• Inspired Education


Inspired Education

Head of School Blog: Tzionut - Hillel's Everlasting Core Value

by Dr. Darin S. Katz

Last week was a difficult one for many in our local metro Detroit Jewish community. On March 14, anti-Israel activist Huwaida Arraf spoke at Bloomfield Hills High School (BHHS) as part of the school’s diversity initiative. In the JCRC/AJC’s statement about the program, it was reported that “Arraf gave four presentations over the span of the day – increasing her anti-Israel rhetoric and making Jewish students – of which there were many in attendance – extremely uncomfortable. Some points Arraf made to students in attendance included Israel is the oppressor, and Israel is an apartheid state. Throughout her lecture, Arraf also denied Israel’s existence – only referring to the land as Palestine.” As parents, students, and staff grapple with the aftermath of this incident, I wish for healing and patience for the entire BHHS community.

At a time when antisemitism occurs at an alarmingly high rate and Israel education grows increasingly challenging and divisive, it is critical to remember that צִיּוֹנוּת/Tzionut/Zionism, has remained an integral part of Hillel’s educational philosophy and Core Values since our founding in 1958. Throughout our sixty-five year history and through the lens that Israel has the unconditional right to exist as the eternal homeland of the Jewish people, we have always taught our students about the history, geography, culture, and politics of the State of Israel. At Hillel, Israel education encompasses direct instruction in our classrooms as well as informal, experiential programs. During Hebrew language instruction throughout all grades, students are exposed to Israeli geography, culture, customs, and landmarks, all the while progressing through Hebrew language acquisition toward fluency. Informal educational experiences, such as our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, standing in silence for the “sirens” on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, and reciting the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel supplement the formal curriculum taught in the classroom and strengthen our students’ connection to our brothers and sisters in Israel.

As our students progress through Middle School, it is also our obligation to begin to expose them to Israel’s complexities and provide them with a foundation that will help them defend Israel, with knowledge and factual information when the need will, unfortunately, inevitably arise. To that end, formal classroom instruction culminates with a second-semester course for our eighth-graders, taught by Dr. Seth Korelitz, that prepares students for their trip to Israel and introduces them to the complexities of current Israeli society. We do not shy away from teaching our students about problems in Israel in an age-appropriate manner. Recent discussions in our eighth-grade class focused on the ongoing protests by Israeli citizens, the looming constitutional crisis, and recent violent attacks by Palestinians and Israelis. I also had the pleasure of leading a book club for several eighth-graders where we read Israel: A Simple Guide to Understanding the Most Misunderstood Nation on Earth by author Noa Tishby. It is my hope that all eighth-graders will read the book in the coming years as part of their classroom studies.

I am proud to say that in the face of the BHHS incident, Hillel’s graduates have had the courage and knowledge to stand up against antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments, drawing on the foundation provided by their Hillel education. Hillel alumna Rachel Freedland (‘19) stated, “Throughout my time at Hillel, I was exposed time and again to the notion that inaction and bystanding is nearly as bad, or in some cases, worse, than actual perpetration of hateful actions. Such notions have manifested themselves in my high school endeavors, especially in the face of recent antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric. I have internalized the importance of speaking out against not only blatant antisemitism, but against allowance of such by those who witness acts and words of antisemitism taking place.”

Hillel parent, David Tigay, whose son Ethan (‘22) is a freshman at BHHS shared, “the activist‘s misinformation and lies, were carefully curated to seduce young impressionable minds. However, our son’s experience at Hillel, equipped him with the truth.” He credits Ethan’s Hillel education and experiences for giving Ethan context and information to stand firm in his support for Israel when faced with anti-Israel sentiments.

Recognizing the importance of a communal approach to Israel education in day schools, the Shalom Hartman Institute, a leading center of Jewish thought and education, committed to strengthening Jewish peoplehood, thought, and pluralism, organized a Detroit Day School Israel Education Fellowship – the first of its kind for any major city in North America. Heads of School, teachers, high school students, and Board members from Hillel, Frankel Jewish Academy, and Farber Hebrew Day School have met monthly to: (1) delve deeply into moral obligations that we have for Israel education and our institutions; (2) discuss challenges to accomplishing those obligations and goals; and (3) strategize how to overcome those challenges. Barbara Dworin (ECC4 teacher), Tom Yaari (7th and 8th grade Judaic Studies teacher), Ilana Block ‘99 (alumna, parent, and Board member), and I have been privileged to represent Hillel in this fellowship. I personally want to thank Rebecca Starr, Hillel parent and Hartman’s Director of Regional Programs, and Yiftah Leket, our Federation Sh’liach, for their support of this program and for recognizing the need to address Israel education as a community.

As we look towards the future at Hillel, our unwavering commitment to מדינת ישראל / Medinat Yisrael / State of Israel remains steadfast. I look forward to updating you in the coming months about our eighth-grade trip to Israel and the outcomes of our work with the Hartman Institute.

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Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit
32200 Middlebelt Road | Farmington Hills, MI 48334