Last week, Israel celebrated its 75th birthday. Since the State of Israel, the Jewish people’s dream for 2,000 years, became a reality in 1948, it has encountered numerous challenges. These have ranged from developing agriculture in a water-scarce region and ensuring security amid hostile neighbors to building a nation of diverse immigrants with conflicting interests.
In recent months, we have witnessed rising tensions due to diverse perspectives among Israelis. Protests have erupted in cities across Israel, with each group of demonstrators promoting a distinct vision for the future of the state. These conflicting visions have significant implications and consequences.
During these tense times, educators may wonder how to address these pressing issues with their students: Do we have a responsibility to do so, even though conflict may arise? What role can we play in our learners’ desire for social activism and action? How can we help our learners explore each other’s perspectives in constructive ways?
Here are three ways that educators can facilitate meaningful learning around current issues within – and beyond – the classroom.
1. Start with values
Today, amid growing hostility across Israel, individuals who hold different viewpoints may view one another negatively. In this atmosphere, it can be challenging to create dialogue that brings people together and allows for the exchange and exploration of ideas.
As educators, we can encourage our learners to explore the values — and the hierarchy of values — in each argument. We can help them understand that people prioritize different values due to their perspectives and personal narratives. This exercise can open the door to conversations that build bridges, rather than walls.
2. Enable self-explored education
Educators may have their own perspectives about what is morally right and wrong – usually informed by their own backgrounds and values. If an educator becomes convinced that their perspective is objectively correct, they might educate their learners to think and act as they do.
This type of education is harmful, and can lead to conflict.
For example, when I was in seventh grade in Israel, my teacher taught my class about modesty, and mentioned that Jewish law forbids mixed swimming. I spoke up to question this teaching, because my own Jewish grandparents frequently swam in mixed settings.
As a result, my teacher faced a lose-lose situation: either he could amend his statement to affirm my experience (though it went against his own beliefs), or he could double down on it. In the end, he chose to change the subject and move on – depriving our class of the chance for an illuminating discussion on the many ways Jewish people choose to live and observe.
3. Empower choice
When students do not have autonomy in their education, they become passive and less engaged. Having choice and the ability to be proactive creates commitment. While it is easier for educators to lead students to a specific destination, it is better for educators to create a safe space for them to choose their own journey. This leads to a more engaging, long-lasting learning experience – and a more meaningful destination.
As educators, we are the architects of our students’ experiences. However, we do not determine their outcomes. We must create educational experiences that allow students to freely explore their values, and then take action that speaks to them.
One of my favorite excerpts from Jewish prayer is לתקן עולם במלכות שדי״” which translates to “To fix the world in the kingdom of G-d.” As educators, it is our holy task to provide our students with the tools they need to make the world a better place. We must be humble and provide them with the space to grow.
My wish on Israel’s 75th birthday is that we see more value-driven conversations in this country that help us build a stronger society and contend with the challenges still ahead. As educators, we have the unique opportunity to nurture and facilitate these critical conversations – and the tools to ensure they lead to meaningful conclusions.
Ayal Beer is the Israel Program Director at M². An experienced Jewish educator, Ayal has managed a pre-Army leadership educational program focused on Jewish Israeli identity and social change from 2017 to 2023. Prior to that, he participated in training educational staff for a variety of Jewish organizations in the U.S and Canada. Ayal earned a B.A in Social Work from Bar Ilan University and a Master’s degree in Talmud and Religious Law from the Schechter Institute. A licensed tour guide and graduate of SEC 1, Ayal lives with his wife and four children in Kibbutz Hannaton in the Lower Galilee.