Monday, 20 December 2010

A lonely Jew at Christmas...?

So now I'm beginning to understand how my mum felt all those years I nagged her for Christmas presents.

The other morning, Roni got into bed with us (I really miss that cot...) and said, "We don't have a Christmas tree mummy"

"Hmm..." I think to myself, I wasn't reckoning on this conversation for another year at least.

"Well, you remember all those lovely candles we lit last week? and all the chocolate? and the lovely pressies????"

She sort of realised that we 'did' Chanukah candles and her friends, nursery, Tumble Tots and everyone else, pretty much, 'does' Christmas trees... and more presents and chocolate.

It's tricky living as a secular Jewish family with only a few (also secular) Jewish friends. Most of the people we know celebrate Christmas and of course it's just everywhere you look.... Personally I think it's a nice thing to do but I feel a bit of an imposter doing it when I really don't 'believe' in it. I also don't want Roni getting used to it before we whisk her off to Israel (aged 75 or something) where of course we won't be doing Xmas at all.

One of the best Christmases of mine was the only one I ever spent in Israel where I was climbing the Solomon mountains just north of Eilat with a group of students from the Rothberg School where I was studying. Christmas day we were at the top of the mountains, it was about 24 degrees and sunny, we looked out over the amazing views across Jordan towards Saudi Arabia. It was so serene we all completely forgot it was even Christmas.

So we will light our Chanukiah, give out the chocolate Chanukah gelt and a few little presents. Then we will go to our neighbours' Christmas party where there will be more lovely lights, presents and chocolate.

Not so different after all then....


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Education, education, education

So it's been too long since my last, admittedly brief and somewhat plagiarised post. I could make the excuses of too much school work, CELTA work, plus I'm trying to organise some Holocaust Memorial Day events at school.... but of course I wouldn't want to make excuses now, would I...?

In addition to all this work I have going on, I've also been putting in my two pence worth on the Ha'Aretz Facebook page in a vain attempt to counterbalance some of the more extreme comments I find on there. Of course the response threads on these sorts of websites are bound to attract those with extreme views, but I am still amazed at how quickly every (and I mean EVERY) time a story is posted on the Ha'Aretz page, the responses  turn to the "Israel is an evil Zionist empire" vs "Arabs are all terrorists out to destroy Israel, you anti-Semite/self-hating Jew" rhetoric. It's disappointing really, that people post vitriol at each other, often with no reference to the original article, and then we wonder why such an entrenched conflict is difficult to resolve...
Ha'Aretz - a bastion of liberal Israeli journalism, attacked from every angle online...

One point I have made on this blog and on the Ha'Aretz page relates to education. The most recent message I posted there was in relation to this article which reported on a new course run by Yad Vashem to train Arab educators in Holocaust education. Having attended a course at Yad Vashem in February 2007 as part of my IWM Fellowship I was especially pleased to hear that this course will go ahead. In my opinion, anything that aims to break down the barriers to building empathy between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East can only be a good thing. So many agitators responded to this essentially positive article about building relations between educators with angry messages about who's right and wrong in Israel/Palestine that the point of the original article quickly got lost.

I have been teaching history for 9 years. One of the skills we teach students from age 11 is to recognise different historical interpretations. Admittedly this is not an easy skill and it takes students a few years, looking at several different historical contexts to really understand what we mean by historical interpretation. Nonetheless, by GCSE most students can recognise that different descriptions of, say, the war in Vietnam, does not mean that one is true and the other false. There is often truth in both but the interpretation and motive skews the basic information (although in itself, a bias piece of evidence can be incredibly valuable for understanding other elements of the history).

This element of historical understanding is so often absent on many of the message boards I have read. Maybe I should just stop reading them? I'm sure Mark would like that! But for some reason I keep getting sucked in.  Maybe I have a naive hope that I can broaden someone's understanding of what's going on in Israel. I know I have my own biases, but I hope I can present a balanced perspective when possible, and whatever my own leanings, I am definitely not radical.

One thing that has stuck with me ever since I attended the course at Yad Vashem in 2007 was a comment in a lecture on the pedagogy (teaching theory) of Yad Vashem. The lecturer talked about how Yad Vashem seeks to put a face to the Jews and their stories - to undo the process of dehumanisation they endured at the hands of the Nazis and make them more than just a number. I wanted to ask the question of whether they thought that this pedagogy could be replicated in teaching about 1948 in Israeli schools: to make the Palestinians more than just a number of refugees, to recreate stories and make the people, the victims, human, in order to further understanding.

I didn't ask the question, and to a certain degree I regret not asking. For some reason I thought it wasn't relevant or perhaps that it wasn't appropriate. Although the Holocaust doubtlessly played a part in hastening the creation of the state of Israel (a fact recognised by Ben Gurion) I am not so sure that 1948 should play any part in educating about the Holocaust. Zionism wasn't the reason for Nazi antisemitism and most Jewish victims weren't Zionists. Perhaps Yad Vashem is right.
Perhaps the two events, the Holocaust and 1948, should be kept separate from the perspective of the Holocaust edeucator. The history teacher in me however knows that in a study of 1948 the Holocaust cannot be omitted, and the narratives of both sides are equally valid. It is the lack of validation to each other's narratives that permeates eduction both in Israel and in the Arab world.

I am a teacher through and through. When I (eventually) make aliyah, I want to teach. I know that I will not have good enough Hebrew to go into an Israeli state school and teach history so that is why I began my CELTA course, so that I can teach English. Although I enjoy teaching English a great deal, part of me wants to do something more than teach English to Israelis when I get to Israel. I sincerely believe that there is a problem at the core of the Israeli education system which is it's streamed nature. By having separate schools for Jewish and Arab children, as well as religious and secular Jews, Israel is perpetuating the sense of 'otherness' that exists in this triangle within Israeli society. I'd really like to have the chance to teach in one of the (few) schools that teach Arab and Jewish children together. Givat Haviva and Neve Shalom are perhaps the two best-known examples of such educational establishments... unfortunately where we plan to live is not a particularly mixed area and so there aren't any such schools (to my knowledge) ... well, with the nature of the 5YP being what it is, I have plenty of time to figure out a plan...