Friday, March 16, 2012

C21: Teaching Zionism in the 21st Century

Guest Blogger: Mrs. Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, Instructor of Zionism at the Goldie Margolin School for Girls

In keeping with our school’s new focus on creativity, critical thinking and collaboration, the students of Zionism I (9th grade girls) and Zionism II (10th grade girls) have been very busy these last few weeks with many interesting projects.

In Zionism I, the girls paired up to explore the topic of pre-Zionist immigration to Israel by researching and presenting to the class notable individuals and groups who settled in pre-1882 Palestine. Through Powerpoints, Prezis and the tried and true trifold, the girls discovered the many groups of Jews who made the then-dangerous trek to Palestine and settled there despite economic hardships, natural disasters and often chaotic and lawless government rule. Many of the groups chose to present the Ramban, Nachmanides, the prolific Torah commentator who made Aliyah in 1267 and is a role model for he who “practices what he preaches” since we learned earlier in the year that according to the Ramban, it is a positive Torah commandment, applicable in all times, to live in Eretz Yisrael. 

Most recently, the girls partnered to explore the Dreyfus Affair, the shocking post-Enlightenment act of Anti-Semitism that propelled the assimilationist European journalist Theodor Herzl to support the idea of a Jewish homeland and to galvanize and unite others behind a world-wide Zionist movement. The girls again presented their findings to the class and it was interesting to see how although they all researched the same topic, they each chose different facts to present.

In Zionism II, against the backdrop of a unit about the Second Aliyah (1904-1914), the girls were charged with designing their own kibbutz. Prior to breaking into groups, we discussed in class what a kibbutz is and how kibbutzim in Israel have evolved. We also viewed two YouTube videos on the subject. The girls were asked to name their kibbutz, decide its location in Israel, determine and flesh out its industry and describe to what extent the kibbutz is socialistic.  The girls’ creativity really came to the fore.

One group took the idea of space very seriously and found a new type of cow, “miniature cows” that occupy less space, in order to increase the kibbutz’s milk production without needing more land.
Another group devised an innovative business plan: “We make and sell special, unique eco-friendly hairspray. We are going to grow lemons to make lemon juice along with oranges and avocados to make our special eco-friendly hairspray. This hairspray is not only long lasting, but it is also able to be sprayed on the face or body to protect oneself from the sun (hairspray and sunscreen all-in-one.) Also available is face mask made from freshly grown oranges, lemons and avocados.”

One group, which included a girl who has long-studied dance, named its kibbutz after contemporary Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin and designated an on-site school of dance as the kibbutz’s main industry.  Another pair of students produced a beautiful promotional video of their kibbutz. You may access the video at Please take a look at it.

Last, but certainly not least, in the context of our unit on Zev Jabotinsky and Revisionist Zionism, the Zionism II students again paired up to explore the Irgun, the militia that broke off from the mainstream Haganah and engaged in retaliatory acts against the Arabs and British in pre-state Palestine. Some of these attacks resulted in the deaths of fellow Jews. In addition to researching the background of the Irgun, the girls grappled with the moral issues raised by the Irgun’s activities.  As one student astutely commented in the course of our discussion: “We have to become Zionists on our own and we need to learn about everything the Jews did, even the uncomfortable and disturbing things, in order to fully understand and reach our own conclusions. We should not shy away from difficult and disturbing issues in our history.” I could not agree more.

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