We believe in the importance of Israel, Zionism, and the Hebrew language. The modern state of Israel is a place where Jewish values come to life, and a home for Jews from around the world. We see spiritual meaning in the existence of the state, and are proud of its continued growth.
Hillel Day School was founded in 1958 with strong Zionist roots; throughout our sixty-four year history, צִיּוֹנוּת/Tzionut/Zionism, has remained an integral part of our educational philosophy and Core Values, as noted above. In order to maintain a strong connection to the eternal homeland of the Jewish people, it is essential that our students learn about the history, geography, culture, and politics of the State of Israel. At Hillel, Israel education encompasses direct instruction in our classrooms as well as informal, experiential programs. During Hebrew language instruction throughout all grades, students are exposed to Israeli geography, culture, customs, and landmarks, all the while progressing through Hebrew language acquisition towards fluency. Classroom instruction culminates with a second semester course for our eighth graders that prepares them for their trip to Israel. Informal educational experiences, such as our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, standing in silence for the “sirens” on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, and reciting the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel supplement the formal curriculum taught in the classroom and strengthen our students’ connection to our brothers and sisters in Israel.
Despite the strong connections that Jewish schools have with Israel, Israel education has grown increasingly challenging and divisive over the past decade, reflective of the national rhetoric and the evolving view of Israel by younger Jews. This has caught the attention of several well-known Israeli organizations including the renowned Shalom Hartman Institute, a leading center of Jewish thought and education, committed to strengthening Jewish peoplehood, thought, and pluralism. Throughout this school year Dr. Seth Korelitz, Morah Tal Melamed, and I were privileged to learn alongside other Detroit Jewish day school heads with Hartman Institute scholars about the evolving landscape of Israel education in Jewish day schools. Throughout our sessions, we delved deeply into moral obligations that we have for Israel education and our institutions, discussed some challenges to accomplishing those obligations and goals, and also began dreaming about how to overcome those challenges. The overarching goals and objectives of our work are to instill a meaningful, personal connection for each of our students with Israel while helping them to: (1) think about the world in a more empathetic way; (2) be open to accepting and having diverse conversations about Israel; (3) engage in those conversations, and (4) defend Israel, with knowledge and factual information. The work in this area has just begun and will continue for the Detroit Jewish day schools in the coming months and years. I personally want to thank Rebecca Starr, Hillel parent and Hartman’s Director of Regional Programs, and Yiftah Leket, our Federation Sh’liach, for their support of this program and for recognizing the need to address Israel education as a community.
As I write this blog, our eighth graders have just begun their two week trip in Israel. The group will spend a few days up north in the Golan and in the central Galilee (our partnership region), several days in the south at Mitzpe Ramon, and of course, spend time in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They will see the historical sites they learned about in class, experience Israeli culture, enjoy delicious Israeli food, and, of course, speak Hebrew. God willing I will join the group on May 3 and look forward to experiencing the culmination of the Hillel Day School education with them. I encourage you to follow their trip here.
I also invite you to join Hillel’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on Thursday, May 5 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Register here and come enjoy Israeli food and festivities with your family.
On Monday, May 16 from 6-9 p.m., producer, actor, and writer Noa Tishby will be speaking about Zionism and how to be a champion for Israel. Admission includes a signed copy of her book, Israel: A Simple Guide to Understanding the Most Misunderstood Nation on Earth. Register here.