Family & Education

We need to show our youth the right way to argue

It's important to allow young people to disagree over Israel, says Robbie Gringras, author of new book Stories for the Sake of Argument


We often like to think ourselves as an argumentative people and believe that is a good thing. After all, the Talmud is a record of debate that paves the way to truth.

But in a world that feels increasingly polarised, the clash of views can seem more fractious, no more so than when we are talking about Israel. If we are losing the art of healthy argument, a new book co- authored by Israel-based educator Robbie Gringras hopes to show us a way to recover it.

For the Sake of Argument is a collection of 24 short stories that present dilemmas which are intended to be used for discussion in the classroom and beyond.

They tackles subjects such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or inter-religious tensions among Israeli Jews as well as more everyday issues about whether to feed stray cats or whether it is right to put a parent in a care home or whether it is appropriate to drive to visit an observant grandmother on Shabbat.

Some stories are parables or allegories, others confront a particular scenario head-on. They are accompanied by background material as well as sample questions for educators.

“Some of the stories which are applicable to kids also work for adults,” Gringras said. “But we were looking for something that could also work in a family situation and not only for professionals. It is a book a parent might bring out and have a chat with the kids over the dinner table.”

Gringras, who co-founded the Besht Tellers theatre group in London, made aliyah over 25 years ago and now lives on Kibbutz Tuval in the north of Israel, pursuing a career as a Jewish educator and a performer. His latest show, The Gate, about Jews and Arabs in the Galil, has recently been staged at the DC Fringe in the USA.

He was one of the first to grasp that educating diaspora youth about Israel was becoming more complicated than it once was and he coined the phrase “hugging and wrestling” to represent an approach which recognised that some were looking at Israel with a more critical eye.

Until then, the standard diaspora stance had been “hugging” but what you do when you hug, he explained, is to “give love with your eyes closed”. Questions about Israel’s political direction were being raised. “There was a need to acknowledge that sometimes if you are unhappy with what’s going on in Israel, that doesn’t mean you are emotionally detached or an enemy.”

At the time, there appeared “a real bifurcation, you either love everything that goes on in Israel or you hate it. There needed to be a space for people to say, ‘Actually because I am connected to the place, because I love the place, so it bugs me.’ That is where it started.”

But time has moved on and now he perceives the problem is that “you either hug Israel or you wrestle with Israel and the crucial word ‘and’ was getting lost. Ideally, we should aim to be doing both, not one or the other.”

Meanwhile, divisions have grown wider with changes in Israel as well as in broader progressive politics. “I think the rubicon was crossed, that you can critique Israel and not want anything to do with the place on the one hand, on the other hand you can support Israel and see any critique as proof of antisemitism.”

It was when he and his fellow-educator, and the book’s co-author Abi Dauber Sterne, were doing Israel education work for the Moishe Houses in the USA that “two things became clear. One was that you can’t do Israel education with young adults without leaving room for argument — let’s call it disagreement.”

But they also found that “a younger generation is not capable of having arguments. It is a gross generalisation but it tends to be that either we scream at each other online or in real life we work hard at avoiding any kind of acknowledgment of any kind of disagreement because that’s frightening.”

So faced with a need for people to have constructive arguments, they set about trying to develop tools and techniques to enable it. And out of that came the book.

Since writing it, they have been training educators in how to use it. One suggestion is “everybody writes down opinion they most disagreed with and then their own opinion” — a tip that harks back to the House of Hillel in the Talmud, who quoted the view of their opponents first.

But they are also looking how their methods can be used more widely. “We are now exploring how arguments can work in all sorts of areas and we have received funding to work for the next two years on developing what we might call a pedagogy of argument.”

For more details, see

READ MORE: The challenge of teaching Israel

Unpacking Israel's complexities for today's Jewish youth

Teachers must recognise Israel's complexity

The prof who pioneered a non-partisan approach to Middle East history

Do our children know enough about Israel?

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