In a previous letter, we cited the following article which serves as a sad reminder that the secular educational system of the State of Israel has failed to instill in many students a bond with Jerusalem, the heart of Zion:
The Education Ministry-mandated trips to Jerusalem will include visits to the Western Wall, the Supreme Court, the Knesset, Ammunition Hill and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to reports.According to the plan, students ideally will visit Jerusalem during elementary school and again during high school.
This problem is not new, as I was told by an official at the Gesher Foundation in 1988 that about half of Israeli students had never visited Jerusalem.
I have a Master’s Degree in Education from New York University, and the focus of my degree was on the teaching of Jewish culture. One does not need a degree in education, however, to realize that the problem of many young Jews in Israel not visiting Jerusalem is not going to be solved by one or two short trips to Jerusalem.
The proposed visit to the Supreme Court or the proposed visit to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) with its many rude and raucous arguments is not the way to develop a deep and ongoing bond with Jerusalem. The visits to these particular institutions will not help the students to understand why our people loved Jerusalem and yearned for her.
What about the proposed visit to Ammunition Hill? The battle at Ammunition Hill which took place during the Six Day War is of historical interest, but the moving story of this battle will not reveal to the students the reasons why Jerusalem is the heart of Zion.
The visit to the Yad Veshem Holocaust Museum may help many students to identify with the terrible suffering that our people experienced during this period, but this identification does not necessarily increase their understanding of the central and spiritual role of Jerusalem in Jewish history. In addition, one cannot develop a lasting bond with Jerusalem with an emphasis on suffering and death, for the purpose of Jerusalem is to sanctify and celebrate life! In this spirit, King David describes Jerusalem as, “the city of our God, mountain of His holiness,” and as, “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 148:2, 3). Educators also need to remember that most young people are full of life; moreover, they have a strong desire to celebrate life. It is therefore a mistake to assume that their bond with Jerusalem can be developed by emphasizing a legacy of suffering and death.
The proposed visit of the students to the Kosel – the Western Wall of the Temple Mount where Jews from all over the world gather to pray – is a step in the right direction. Through this visit to the Kosel, the students can become aware that Jerusalem is the spiritual center of our people. In addition, a visit to the Kosel can evoke a mysterious spiritual feeling which makes one aware of the special holiness of this place. This has been the experience of many visitors to the Kosel, including some non-Jewish visitors. For example, in a previous letter about two non-Jewish teenagers from England who spent a week with a Torah-observant family in Israel, we cited the following comments from the Jerusalem Post story about their visit:
Gemma and Jack both listed the Western Wall as the highlight of their trip, even though Jack describes himself as an atheist.
“I'm not religious, but it was amazing,” enthused Jack.
“I’m really interested in the Wall,” said Gemma, who identifies as a Christian. “You can study it as much as you want, but when you go there, it's totally different.”
My dear friend, Shaya Kelter, who went to public school in New York City as a boy, lives in Jerusalem. He once sent to me the following comments about his first visit to the Kosel:
"I went up to the Kotel (Sephardic pronounciation), touched it, kissed it, and felt transfixed. I was rooted in the ground. I couldn’t move. I felt as if I was present with all the Jews in the world from Avraham, our father, to every Jew who would ever live. It was almost an ‘out of body’ experience…I felt so connected to Hashem. I could feel His presence. My faith was whole.”
As many of you know, these stories are not unusual. It is therefore relevant to mention the following teaching of the Midrash regarding the Kosel and the Shechinah – Divine Presence:
Rabbi Acha said, “The Shechinah does not leave the Western Wall.” (Exodus Rabbah 2:2) – The commentator, Maharzu, explains that this is referring to the Western Wall that is still standing after the destruction of the Temple. This is the Western Wall that we have today, which is the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
A temporary experience of the Shechinah, however, is not enough to ensure that young Israeli Jews will remain connected to Jerusalem and understand her purpose. The path of the Torah does not rely on temporary spiritual highs, for this path enables us to bring the holiness from those “highs” into our daily life through the daily study and fulfillment of the Torah.
The Education Ministry of the State of Israel should therefore not rely on a visit to the Kosel to instill in young Israeli Jews a deep bond with Jerusalem. As we discussed previously, many young Israeli Jews are spiritually searching; thus, the Education Ministry should develop classes and discussion groups that will explore the ancient Jewish vision of Jerusalem – a spiritual and universal vision which is described in our classical sources. For example, students can be exposed to the following verses from the Book of Isaiah:
“Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem… They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare.” (Isaiah 2: 2-4)
“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch. Nations will perceive your righteousness and all the sovereigns your honor…Then you will be a crown of beauty in the hand of Hashem and a royal diadem in the palm of your God.” (Isaiah 62:1-3)
In the above prophecy, the Prophet Isaiah is conveying the following message:
We will become a “crown of beauty” when the righteousness of our spiritual center will emanate like bright light to all the nations.
May this ancient vision of Jerusalem become the contemporary vision that will inspire and guide the entire Family of Israel. In this way, we can merit to experience the dawn of the messianic age when we will once again be able to sing the following words of King David:
“A Song of Ascents by David: I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of Hashem.’ Our feet stood firm within your gates, O Jerusalem. The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together.” (Psalm 122:1-3)
Have a Good and Comforting Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen