I teach in a Jewish school. The school is committed to teaching about Israel. The school is also committed to allowing students to form their own connections, ask their own questions, and make their own connections to Israel. This means, to me, confronting the complexities of life there, right now.
The problem: any article, written for public consumption, is biased and has an agenda. And in my Jewish Studies class, while I can devote a bit of time, now and then, to grappling with the situation in Israel, I don’t have the time for a deep dive into “how to be media savvy when reading about Israel.”
Yesterday, we had an all-school performance by the Inside Out Contemporary Ballet company which explored the voices of dancers dealing with life in Israel and Palestine.
I built on this, starting class with the music of Yair Dalal, whose has made music with Israeli and Palestinian musicians together for many years.
We then read a personal reflection by my friend, Tamara Kaplan, wherein she describes life in Israel, and speaks frankly about the tensions and the moments of hope when Israelis and Arabs come face to face in Jerusalem today, in normal – and therefore deeply meaningful – moments. Cabs. Supermarkets.
Sometimes, it’s small talk. Other times, they talk explicitly about “the craziness.”
Says the author:
Taking the risk of being with each other, breathing a sigh of relief when we know we are safe with each other, and then getting on with the business of being normal, nice people — except that for each of us here in Jerusalem right now, every normal, nice interaction that would be forgotten in a second if we were living in normal days — [all this] is now taken into the heart as a little, precious sign that all may not be lost, and that faith between [people] may yet prevail.
Students listened to Yair Dalal and reflected on the letter, conducting a Quality of Life 360 – a system I have devised for evaluating and articulating how people cope with trauma and enrich their lives.
The prompt: How have Israelis’ and Arabs’ lives been impacted by the current situation? What are everyday people doing to cope? And what are your own thoughts, concerns, hopes and prayers?
I was surprised at the students’ ability to empathize with people from different backgrounds, and their ability to use the categories of the Quality of Life Wheel to construct their own language to understand a very scary, overwhelming situation.
We then turned to Facebook (gasp!) and students asked questions, allowing Tamara to IM back. For a few moments, we were connected to a place far away, but very near.
15 minutes later, when every who wished to speak had spoken, we listened to the final words of Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “Swords and Plowshares,” sung in Yair Dalal’s Mantra of Peace.
Then, we opened our texts, and we learned about Revelation at Mount Sinai, where God and Human both quake when they come face to face.
“Don’t stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into plowshares first.” -Yehuda Amichai