Chavruta Newsletter No. 9
"Where there is no vision the people become unruly" Proverbs 29:18
Sep 2001
Elul 5651

5762: Soul-Searching and a Challenge for the Education System (Not Only for Students)
"The People of Israel: Who and For What?"

We were pleased to receive the letter from Minister of Education Limor Livnat (see below). We do not doubt that it is her intention to lead a revolution in the field of Jewish-Zionist education.

We were less convinced by the response from the chairperson of the ministry's professional education body (the Pedagogic Secretariat). In a letter to "Chavruta," Prof. Ya'akov Katz informed us that "we are currently commencing a series of discussions relating to the value-based core program to include Jewish-Zionist-democratic-humanistic education…" Our impression is that the "we" who are "commencing" are the same professional teams that have worked in the past, without any tangible success. Over the past twenty years, numerous ministers of education have come and gone. The subject of Jewish-Zionist education was of evident concern to the late Zevulun Hammer. At the other end of the political spectrum, Minister of Education Yossi Sarid established a special division to promote Jewish-Zionist and democratic education, following the recommendations of the Shenhar and Kremnitzer Commissions. Yet the ministers were unable to break through the rigid walls of the professional committees responsible for each subject. We are sure that those involved in these committees devote themselves faithfully to their task, as they understand it. However, as we have argued in previous issues, the Central European tradition of specialization according to delineated disciplines, which lives on in most university faculties in Israel, has been and continues to be a stumbling block for the Pedagogic Secretariat over the years.

The question and the challenge "The People of Israel: Who and For What?" will obviously be met with differing answers. It is equally obvious, however, that the range of approaches involved will demand a multidisciplinary response. Newspaper headlines repeatedly inform us of the budgetary difficulties faced by the Ministry of Education. We have no doubt that these difficulties are genuine, but there is also a problem of a mistaken educational and professional concept - about which we hear nothing.

The recommendations of the Shenhar Commission - established to examine Jewish studies in the State school system - and of the Kremnitzer Commission - charged with examining civic education for all students in Israel - were carved up and forwarded to the different subject committees for implementation. This defeated the very core of the recommendations: the need for multidisciplinary work. Establishing a special division "alongside" the subject committees to implement the Shenhar-Kremnitzer recommendations, without ensuring that the subject committees were accountable to this new division, meant that the professional problem was effectively sidestepped.

It is true that more hours can be devoted to Jewish-Zionist and democratic education in the semi-privatized frameworks. This partial solution is available to a minority of children - those whose parents believe in Jewish-Zionist and democratic education and are capable of paying for it. These frameworks (such as Tali) permit a greater measure of creativity, but have no impact whatsoever on most Israeli children.

A public committee of individuals who are not part of the Ministry of Education apparatus should be established to discuss the methodological question of multidisciplinary education. The issue of the professional structure of the Ministry of Education must form part of such a process of clarification. It is important that the public committee be free to hear testimonies as it sees fit from any person or body involved in Jewish-Zionist and democratic education. The committee must be willing to hear the testimony of any person who wishes to appear before it.

We should recall that the question "The People of Israel: Who and For What?" is an existential one for the entire Jewish-Zionist public!

The Editors

State of Israel
Minister of Education

Dr. Michael Livni
Editorial Board, Chavruta
Kibbutz Lotan
DN Hevel Eilot 88855

Dear Dr. Livni,

Thank you for your letter, which gave me great pleasure.
The wonderful youth studying in the education system desire and need a sense of identification with their people and land. I am well aware of this from my personal encounters with youth throughout Israel, from all the streams. We only need to give them the opportunity, knowledge, feeling and inspiration.
I was pleased to learn that so many people feel and think as I do, and that you are among them.
It is encouraging to know that so many people are willing to take action. I thank you for that.

Limor Livnat

Gidon Elad: 5693 - 5761
The Shaliach (Emissary) from Israel the Beautiful

Gidon, Shalom
Well, my friend, this is my last letter to you. For a year you fought against the malignant disease, with all your soul and all your might. Yet despite everything, in the end you were overcome.

For me, you will always remain the emissary from Israel the Beautiful. You did not merely represent all that is good about the Land of Israel: you embodied it. Jewish-Zionist-democratic education. The equal value of all human life. Community. And above all - a commitment to life beyond the here-and-now. And always there was your approach to education, to which you adhered unswervingly: "The words of the wise are heard in moderation.'

You never "held a position" - whatever you did was in terms of shlichut. At home in Kibbutz Hatzerim; at Eshel Hanassi School; at Efal; and at the CRB Foundation. But above all - you were the emissary to the youth movements. You took Martin Buber's comment seriously: "Youth is the eternal hope for the happiness of humanity - a chance that repeatedly returns and presents itself." These words guided your activities, throughout the years, at every opportunity and in all movements.

You saw yourself as a Jewish-Zionist-Israeli, in that order. This is how you worked in Israel, above all in the Scout movement where your own roots lay. This is also how you worked abroad: in Habonim in England in the 1950s, in Young Judea in the USA in the 1960s, and in the Union of Amerian Hebrew Congregations in North America in the 1970s.

It was during this latter Shlichut, in the summer of 1977, that I spent an intensive month handing over my work to you. Together we "covered" the continent. This was when I first got to know you and Ruti (and the truth is that were it not for Ruti, herself a youth movement graduate, you would have been unable to be Gidon). The experience of Shlichut left its mark on both of us. In different ways and through different channels, we continued together for almost twenty five years. I always received support and encouragement from you, and now I remain without you.

