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School’s out on Israel

March 2, 2011 – 9:48 pm54 Comments

Photo: Vincenzo Aiosa

By Mandi Katz

When it comes to Israel, young Australian Jews often feel themselves caught between extreme positions.

Only days ago, Bialik College graduate and former Australasian Union of Jewish Students president Liam Getreu wrote on this site that our community is dominated by an “Israel right-or-wrong line and a much smaller, but very loud chorus of Jews who sing the Israel always-wrong song, with very little in between”.

There is, of course, a huge spectrum of views on Israel within the Jewish community, and in Australian public life but Getreu’s analysis was not challenged, probably because he is right that this is as much about who is loudest as it is about where the majority sit. So a relevant question is why it is that so many of us sit quietly and watch, while public discourse on Israel is dominated by people holding views closer to extreme ends of the spectrum.

There are many reasons why, and each could be a discussion in itself. There is certainly a high degree of defensiveness about Israel. With no shortage of people out there willing to put the boot in, many don’t see the need to add Jewish voices to that chorus. There is also unwillingness to engage in public “sideline commentating and cheerleading”, as an Israeli friend of mine this week described the happenings at JStreet, in the absence of a commitment to live in Israel.

But a big part may simply be a lack of understanding of the issues and facts, and an attendant willingness to concede the discussion to those who know best or are quick to tell us that they do. In this instance, I’m referring to the professional ‘hasbaraniks‘, such as the Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Committee (AIJAC), and people in leadership positions on Zionist bodies, groups by their nature that are primarily concerned with advocating for Israel.

So another obvious question is why there are so few young graduates of Jewish day schools and youth movements like Liam, who feel equipped, passionate and willing to contribute to a more generative discussion.

Of course Jewish identity and education don’t start and end with the Jewish day schools.  But they are significant community assets, and represent a huge investment from our community collectively and for individual families. Jewish schools need to feature front and centre in any discussion about the way that young Jews identify with Israel.

The role of Jewish schools in all of this has been turning in my head for a few weeks, since I attended an energetic and inspiring presentation by Joseph Gerassi, the principal of Melbourne’s Bialik College, where he shared the school’s vision and mission with parents.

The vision is the result of work recently undertaken by the school’s leadership team in Israel and comprises the school’s overall mission. It includes a comprehensive Jewish vision for the school, which does not see itself as either religious or as secular but defines itself as a cross-communal Jewish Zionist school, embracing an inclusive approach to Judaism and encouraging students to engage with traditional Jewish texts in a meaningful way.

Some of the most interesting comments he made were about Israel and Zionism. Mr Gerassi expanded on what Zionism means at Bialik College, the importance of Hebrew, and a range of Israel studies options, which use critical enquiry and material from diverse sources and perspectives. He emphasised support for the “well-being” of Israel but also said that while Zionism is a non-negotiable at Bialik, this did not mean having to support every policy of every government of Israel.

Now that’s not a particularly radical thing to say – not many educated individuals will admit to blind support for anything, but it is a fairly bold position for the principal of a Melbourne Jewish day school to take in a formal forum.

His view, if I understood it correctly, is that the school will see itself as successful when students understand the importance of Israel as a home for Jews and its importance for Jewish life everywhere. The school will also measure success by whether students care enough to ask hard questions – to engage in informed, critical and sometimes difficult discussion about Israel’s policies and actions.

This discussion is not really about Bialik College – not least because it remains to be seen exactly what the school has in mind, and how it will be executed. But the issues raised go to the heart of who speaks loudest and why. Perhaps what’s needed is to provide students with a less rose-coloured understanding of issues so that that they can hold firm their connection with Israel, and participate more confidently in discussions on Israel across the spectrum. The desire to instil positive identification with Israel and why it matters is obviously critical but perhaps we – parents and teachers – need to add to that the goal of promoting an understanding of Israel and the issues it is confronting, that go beyond Zionism 101.

None of this is easy. But maybe these are some of the discussions we need to have.

Frank discussions about the complexity and the moral implications of 43 years of occupation; the apparent indifference of some to the suffering of the occupied is an obvious and admittedly difficult starting point.

Are we prepared  – emotionally and with adequate information – to talk honestly about what life is like for Palestinians living under military occupation, and what it means for Israeli society that young soldiers are charged with enforcing this rule?

What do we say about the cost of the legislative agenda being pursued in the name of “Jewish demographics” – a lever used to make excuses for illiberal policies that conflict with other Jewish values?

How do we talk to school-aged students honestly about the scepticism in Israel about the prospect for peace as a result of years of terror, but also with compassion for people completely fatigued by “the situation”?

What should Orthodox schools say about the increasing number of people in Israel who value land above peace as a principle and who earnestly believe that the Torah is the “title deed” to all of Israel? Would Leibler-Yavneh College, which describes itself as a Modern Orthodox Zionist school, require its teachers to be more sympathetic to that view than the Progressive movement’s King David School would?

