Navigating change, whether in foreign policy or in education, is challenging for leadership but necessary for progress.
Some have argued that the formal opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was merely a political gesture aimed at strengthening the voting bases of those in power. Others have suggested that the move is just a namesake formality because the building was already in use by the ambassador, who will continue to divide his time between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Still others have debated whether this is a departure from the policy of past U.S. administrations or a natural continuation and fulfillment of past intentions.
For many Israelis, the move is historic, as the 70-year-old country seeks to normalize global relations and achieve full recognition.
Regardless of how this move is interpreted, one thing is clear: Despite naysayers and protests, leaders took an opportunity to “be the first,” to do “what they think is right” and to strongly proclaim the reality of “recognizing facts on the ground.”
Be the first. Being first implies taking risks, piloting initiatives, and assessing successes and failures as you go. It also means that others will potentially follow your lead.
Zionist pioneers first broke out of the walls of ancient cities and attempted new forms of settlement in the land of Israel. Several settlements failed, only to be re-established by later waves of immigrants with new skills, knowledge and resources. Yet the vision for the future state was established by those first arrivals.
Zionists learned to “fail forward” with the belief that risk-taking is inherent to the success of the state-building endeavor. Similarly, Israel’s leadership hopes that the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem will be the first of many such openings by countries and will ultimately reinforce Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel (without its final borders being defined).
In education, being first in the field to revamp the Israel curriculum, to contextualize Israel trips, and to provide students and families with quality Israel educational experiences will help day schools stand out from the other choices parents have.
If Israel education is to become central to schools’ mission statements, it should be taught not only by the Hebrew and Judaic staffs, but also by all teachers in the school, infusing the language into social studies, science, art and other areas of the curriculum.
Do what you think is right. Zionist leaders knew that without a sovereign state where Jews could take control over their own destiny, there would be no safe harbor for Jews in dire need. This is why, despite white papers curtailing Jewish immigration to Israel, Zionists risked all to bring Jews from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
This principle has also guided the state’s actions to bring Jews from countries where they are still at-risk (consider the operations of the Jewish Agency for Israel, including Operation Magic Carpet, Operation Moses, Operation Joshua and Operation Solomon).
Today, as narratives flood social media and cloud campus conversations about Israel, doing what is right means teaching the history of Israel, using primary sources to unfold the story. Empower our students to know the difference between bias and fact, to be critical thinkers, and to understand why Israel matters to them.
Recognize facts on the ground. Zionist leaders understood that the land they purchased in Palestine would help determine the map and borders. They did all they could to strategically select land that would contribute to the viability of the future state.
Today, leaders in Israel understand that existing as a state in the Middle East neighborhood means that relationships with superpowers are ever more critical. Securing relationships allows the state to act in its national interests.
Similarly, Jewish day schools can secure relationships with Israel to remain relevant to the community, distinct from other public and private school options, and secure in their role as centers for fostering Jewish identity.
Students should recognize that Israel, now the world’s largest Jewish community, is a thriving Jewish democracy, striving to provide freedom, security and respect for all its citizens.
On Monday, May 14, we witnessed American and Israeli leaders celebrating and proclaiming Jerusalem as the official capital of the state of Israel. They did so knowing it would bring about violence and protests, hearty criticism from those wanting to see the peace process move forward, and skepticism from political pundits. And yet they persisted.
Day school leaders can learn from this move by making Israel education the center of their program, despite political leanings in the community, challenges to programmatic shifts, and criticism of faculty or parents.
It is time to take risks and to fail forward for the sake of our students by celebrating the centrality of Israel to our mission and practice.