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JuicyLesson #89: Another comment to provoke thought

Another comment on brainwashing and the Jewish school system

Yesterday I dealt with a remark from one of my ex-students who took issue with my view that kids in the Jewish educational system are brainwashed to believe in the validity of Israeli territorial and other claims in the Middle East vis-a-vis the Arab States and the Palestinian people.

Today we have another ex-student of mine expressing a point of view similar to yesterday’s comment and in opposition to my above-mentioned opinion. First let’s see what this guy has to say and then I will answer his remarks.

Jerry,

The brainwash question is an extremely interesting one which you should research further. Is the electric feeling when entering the gates of Jerusalem something supernatural or a by-product of a Zionist education? I think about this frequently and doubt we will ever know.
Whatever the case may be, I feel very connected to the Zionist Entity, and think that I would feel that way irrespective of my education, perhaps because it’s the closest place to my family’s native Aleppo that I can go freely without inviting some unfortunate consequences. And just in case anyone is tempted to attribute the danger to the current civil war, we know that such was the case prior to the current human rights catastrophe.

We must not forget that there is a sixty-year continuing attempt to erase over 2000 years of Jewish history in Muslim countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and others and a related attempt to characterize the Zionist movement solely as a European colonialist project. This narrative should be challenged vociferously and is still very relevant today as the so-called “Arab Spring” will most likely result in a similar fate for those like the Armenians, other Christians, the Baha’i and others. I’m afraid that history will be repeating itself, this time without our people incapable of being a convenient scapegoat.

We all know that Israel is not perfect, but it looks pretty good compared to its neighbours and it is certainly a lively place for totally unconstrained debate. This is one point that warrants a great deal of pride.

My response:

This comment takes an extreme stance on this issue which makes me hesitant to accept its underlying logic.

Too much generalization makes me believe that I am not wrong. For instance his contention about the attempt to erase two thousand years of Jewish history cries out for supporting evidence. Further, this guy, himself, admits the possibility of his having been brainwashed right in his initial paragraph when he states that “the brainwash question is an extremely interesting one which you should research further. Is the electric feeling when entering the gates of Jerusalem something supernatural or a by-product of a Zionist education? I think about this frequently and doubt we will ever know.” I believe, further, that there are possibly other reasons than the two he presents for the feeling that he gets when going into Jerusalem – “the electric feeling when entering the gates of Jerusalem” – something supernatural or the product of (his) Zionist education? Interestingly posited question, I’ll say that for it.

I definitely agree that we will never know whether the electric feeling he talks about is something “supernatural” or a by-product of a Zionist education if those are indeed the only two possibilities. Plus the “electric feeling” he mentions is most likely a product of his education. Would every Jew entering Jerusalem experience the same feeling as our writer? Highly doubtful, man.

However, having taught at a Jewish high school for around twenty-four years, I am certain that brainwashing is attempted, blindly perhaps by some of its administrators and teachers, and that people not following the party line are not viewed positively in their work or learning place.

Granted when contracted to work in the Zionist environment that I worked in, one must sacrifice some of his/her individuality especially in the case of ideological differences which have surfaced between the Jews in Israel and the Arabs including the stateless Palestinians.
I was once told to remove a picture of PLO leader Yasser Arafat from my classroom bulletin board because Arafat had supposedly stated that it was okay to kill Jewish children on their way to and from their schools. (In the end, Arafat got his, didn’t he?)

The document that I posted was part of a biweekly series for high schools which reviewed current events in the global environment and I doubt that this was the first time that I put up a so-called ‘Newsmaker’ on my bulletin board but this was the first time that I had to deal with related blow-back. I feel that this is an example of an attempt to brainwash high school students. What would have been wrong with leaving that particular picture of this self-proclaimed enemy of the Zionist Israeli state which action may have – and probably would have – led to a serious debate on Israel, the Arabs and the Middle East? Do we want to teach kids the facts and then permit them to make up their own minds or do we want to present them with only one point of view?

That was the question I asked Mr. Nachum Wilchesky in 1982 just prior to the kids returning to school. The Israelis has just invaded and occupied Southern Lebanon and Mr. Wilchesky, the school’s educational director, was trying to justify the invasion as well as attempting to tell his teachers how we should view and teach this event. He supported his arguments partly by using the biblical name for Lebanon. Totally reactionary argument in every sense.

I then posed my aforementioned question regarding how we should educate kids – with the “party line” or with an objective – as far as that is/was humanly possible – presentation of the facts, thereby allowing our students to think for themselves and make up their own minds about whether the invasion of Lebanon was justifiable. His answer: “we’re losing our children”! To what? Truth?

When I suggested that library should be as objective as possible I was taken to task by my great and good friend (feh) Sid Milech for being rude. My suggestion and contention that a book stating that the scum of the earth joined the Nazi Party should be replaced or complemented by a tome which delineated the socioeconomic status of Nazi Party members and then allows the reader to make up his/her mind as to the type of people who were attracted to Nazi ideology. It’s all about our freedom to think how we please. Do we want to turn out little automatons with minds sealed as tightly as a safe or do we want to develop and nurture in our students both the desire and the ability to think freely?

It’s not necessarily about the culture of Judaism. It’s okay to celebrate Chanukah with latkes (potato pancakes) and Israeli Independence Day or to mourn, as a community and a school, the tragedy of the Holocaust as well as that of all the Israeli soldiers killed in the wars fought by the Israelis since the inception of the State of Israel in 1948. These occasions contribute to the progress and spread of Jewish culture to each succeeding generation. But this can be done without the concomitant brain-washing and propaganda which is most definitely a part of our Jewish school system. Maybe this unfortunate state of affairs is more wide-ranging than just in the Jewish school system but this does not make it right.

Peace out.

Have a good week-end and I’ll see you on Sunday.

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