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Compliments and Appreciations: Yom Yerushalayim

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

We have a tradition at Beit Rabban to close out presentations with "compliments and appreciations." It is a lovely way to reinforce the communal value of gratitude and also to deepen an experience by reflecting on it before moving on to the next experience.

Today is Yom Yerushalayim, a lesser-known holiday celebrated by some Jews in Israel and fewer Jews in America. Yom Yerushalayim was established after Israel's win in the Six-Day War to commemorate the changed status of East Jerusalem from Jordanian to Israeli hands, which allowed Jews to return the Old City and the Western Wall therein for the first time since the end of the War of Independence.

Today our fifth through eighth grades focused on Yom Yerushalayim, ending the programs with compliments and appreciations as is the Beit Rabban way. Students thanked their educators and chevrutot (study partners) in specific and generous ways, and I closed out by thanking the students' parents, none of whom were in the room. I wanted the students to understand that how we mark Yom Yerushalayim at Beit Rabban is only possible because of their parents.

If you are a regular reader of this email, you have likely heard me describe the importance of introducing students to complexity, even and especially when it comes to the beliefs, people, and places most important to us. I never want an alum of this institution to hit the moment so many young adults do when they realize their adults "lied to them." There is a lot to unpack in that feeling, and we know from sociological research (some of us from personal experience) that this feeling engenders a sense of isolation from tradition and community. Simply put, this "realization" turns young adults away from Judaism. And what about those who live without being exposed to complicated realities that challenge their beliefs and narratives? I worry about this as well. How will these people be equipped to solve the great challenges and maximize the great opportunities that their generation faces as Jews? And so we introduce complexity intentionally and try to help students hold the reality that so many of us face as adults: life is complicated, love is complicated, commitment is complicated, and obligation is complicated. And… it is not your work to complete the task, nor may you desist from it.

Back to Yom Yerushalayim. Our middle school students sang Hallel together, the celebratory prayer that is recited on Jewish holidays; they have studied texts about the profound relationship between Jews and Jerusalem that has been with us from the earliest days as a people; and they learned about Palestinians. Yes, one of these things is not like the other.

Why would we introduce different Palestinian stories to children on a day about Jews winning back Jerusalem from the Palestinians? Needless to say, Palestinians are not keen on celebrating the Six-Day War. So, how can we think about Palestinians and still say Hallel?

We can do it because it is what we need to do. We are grateful and blessed to access the Old City and that Jews could return to their families' historic homes that so many had to flee from. We are so grateful not to experience the vulnerability that Israelis and the Jewish people encountered on the eve of the Six-Day War. We are so grateful to have a country and a homeland that can provide a haven to Jews from all over the world (in this vein, it is also important to note that Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel are commemorated on Yom Yerushalayim each year with a ceremony on Mount Herzl). All this and millions of Palestinians live in East Jerusalem and other areas that came under Israeli control during the Six-Day War. These are real people and need to be humanized to our children. They will eventually find out about the existence of Palestinians, their history, and their stories, whether in high school, college, or thereafter. I cannot tolerate the idea that our children could go through a Jewish day school education and have to encounter this complicated reality for the first time somewhere else, somewhere that has the potential of leading them to the sad conclusion that "they lied to me" or the other end of the spectrum, the inability to see someone else's identity because it challenges your own. We need to do better than that. We can hold our identities, like being Zionists, close with all the love and obligations they demand while simultaneously choosing to see the other and face the identities of those who complicated our own.

I understand this is a hard way to teach. It is hard to have a deep relationship. It is even cumbersome on a practical level to explain to children (or anyone) that some people refer to an area as "the West Bank," "Judea and Samaria," or "Palestine,"… that there are people who live within a mile of each other and shop at the same supermarket who have different names for the place in which they live. But they can handle difficult things, especially when they have the gift of encountering them in safe spaces.

I am not naive. I know that it is very unusual for a Jewish community to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim while also talking about the lived experiences of Palestinians. Frankly, it is hard to have any communal conversation about Israel that involves nuance, whether you have those conversations in the echo chambers of the right or left. I also know that it is one thing to run an unusual program for middle school students and another to publicize it and invite the anxieties, concerns, and opinions it raises for the adults who love them.

I am sharing all this because I want to invite that conversation- less with me and more with your children. Please talk to your children about Yom Yerushalayim, about Israel, and about Palestinians. You can add layers as they get older, but continue to tell them what you believe, share the language you use and why, answer their questions, and admit when you don't have an answer. We need to go deep and delve into the complicated with our children, especially concerning the things closest to our hearts as individual Jews and as the Jewish people.

Like all Beit Rabban experiences, I will end with compliments and appreciations. Thank you for my ability to send this email without the legitimate fear that so many Jewish leaders have when talking about Israel with their community. Our children need us to appreciate the importance of these conversations. We need our children to have them so they are equipped and eager to care for Jerusalem and all its people with love for a long time after us.

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