottest accusations against Israel. In the
words of Barbara Moretsky, president of
StandWithUs-Michigan, the pamphlet "does
not take a bloodless approach:'
She says we have to know how to defeat
accusations because otherwise the debate
will be shaped by years of lies being told
over and over, which results in people
accepting them as truth.
"Now, even a segment of our Jewish popu-

lation believes the myths and outright lies:'
she said. "This area of study is most needed
by high school students before they go to
college, where they are just as likely to hear
the lies from their professors as from the
Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at
campus rallies:'
StandWithUs has student interns at high
schools throughout the country, including
Akiva and Frankel. At a weekend training
session in Los Angeles, 48 of these interns
(called MZ interns in honor of the initials
of the donor) studied how to combat propa-
Joey Jubas, an intern at Akiva with Elana
Greenbaum, described one technique
for answering politely and effectively.
"Propaganda seeks to demoralize, demonize
and apply double standards. You do not have
to anticipate every single point to recognize
those techniques and to answer accordingly.
If they apply double standards, you can
point out the inconsistency"
Jubas says teens can help SWU because
"we are so adept at social media. We
can speed the facts and the truth out on
Facebook and Twitter, and let people know
how great Israel is and the great things it has
accomplished. And StandWithUs provides
resources to us whenever we need them:'
Andrew Moss, an FJA student intern
along with Jesse Arm, makes a similar point.
"Students need to learn what the anti-
Israel activists say and what they can say in
response," he said. "For example, anti-Israel
advocates will commonly bring up the Deir
Yassin Massacre [in April 1948] as a focal
point of Israeli atrocity. Students should
know the Israeli side to the story [namely

Israel advocates react to challenging inci-
dents in Israel's past by defending Israel
against charges, but how should a his-
tory class deal with these
incidents? Rabbi Tzvi
Klugerman, head of
Akiva, studied history
in graduate school at the
University of Maryland.
Among his professors
was Benny Morris, whose
analysis of the Israeli
Rabbi Tzvi
of Independence
systematically uncovered
disturbing incidents.
In the History of Zionism course that
he teaches, Klugerman wants his students
to develop a sophisticated understanding
of Israel. He talks about the distinction,
articulated by former Columbia University
educator Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi, between
"memory" and "history:'
History tries to ascertain what we can
know about what happened. Memory tries
to use what happened to form our identity.
In Yerushalmi's example, the Passover seder
is a ritualized memory, which we use to
form a community; history asks what the
primary sources reveal about the Exodus.
In learning about Israel, Klugerman says,
the story of valiant pioneers, who settled a
swampland and rocky desert, and eventually
survived to found a state against all odds,
amounts to "memory:'
When you do "history:' you compare leg-
end with the facts, including awkward facts.
Klugerman believes that part of the antidote
to pure ritual memory lies in historiography,
the study "not of the primary sources, but of
how the historians use the primary sources"
to craft their competing versions of history,
including a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish
responses to Zionism.
However, Klugerman notes that Akiva was
founded nearly 50 years ago to provide an
intensely Zionist and more Israel-centered
experience than its older counterpart, Yeshiva
Beth Yehudah in Oak Park. Families that
send their children to Akiva already have
bought into Zionism, and students come
to the school with commitment to Israel.

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