You joined Chavruta - Vision for Israel, and your presence immediately enriched us, though it was sadly interrupted before it could really mature.

Now - as you wrote in the issue of Chavruta summarizing the dialogue between us over the nature of Cultural Zionism - things are "Finished, but not completed - and not really finished either."

Gidon, we go on. Farewell, Shaliach of Israel the Beautiful.



"When I was working as Shaliach in 1964, it was already clear to me that the world of Judaism gave me answers to very many questions. Not in the sense of becoming Orthodox, never that. But a Jewish perception that the individual determines his own fate, that the world is "balanced between innocence and guilt," and whatever you personally do determines the fate of the world. This is freedom. Freedom and responsibility, not just freedom. And this is also the reason I have remained on kibbutz…"
               From "Gidon': In Memoriam: Thirty Days,"
               Babayit 1084, Kibbutz Hatzerim, July 27, 2001

A Letter To Chavruta - A Vision for Israel
Recruiting God for Cultural Zionism:
An Experiment that Has Not (Yet?) Failed
(In Response to the Dialogue - Newsletter No. 6, February 2001

Martin Buber is reported to have described the kibbutz as an "experiment that has not failed." I do not know whether he would still apply that phrase today to the effort to realize the ideal of a society without exploiters or exploited, in which each individual contributes according to ability and receives according to need. However, I would like to borrow the phrase, and to suggest that "Cultural Zionism is an experiment that has not failed." How and when can I know that this experiment has been successful? The criterion is certainly not whether people such as Michael Livni or Gidon Elad manage to formulate a definition of God that is acceptable to them, or to the adherents of "Cultural Zionism" (or "Free Secular Judaism").

A national culture has never been and will never be a question of faith in God, but rather an everyday way of life followed by tens of thousands of people. The test of Cultural Zionism lies in the existence of a public that, in its life, realizes the following approach: "We know that the world was not created in six days, and we know that the idea that God rested on the seventh day is a literary fiction. Nevertheless, we all refrain from touching money or credit cards on Shabbat, because Jewish culture demands that, on this day, we take a rest from any type of materialism, and this rest adds a dimension of sanctity to our secular lives… We do not know whether there is a God, but we are sure that a true God does not care who slaughters animals from the front of the neck and who from the rear, who cuts a salami with a "milk" knife, and who eats a cheeseburger… Nevertheless, we take care to separate meat and milk, because this is the national diet of Israel, just as the French drink wine every day and the Italians eat pasta… A diet that prohibits pork and rabbit and fills our stomachs with cholent, doughnuts and Hamantaschen may not be specially tasty or healthy, but it distinguishes us from other peopless." If the lives of tens of thousands of people are shaped by Jewish tradition, Cultural Zionism will prove to be an experiment that has been successful, whether we "recruit" God to this task or leave him (her?) alone.

In Midrash Eicha Rabba, Petichta A, our Sages (those rabbis whose God Gidon Elad and Michael Livni are so quick to criticize) discuss the words of Jeremiah (16:11): "They have left me and they have not kept my Teaching." Their comment: "Would that they had left me, but kept my Teaching. As they engaged in it [the Teaching], the light therein would return them to the fold."

Gil Nativ*
Erev Shabbat of the Parasha in which we read "Cry freedom in the Land to all its inhabitants" - 5761.
* Gil Nativ is the rabbi of Moriah Congregation in Haifa (the Masorti movement).

Response from the Editor

Thanks to Rabbi Gil Nativ for enabling us to continue this discussion. If there is a disagreement here, it is surely one that is for the sake of Heaven.

I agree with Rabbi Nativ that Cultural Zionism is "an experiment that has not failed.' However, I do not agree that Cultural Zionism is "Free Secular Judaism." Indeed, in my comments in issues 5 and 6, I explained why I cannot identify with such an approach.

I cannot agree with the purely ritualistic nature of the yardsticks Rabbi Nativ seeks to apply in determining the success or failure of Cultural Zionism. Without the social commandments, the ritual commandments are meaningless. From the perspective of the Jewish Prophets, ritual acts have no meaning unless they are accompanied by the standards of social justice.

I do not accept that keeping the commandments of Kashrut is analogous to Italians eating pasta or French drinking wine. Such an analogy seems to me to hint at the idea of "Israel like all the nations' - a hallmark of that Political Zionism which has become the post-Zionism of modern times. In its symbols and its actions, Cultural Zionism should strive to reflect the idea of the sanctity of the Jewish People, whose task is to "repair the world through the Dominion of the Divine" - an infinite task, and one that is certainly open to many interpretations.

Michael Livni

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We wish all our readers and the entire Jewish people a year of creativity and peace. Shanah Tovah!

Editorial board: Chavruta - Vision for Israel, Kibbutz Lotan, DN Chevel Eilot 88855, Israel
Editorial board: Editor - Dr. Michael Livni (Kibbutz Lotan); Osnat Elnatan (Kibbutz Tammuz, Beit Shemesh); Binyamin Maor (Hod Hasharon), Ofek Meir (Haifa). Articles reflect only the authors' opinion. We welcome typed comments and responses (maximum 250 words).
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