Ahavat Yisrael (Love of Israel)
Even before my arrival at JDS, I had a sense of the profound meaning of the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip. This year, I had the opportunity to visit my daughter on the trip (over Pesah, along with many other JDS families) and I was overwhelmed with additional layers of meaning that the trip offers. The trip is the culmination of a Jewish education at JDS that, throughout, holds Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel) as a core value. Here, I’ll explore our vision for Israel Engagement, our approach to Israel education, a sample of the ways we make Ahavat Yisrael manifest during the high school years, and then I’ll wrap up by returning to where I began, with a bit more about the Capstone Trip.
The ways we live Ahavat Yisrael are guided by the following vision statement for Israel Engagement at JDS: Israel is an essential component of Jewish identity, Jewish existence, and Judaism. As such, Ahavat Yisrael (Love of Israel) is a core value of our School, and Israel engagement plays an important role at CESJDS and in our curriculum. We define the purpose of Israel engagement as building a strong personal relationship between the student and Israel, and creating a sensibility that Israel in its varied aspects figures centrally in the experience of being a Jew in the twenty-first century.
In practice, with unwavering support for Israel and with clarity about Israel’s absolute right to exist, we employ a nuanced, multi-narrative educational approach. We acknowledge with students that the reality of modern Israel is complex and we engage them in discussions that explore that complexity. We strive to prepare them for what they may face on their college campuses--a general lack of awareness about Israel, inaccurate information about Israel, and/or anti-Semitism.
Each year, we take specific, tangible steps to make make Ahavat Yisrael and our vision manifest in the high school. Following are such steps we are currently taking:
- High school students are required to take History of Modern Israel in 11th grade, and have the option to take Contemporary Issues in Israel and History of Arab Israeli Conflict. As part of their study of Hebrew language, students learn about Israeli culture and life in Israel, past, and present.
- In 11th grade, all students go on a field trip to the Washington Institute, where they hear from fellows who are experts on Middle East affairs. The fellows address issues of import to Israel, including events in neighboring countries. The Institute prides itself on being a scholarly organization that shares the realities of the Middle East, rather than propaganda or biased interpretations. Also, a number of speakers come to our campus to share information and ideas related to Israel with some of our high school classes.
- We have a longstanding relationship with the Israeli Embassy. Many Israeli families who have a family member with a professional role at the embassy choose to send their daughters and/or sons to JDS. We continue to work on providing the best possible experience for our Israeli students and helping them to be integrated members of our community. A member of our faculty, Talya Edery, serves as Upper School Liaison to Israeli Families and is a primary contact for Israeli families with questions or in need of guidance.
- We have an Israel Club and a member of our faculty, Dr. Eytan Apter, serves as our Israel Engagement Coordinator. He works in concert with our Director of Jewish Life, Stephanie Hoffman, and many members of our overall faculty to recognize important historical and contemporary events throughout the year.
- For November 29th, we celebrated the anniversary of the UN Declaration that established the state of Israel. With decorated hallways, a short announcement and a special treat (cake), students were exposed to the importance of this momentous event.
- For the Israeli elections, we created a website to teach about the elections, the process, the parties and even had students predict the outcome. The website is still available for viewing: https://cesjdsisrael.weebly.com/
- We honored the 40th anniversary of the Camp David Accords with a Kabbalat Shabbat presentation that connected the idea of pursuing peace and the importance it held for Israel 40 years ago and today. We remembered the iconic moment and handshake with an art display in the Atrium.
- We commemorated Yom Ha-shoah and Yom Ha-zikaron with moving ceremonies that were led by students. The weight and significance of these events was transmitted thoroughly and effectively.
- For Yom Ha-atzmaut, we, of course, had Zimriyah, including our annual student competition, and most importantly, a lively celebration of Israel’s independence. This year, we will also had learning centered on Ahavat Yisrael, and high school students had a choice of doing so via an activity or viewing of a film.
- It is noteworthy that six (6) members of the JDS Class of 2019 chose to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
- For next year, we are planning to work with the Israeli American Council (IAC) and have them introduce one of their initiatives to our high school students. JDS high school student participation will be optional. The initiative is ACT.IL (Online Community for Israel). The vision of ACT.IL is: “To create an online community that will act to promote a positive influence on the international public opinion towards the state of Israel via social media platforms. Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.”
All that revolves around Israel at JDS, on our Rockville campuses, is brought to life and furthered on the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip. On the trip, our graduates see and feel what it means to be Israeli, the many positives and benefits, as well as the difficulties. Our graduates gain perspective on the importance of ongoing and mutually supportive connections between Israel and America, between Israel and other countries, between Israel and Jewish communities in the diaspora, as well as Israel and communities of other faiths in the diaspora. They acquire deepened appreciation for the vital role that Israel plays as the homeland to the Jewish people across the globe. And hopefully, they cement a personal bond with that sacred land that will keep them in relationship with it throughout their lives.