This morning, I ripped apart half my closet searching for the requisite blue and white attire for this week. With Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut coming up, particularly against the backdrop of the latest barrage of rockets targeting Israeli civilians, like many of my fellow Jewish educators, I’m gearing up for songs, tears, dancing, stories, and falafel. This week gives us an opportunity to be all Israel all the time. But what about the rest of the year?
Just like how experiential education is at its best when it’s meaningfully and seamlessly integrated each and every day, rather than being intentionally held apart as a specific set of activities, so too is Israel education its most authentic when it’s actively linked to the rest of the Jewish education canon. Instead of having an Israel day, or touching on Israel during its specific unit and then relegating it to that requisite blue and white for one week, my goal is to explore ways to connect the larger Jewish calendar to Israel, giving us touch points throughout the year to connect with this integral facet of our overall Jewish experience.
Israel + Yom Kippur
On Yom Kippur, Israel completely shuts down. Those who are religious go to synagogue, and those who are secular spend the day going carless. Instead, they take advantage of the otherwise empty streets, riding bicycles and skateboards on the most major highways, and lounging in the middle of the road for no discernable reason other than that they can. And at the same time, it’s not out of the ordinary for someone to emerge from a local synagogue to blow the shofar for the secular revelers.
What does it mean to create Jewish sacred space? Does the Israeli method of using public spaces for recreation on what we traditionally think of as a holy day ‘count’ as a Jewish act?
Israel + Chanukah
Latkes are a universal Chanukah food, but in Israel what takes the central role of culinary king for this holiday is soufganiyot. What started as jelly donuts has morphed into decadent yumminess of every flavor imaginable, with tricked out donuts popping up throughout the country.
Create a DIY soufganiyot bar with donuts and topping choices, mirroring the Israeli Chanukah experience.
Israel + Pesach
The story of the Exodus from Egypt is told in Jewish homes in Israel, the United States, and around the world. But the way we tell it can shift depending on our perspectives. Early Zionists, members of the kibbutz movement, modern Israelis, and various groups, including artists, secular Israelis, and more, have created their own haggadot to tell the story of the seder in ways that are personally relevant for their constituent groups. At kibbutz seders, wheat is brought in from the fields to mark the start of the Omer cycle.
Read excerpts from different haggadot to understand how different groups in Israel and the US have interpreted ancient texts to fit their narratives. What can we learn about Israeli society from its methods?
Israel + Shavuot
One of the traditional ways of marking Shavuot is with all night Torah study. Certain cities in Israel, such as famously secular Tel Aviv, have taken this ritual out of the synagogues and study halls and brought it to the streets, with museums staying open, and all night learning including art workshops, dance, and poetry, together with traditional texts.
Include Israeli culture in your Shavuot programming. Could this be the time to bring in an Israeli graffiti workshop as a new lens to talk about interpretation? Poetry to explore new meanings of text? Or a look at the evolving Hebrew language as a whole?