By Dalia Gerson (’23) and Rosie Alchalel (’21)
Illustration by Gaby Wellman (‘20)
BIBI CHAIM SHELI, Sharon Cohen (‘20) proudly scribbles on Mrs. Webber’s whiteboard during the busy Yearbook class period. This simple Hebrew phrase roughly translates to “Bibi is my life,” alluding to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.
“Are you crazy?” Gaby Wellman (‘20) wittily remarks, “I think you misspelled Gantz,” referring to Netanyahu’s most prominent political opponent, Benny Gantz.
Both inside and outside the classroom, this year’s Israeli elections have slowly taken over SDJA. No surprise considering that the school has Israel rooted in its foundation, seen in such facts as the Lower School being named for Prime Minister Golda Meir, the larger-than-life portrait of Theodor Herzl in the MUS lobby, and the annual schoolwide Israel week celebration in late January and early February.
Although students tend to maintain loyalty to the United States by tuning into American politics more than they do to the situation in Israel, politics in Israel continue to play a strong role in students’ lives. And while most, if not all, SDJA students share a love for the Jewish state, many differ in their political ideology and their hopes for the state. But how much do they really know about Israeli politics? How deeply do they care about the future of their home away from home?
Many students from non-Israeli backgrounds, such as Eli Lerner (‘21), do, in fact, follow Israeli politics. “It is the home of the Jewish people and I have a connection to it,” Lerner comments. “I check to see how it is doing.” Similarly, Gaby Wellman cares about Israeli politics because, as she says, “Israel is a country that I hold close to my heart.”
Yonatan Boukobza (‘23), who is visiting from Beer Sheva, Israel for a year, thinks that it is important to follow the politics of both Israel and the United States. Israeli politics matter to him because Israel is his home while “American politics also matter because they can help Israel because the U.S. is stronger.”
High School students sit attentively during Mr. Jeremy Toren’s Jewish Values and Israeli Palestinian Conflict class. Photo by Rosie Alchalel (‘21)
But where are these students getting all of their information from?
Some students, such as Eitan Breziner (‘20) and Reef Gonen (‘22), turn to Israeli news outlets like Ynet in order to stay updated, yet the majority of SDJA students rely on social media. Rikki Dorfan (‘22) stays updated by viewing the Daily Mail story on Snapchat, and Talia Abu (‘22) uses social media to stay connected with current news.
Instead of allowing students to rely solely on the media for the news, the SDJA Hebrew department sees it as its mission to provide students with Israeli political knowledge. Morah Shira graciously shared some insight about the class with The Lions’ Den: “We cover the current issues and current news in Israel, especially the elections, without giving any opinion, using just facts about what’s happening.” Additionally, a lot of students turn to Morah Shira outside of class. She claims that students come to her with questions about the topic “at least once a week.”
As well as acquiring information about Israel from the Hebrew department, many students enroll in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict class led my Mr.Toren. While this semester-long class does not emphasize current events, politics do play a role in its curriculum. “A big part of our discussions [focus on] the connection between values and politics,” comments Mr. Toren.
Overall, the task at hand is educating more students about the issues that matter in Israeli politics so they can develop their own opinions and decide how deeply they want to get involved. Many students feel as though a course strictly about Israeli politics would be beneficial. Eli Lerner (‘22) thinks that “a class [like that] would be cool because I know I am not as educated as I could be.” Talia Abu (22’) says that it could be a good idea “if it is in a way that is unbiased.” It seems that the challenge is about keeping it factual and objective in order for people to freely develop their own opinions.
While the school definitely has room to grow in its coverage of Israeli politics, one thing is for certain: conversations between students will continue to circle around their beloved homeland.