6 November 2015
24 Heshvan 5776
This week was the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish Israeli. As a school, we have commemorated this event in various ways, some ritualistic and some educational.
As part of our commemoration, we hosted educators from Dror Israel, a movement in Israel dedicated to education about vision of the Zionist founders of Israel and about the values of equity and social responsibility. These educators set up an exhibition in our Beit Midrash which, through pictures, headlines, and quotes, aimed to engage the viewer to reflect on the question: “What can we learn from the life and death of Rabin?”
This was, obviously, a seminal event in the history of Israel and the Jewish People, not only because a Jew killed a fellow Jew but also because politically motivated violence rocks the foundation of a democratic society.
One of the most provocative images in the exhibition contained different examples of Hebrew graffiti protesting the peace process led by Rabin. The educators asked our students to decide which of the slogans of protest they considered “legitimate expressions of dissent” and which “crossed the line” into incitement to violence. Of course, this prompted a lively discussion about the limits of free speech in a democratic society.
In addition to telling the story of Rabin, the exhibit introduced, through pictures, quotes, and classical Jewish sources, the idea of “tarbut hamakhloket – a culture of (respectful) conflict and disagreement.” One of the core values that the Jewish tradition shares with democracy is the core belief that a robust exchange of conflicting ideas and points of view helps us to refine and live out our values and to build the best and most just society we can.
As we know too well from both our history and our contemporary life, creating and sustaining this culture are hard. Especially when we disagree about world views and when our debates feel existential—about matters of life and death—it becomes more challenging to tolerate, let alone respect or openly engage with, viewpoints different from our own. This is the point at which the very differences that should make us stronger can actually tear us apart.
Sadly, we see in both Israeli and American society significant polarization. In our media-driven, sound bite-obsessed, highly political culture, many people, even leaders, do not
have the will or the capacity to engage in constructive makhloket with those who do not see the world exactly as we do. The mission of a Gann education to raise up a new generation of responsible citizens of America and the Jewish People has never been more urgent.
Dror Israel challenged us to ask: What, if anything, can we learn from the murder of Yitzhak Rabin? What can we do to strengthen democracy and civil discourse? Wrestling with these questions is a meaningful way to honor the life and legacy of Rabin. An exercise like this also illustrates how we at Gann are thinking about Israel education in the context of Jewish citizenship. To love and support Israel regardless of where you are living means to understand the challenges facing Israeli society and Israeli democracy and to participate in the process of helping Israeli society best live out our shared Jewish values and its own democratic ideals.
As we imagine four years of Israel education and civic education at Gann, we took a giant step forward this week. Seven of our colleagues from the Ironi Hey High School in Haifa spent a groundbreaking week at Gann as we learned about one another’s schools, shared visions of education and Jewish Peoplehood, and engaged in honest, open conversations about the relationship between our two communities. I am grateful to CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection for its encouragement and support over the past many years and to the Gann and Ironi Hey educators who are investing so much time and heart in this important work.
Rabbi Marc Baker