The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
I had a long conversation with my children recently and explained to them that nearly 1000 Jews had been murdered in the past decade because Israeli children had never been taught to read the siddur (Jewish prayer book).
Should that sound to you bizarre – if not medieval and superstitious — then let me explain to you what I mean, the same way that I explained it to my children.
As background, let me point out that my three children attend a secondary state junior high/high school (two segments within same school) in Haifa, meaning an ordinary secular Israeli school with state curriculum. Why that is (and whether, in retrospect, it was a poor decision on the part of my wife myself) is a complex question, and let us not go into the matter.
In addition, this is a high school serving a yuppie middle class secular neighborhood in Haifa where almost everyone reads Ha’aretz and votes for Meretz or Labor.
Over the years I have run up against many cases of rabid anti-Orthodox bigotry in the school and in the neighborhood, in addition to astonishing ignorance.
The Sephardic synagogue in the neighborhood has seen anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on it repeatedly, no doubt by local guttersnipes.
When my son’s kindergarten teacher needed a father to say the blessing on Chanukah candles, she picked me because I was the only dad with a yarmulka or who knew the blessings.
When my daughter’s teacher proposed spending a few classes in which the kids could be introduced to the basics of the prayer book, parents of many children were outraged, and some kept their children home to prevent them from being contaminated. Others screamed at the principal in protest against this “religious coercion.”
Not surprisingly, most children in the school cannot complete the sentence that begins “Shma Yisrael” nor explain what the Amida is. The reactions of parents were similar when a mini-course on basic concepts from the Mishnah was proposed. When the school took the kids to a one-day seminar at a religious institute, fully three-quarters of the kids stayed home.
Earlier this month, at the start of the new school year, my youngest son came home in dismay. His Bible teacher had introduced herself as a secularist who regards the Bible as nothing but quaint fables, and she told the children that there is nothing in the Bible that is factually true.
But my daughter came home even more flustered. Her 11th grade class schedule includes a Bible course, but at the first class meeting more than half of the students screamed in outrage that there is no reason whatsoever for them to be forced to have to learn this; that it is all religious coercion; and why should they learn the Bible anyway instead of the Koran?
So let me explain to you what I explained to my children.
Nearly 1000 Jews have been murdered and Israel’s very survival is in serious question now because of the Oslo Left. Israel’s Left is a cult whose main motivation is self-annihilation and Jewish anti-Semitism. These are self-hating Jews who wish their own country and their own people harm.
An integral part of Israeli Leftism has always been not only anti-Orthodox bigotry but a ferocious animosity to everything that is Judaism or Jewish tradition. The hostility to religion in Israel is a quintessential part and parcel of the collapse of the national will to survive.
There is no religious coercion in Israel. It is a myth. Virtually no one in Israel ever observes any religious ritual against his or her will. True, cinemas are closed in some places on Shabbat, but that does not affect anyone with a VCR. True, buses do not run in some places on Shabbat, but that affects no one with a car or change for a sherut (taxi).
On the other hand, there is a venomous hatred of religion and the religious by the very same parts of Israeli society that have imposed Oslo on the country and led the nation to the brink of destruction. The elimination of nearly every mention of Judaism and Jewish tradition from the state school curriculum is one manifestation of this leftist secularist self-hatred.
Those children who object to being forced to learn the Bible are in fact seeking to detach themselves from all Jewishness (and no doubt simply reiterating the nonsense they hear at home).
The reason why it is important to study the Bible — even for Israeli total secularists — is that the Bible is their national and historic and cultural heritage. They are meaningless human beings without their own heritage.
The Bible is their heritage — even if they never practice any form of ritual — not the Koran.
Knowing the Bible is important for secular children for the same reason that knowing history is. Knowing Bible and history could have prevented Oslo.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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