AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

How Do We Frame Jewish History for Our Students?

Posted by: RachelAbrahams

October 25, 2011

By: Rachel Mohl Abrahams
Last month in the Forward, Rachel Burstein wrote about day schools focusing on themes of Jewish persecution. She claims that in her courses in Brooklyn College, she could always identify the day school graduates based on their selections of topics they wished to cover in her world history course: typically, the Holocaust and the Spanish Inquisition.  She is concerned that these students’ view of Jewish history is skewed, that it is mostly a story of suffering.  “Absent was any sense that the Jews could shape their own destiny, that they were active participants in history.”
I share Ms. Burstein’s concern about teachers focusing on the Holocaust and Jews being the “underdog” or “scapegoat” throughout history. My children certainly hear too much about how non-Jews don’t like Jews. I believe this is an attempt to dissuade the students from being interested in socializing with non-Jews.  Little is taught about either the resistance movement or the righteous gentiles who saved many Jews.
If we want young Jews today to be interested in Judaism, the history of the Jewish people must be presented in a more balanced way.  The story of Jewish peoplehood is one of self-determination and perseverance. The history of Zionism and the State of Israel is not just a tale of establishing a safe haven from persecution. It’s the story of the Jewish people establishing a homeland where we govern ourselves, have an army and set the course for the Jewish people’s future.
It is an educational challenge to ensure that Jewish history is an integral part of the day school curriculum with all the other subjects we need to cover. It is an even greater challenge to present Jewish history in a dynamic way, teaching the story of “Jewish existence – and not just persecution – over  time.”  How does your school meet this challenge?
Rachel Mohl Abrahams a Senior Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation.You can follow her on Twitter @rachelmabrahams.

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