Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Striving for Understanding – and Teaching

Back to School

I realized two nights ago that I have not written nearly enough about the school where we are volunteering. The students, teachers, and administrators here are absolutely incredible, and I am ashamed that I have not lifted up their wonderful work in my journals so far. As we have travelled around the country, there was simply to much to write about.

We have been giving English immersion lessons about environmental issues. Yesterday we worked with 7th graders on current events in Haiti. This work is very hard. It is one thing to discuss the complex issues, and other to do it in students’ second language. However, this also makes for extremely rewarding moments. We spoke about human need in times of disaster. What do people need? How can the students help?

We hope to table during Tu B’shvat (national Arbor Day), because the theme of the day will be planting. The idea is to “plant” awareness around the school. Just like a seed, awareness can be the seed of change. We are working with school’s activism center to coordinate this effort, and I will write about it again after the holiday next Wednesday.

Israel Air Force - Base Visit

“…given Judaism’s strongly realistic, and nonutopian orientation, the prophet Joel noted that sometimes, such as when evil forces are in the ascendant, Isaiah’s words must be reverserd: ‘Prepare for battle, arouse the warriors… Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears.’ (Joel 4:9-10)”
- Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

I am not a warmonger, but I strongly believe in Israel’s right to self-defense. I disagree with a vast array of the military’s actions and policies, but I have great respect and gratitude for their dedication to protecting Israel.

Yesterday we stood on the side of an Israeli Air Force runway and watched four F-15s take off for flight exercises. As the planes took off, their deafening roar and unbelievable rumbling shook the ground violently. War is horrifyingly loud, physical, and raw. We could feel the heat of the jets from 20 yards away.

One of our friends is an F-16 pilot in the reserves, which is why we were able to visit the base. His friend talked with us about moral dilemmas during last winter’s “Operation Cast Lead” – the war in Gaza, and we watched a film about rising from the ashes of the Holocaust. The memory of the Holocaust must remind Jews (at the Jewish state) of the terrible suffering that war can bring, and its memory must increase our sensitivity.

As we pulled out of the base’ parking lot, a raging storm was whipping an Israeli flag in the wind. Against the dark and rainy sky, the bright white flag stood out with an intense aura of determination. Feeling emotionally scrambled, the one thing I knew I felt was pride. Pride that Israeli is strong, and proud that her misuse of power does not go unquestioned.

Jewish history and religious ethics demand a very high bar of our national conduct. However, we are only human. As the pilots waved to us before take off I knew that humans make mistakes. Israel must be strong in order to survive, and the state MUST survive. Poor decisions are tragic, but this happens because humans are fallible and capable of improvement.

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