Simon Rocker

History lessons in Jewish schools need to be better

Jewish history should be an essential component of the curriculum in Jewish schools

December 04, 2017 11:34

The controversial remarks by a JFS teacher took place in an extra-curricular politics society event, not a history class. But they raise the question to what extent is Jewish history actually being taught within Jewish schools.

Not least because of the contention over Israel and Zionism that young Jews may encounter on campus and beyond, Jewish schools could be expected to provide their students with a secure foundation of knowledge. As well as fake news, they need to be able to rebut fake history — the political misuse of historical incidents.

But the impression is that the approach to Jewish history can be patchy and unsystematic. 

Jonathan Goldstein, the new chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, was exercised enough to make a point of calling for Jewish schools to include modern Jewish and Israeli history as part of Jewish studies.

Israeli ambassadors had told him they were disappointed at the lack of knowledge displayed by Jewish school pupils in Britain.

The pupils didn’t know about the impact of the Six-Day War, for example, or such events as the rescue of hostages by Israeli forces from Entebbe airport in Uganda in the 1970s.

Following Mr Goldstein’s election, Partnerships for Jewish Schools, the JLC’s education arm, has now embarked on creating a history curriculum for Jewish schools. 

In its own revamp of Jewish studies, JFS has introduced Jewish history, promising a broad sweep in the first three years which goes from the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE to the present day.

Most Jewish schools include cultivating a connection with Israel as part of their educational goals. But that should rest on an understanding of the origins and development of Zionism and how a Jewish state moved from an idea to a reality.

Nor should it be a history that airbrushes out difficult episodes and some of the dilemmas that Zionism faced — episodes which historians which may view in different ways. 

The priority is to explain why people may have acted in the way they did, not to rush to superficial judgment.

But if the JFS controversy does highlight one thing, it is that Jewish history should not be an add-on, it should be an essential component of the curriculum in Jewish schools.

December 04, 2017 11:34

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