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Birthright, Only for Israelis

As Israeli society grows more diverse, training teachers to appreciate divergent experiences

Liel Leibovitz
April 23, 2018
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

With Birthright, young American Jews have the opportunity to fly over to Israel and spend some time getting to know its people. Increasingly, Israelis are convinced that they could benefit from the same opportunity, too: Earlier today, a new plan was announced that would take Israeli teachers on a journey throughout the country, allowing them to interact with other groups they don’t normally get to encounter.

Entitled “An Israeli Hope,” the project will dispatch twenty teams of educators representing every sector of Israeli society on a three-day bus ride across Israel, during which they’ll meet secular and Orthodox Jews, Israeli Arabs and Druze, veteran Israelis and newly arrived immigrants, and just about any other group that makes up the rich and diverse mosaic of Israeli life. The journey will be preceded by a series of seminars, giving the teachers a chance to better understand their colleagues’ divergent experiences.

In part, the initiative is a response to the rapidly changing nature of the Israeli student body itself. In 1990, for example, 52 percent of Israeli students attended state-run secular Jewish schools, 23 percent attended Arab schools, 16 percent attended Orthodox schools, and nine percent attended ultra-Orthodox schools. In 2018, however, only 38 percent of students attend secular schools, with 22 percent attending ultra-Orthodox schools, 15 percent attending Orthodox schools, and 25 percent attending Israeli Arab schools.

This increasingly diverse landscape, said Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, called for action. “The ‘Israeli Hope’ journey is just one tool, one opportunity, to experience and get to know Israeli society, and meet the challenges we face in the next 70 years,” he said in a ceremony inaugurating the initiative. “I hope it’ll be followed by others, and that very soon getting to know all facets of Israeli society will be a part of the basic training given to every teacher and educator in Israel.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.