This article was initially published in Hebrew and translated for our English-speaking audience. Click here to view the article in Hebrew.
It is rather strange that Religious Zionists, which are a relatively small group within the Israeli public and even more so in the Jewish world, have an official holiday in the State of Israel; one that has fallen almost completely under their wing and is in fact only one celebrated by this group. The day combines the Zionist perspective embodied in the missions of schools, yeshivas, and ulpanim that march around Jerusalem, especially in the famous flag parade, or from a spiritual religious perspective expressed in special prayers, including hallel (holiday praise) and tachanun (supplications). Both of these perspectives conflict with two major groups in the Israeli and Jewish world: the Ultra-Orthodox public, which denies the role of the state in the miracle of the liberation of Jerusalem, and even questions that it was a miracle, and the secular public that questions miracles and the redemption of the Jewish people through divine providence, and views the liberation of this territory as occupation of disputed territories and the cause of our political headaches.
Thus, in the end, Jerusalem Day became not only affiliated with Religious Zionism, but is mainly affiliated with a very specific age group within Religious Zionism, that is the Religious Zionist youth who swamp the streets of Jerusalem on this day. These youth are the ones who lead the celebrations and keep alive the small national awareness of Jerusalem Day that still exists. True, these young boys and girls are lead by bearded rabbis throughout the streets of Jerusalem who, in terms of their age, do not exactly fit the definition of youth, and there are indeed other adult men and women who share their celebrations. Yet, at the end of the day, the youth are the ones who create the powerful and festive atmosphere of Jerusalem Day. Those teenagers, who come from all over the country and show so much joy and enthusiasm that the toughest Jerusalemites can’t resist, create a festive Jerusalem Day that even the major news broadcasts cannot ignore.
Personally, it has been quite amazing to see students who are not exactly the most dedicated in their studies throughout the school year, take up a flag and lead more introverted students in singing and dancing. Beyond that, they also help to organize lunch, fold up equipment and show a true desire to participate in a day that, while appearing to be fun, still has challenging parts that require a desire to help and invest more effort. Throughout the day, I hear criticism from other students who ask where were those who barely arrive for Mincha prayers suddenly appear from to march on the streets of Jerusalem with a flag as if they were the height of the Torah. However, the reality is that without them the entire event would lack the spirit, joy, and enthusiasm so necessary on a day meant to demonstrate joy, praise, and thanks.
After the festivities are over, I see those students who “turned on” to lead their friends through the streets of Jerusalem return to school and return to the same behavior that characterized them before. Once again, they demonstrate a lack of motivation to succeed and lead both academically and socially. When I compare their present situation against the visible potential I have seen, I find myself left with a sense of dismay that there is such a great distance between their potential and where they are now.
The problem is, I am the kind of person who does not like to remain dismayed and helpless. I want to change and help them, that is one of the main reasons I am in the field of education; to help and promote boys who need direction and support. When I seek ideas that can help them, there are two possible courses of action that come to mind. The first is to accept the fact that they may not fit into the normal framework of our school and to acknowledge that their skills and abilities could be expressed much better at a different school. This is a big change, one that requires their parents’ involvement and, of course, the consent of the student themselves. They would leave the social environment where they are often very much loved, which they could resist, despite the fact that a change would bring about major improvements.
Another possibility that came to mind was to try to work off the student’s the strong points seen on Jerusalem Day, and to work with them to identify how to use those strengths in daily life and what is preventing them from bringing those abilities to school. Of course, this is not a simple job, and it is possible the student will resits and not cooperate, but I believe that it is still a realistic path that can truly change things for the better.
As I think through this, I’m aware that these are only a few ideas that I’ve come up with, and I’m sure many other educators have excellent ideas that can also help. How do we help these students embrace their strengths? I’d love to hear how other educators feel about this, because, in the end, we’re all handling similar issues, but approaching them with our own unique angle. By sharing, like I have done today, we have the opportunity for our ideas to be fertilized and produce successful solutions.