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The Educator and the Need to Speak, Learn

In the wake of terrible news from Israel, there is a tendency to focus on the events of the day. As important as it is to understand the latest timely developments, educators must strive to help our students and ourselves view them in a broader, timeless context so that we can learn from them. We must serve as a moral voice, to reinforce, and sometimes introduce, our core values and the essence of who we are.

How can we link the painful events of this week to the timeless values of our people and our story? What follows are some suggestions and ideas of ways educators can facilitate an exploration of deeper concepts that delve beyond the headlines.

Shalom Orzach wrote a piece on this topic titled Time-Related Events, Timeless Reflection

Family and Jewish Peoplehood

Our connection and our pain are first and foremost because we are family.

What does it mean to be part of a family, a people? One of the ways that will make this concept palpable is to reach out, be in touch with family and friends in Israel, reconnect with past shlichim (שליחים, "emissaries"‎), learn from their perspectives to enrich your discussions. The press has provided details regarding the victims, but in conversations with your students stress that each of them has stories and each of them left behind a family and legacy. Ask your students what we might wish to do to honor and preserve the lives and memories of those killed. 

In the Book of Ruth, Ruth pleads with Naomi to be allowed to remain with her mother in law; "Your People are my People, your God is my God," she says, showing her deep desire to become part of the destiny and history of the Jewish people. Indeed, this empathy is almost the definition of what it means to be Jewish. Invite your pupils to consider additional criteria for what it might mean to belong.

This sense of responsibility is found in the Torah, especially in the portion of Kedoshim in the Book of Leviticus (Ch. 19), in the details pertaining to, or perhaps explaining, the directive to be Holy, and culminating in verse 18:“Love your neighbor as yourself." This also finds expression in the Talmud, which declares כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה (Kol Yisrael areivim ze laze, "All of Israel are responsible one for another").

  • What could “being responsible” imply today?
  • What are your interpretations of Ruth's statement: “Your People are my People“? Encourage artistic as well as verbal responses.
  • What themes emerge in some of the answers? 

The Meaning of Space and “Sanctuary” in Jewish Life

This terrorist act took place in a synagogue, a sanctuary, a place that is meant to provide refuge, protection and safety. Revisit the significance of space. What spaces do we consider safe? What makes them that way?

The concept of safe space can be related to the establishment of the State of Israel itself. You can look with your students at the opening of the Declaration of Independence, which describes the historic connection of the Jewish people to the homeland. The concept of home has become so prevalent in Israel. Reflect on the videos and images below, and invite reactions from your students.  


Ritual Behavior and Timeless Values

Multiple large theological questions beg to be addressed, and there are many ways to approach them with your students. The daily ritual of gathering in prayer gives expression to who we are as Jews, and the horror of this terrible act can provide opportunities to consider how we bring holiness and meaning into our daily schedules. Our timeless values can find expression in timely, daily acts and ritual behaviors.

The killings took place during shacharit, the daily morning prayers. Use this opportunity to consider reflecting on daily or regular acts that give expression to our core values and the essence of who we are.

This can be an opportunity to talk about God and prayer. What is the role of community in prayer? Why do Jews pray in a group? The Hebrew word for "to pray" (להתפלל, lehitpalel) is reflexive, implying conversation; often our prayer conversations take place through music, movement and a powerful feeling of being a part, or a member, of a group. These profound experiences enable the member to remember. Ruth eloquently highlights this quality of being part of a group: Being a member of the Jewish people means that we jointly re-member our stories. Re-conjure those magical moments from camp, school or home and create new communal moments that celebrate who we are as individuals and as part of a people.

Unfortunately, the media play a major role in how we categorize, name (and sometimes misname) tragic, painful events through the terminology of terror, conflict, or matzav. As educators, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to describe these events in a broader context and to embed them in concepts and values that resonate in our students’ lives.