And how is that view and more broadly, the role and face of religious nationalism in Israel, discussed at Mt Scopus College, which has a largely non-practising student community but describes itself as operating within a Modern Orthodox and Zionist framework.

How should we prepare our daughters for how they may feel when they visit the Kotel, controlled, as it is, by Ultra Orthodox elements that marginalise the role and access of women in ‘their’ holy places.

And do we feel able to speak openly about the competing claims on Jerusalem – not only in a religious sense but also about the efforts to acquire properties and ‘Judaise’ neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem? Would students at Jewish schools recognise the name of Sheikh Jarrah, the neighbourhood that has become a symbol of this conflict, but which has also been a catalyst for opposition and protest?

An alternative view is that what I am suggesting is too complex and pessimistic an agenda for school students. That young people need to first absorb a positive story, or as one Jewish educator told me, need a little “indoctrination” before they confront such intense complexity. But I believe that is less than honest and also carries too many risks.

Young people can cope with some ambiguity; an approach that insists otherwise will not prepare them for the alternative perspectives that they will inevitably encounter. That’s when they are likely to disengage or retreat into defensiveness.

Clearly a big part of this is for students to spend time in Israel and even better, for families to do that. Mount Scopus has run a family trip to Israel for several years, while for the first time last year, almost the whole Year 10 Bialik group travelled to Israel for a highly subsidised six-week program.

But for many families, spending time in Israel is still made difficult or impossible by the financial burden of Jewish school fees. For many other families, such opportunities are as out of reach as Jewish schooling itself. But that is a topic for a separate discussion

In getting back to the conversations we need to be having with our children and teenagers about Israel at school and at home, I hope that others will have interesting things to say. Some of the Zionist youth movements grapple honestly with these challenges and there are many teachers in the Jewish schools who do this very well. It would be great to hear what they have to say.

Meanwhile, I commend Joseph Gerassi for putting this challenge on the mainstream agenda. He deserves support and encouragement.

Mandi Katz lives in Melbourne where she works in the financial services sector. She and her husband, Ashley Browne, have three teenage children who attend Melbourne Jewish day schools.

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  • Shimon says:

    You’re right, there are many reasons. While a passionate supporter of Jews’ return to their historic homeland, I have – like many others – reservations about the nature of the State and the character of its organs. It pains me to see how certain aspects of Israeli society have evolved. And I would love to see a more open discussion about these things in the hope that this would energise Diaspora Jews’ commitment to Israel and even encourage them to make aliyah with the goal of making the country the best it can be.
    But I don’t – and, I guess, many others don’t – feel at liberty to undertake such a debate in the current climate. There is a war going on. Militarily it’s a low-level conflict but it repeatedly flares up into something worse – and there is now a greater danger that it may do so again pretty soon.
    But it is the war of attrition waged against the Jewish State that is, arguably, having the greatest effect. Having lost repeatedly on the battlefield, the Arabs and their fellow travellers have shifted the fight to transnational organisations such as the UN, to the media, to boycotts and pickets, intimidation on campus, to the courts – all creating an atmosphere in which the very concept of a Jewish State is seen as repugnant.
    While this situation exists, those of us who genuinely want the State of Israel to succeed and for our brothers and sisters living there to, erm, continue living there, we are simply not at liberty to say things publicly which may bolster the enemy’s cause. To do so – especially in the relative comfort and security of the Diaspora – is selfish, self-indulgent, and, given the rationalisations offered by those who insist on doing it, self-deluding.
    This is a matter of life and death and that trumps our desire to spout off.

  • Geoff in Jerusalem says:

    Very interesting article – for those of us with no real knowledge of Melbourne Jewish education it is quite enlightening. Kol hakavod.

  • rachsd says:


    I find it interesting that in 2012 it is considered controversial for a school principle to say that Zionism doesn’t necessarily entail supporting every action of every Israeli government. Having finished my Jewish Day School education before the break-down of Camp David, and therefore before the advent of the age of hasbara, I doubt that this kind of statement would have been considered controversial 15 years ago, although I suppose that it also wouldn’t have been as relevant 15 years ago. I have always been under the impression that hasbara, whatever ones opinion is of it, is meant to be about presenting Israel to the wider public. If the hasbara mindset has become so pervasive that it has replaced education about Israel in Jewish day schools, this seems like a crazy perversion of the idea.


    While I appreciate that Israel may be under attack in some contexts, this is not the case inside the Jewish day school system so I’m curious whether you still think that argument applies to education in that context.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    But the other question Mandy is, of course a large number of Jewish kids DON’T attend Jewish schools–are we setting up bifucated identity that ignores the fact (or underplays it) that we live in a multicultural society, in preference for a focus on (an idealized and incorrect) Israel.

    Should the whole notion of such identity be reconstrued as (IMHO) we enter into a post-Zionist era, that there is a place for ‘Hebrew’ culture, but it should not be bound to irredentism, and that the ethical insights of Jewish history and culture can contribute to a richer, broader society, whether in Israel/Palestine or Australia and its neighbours?

    What I, as an insider/outsider see, is the result of several generations of private schooling for an increasingly affluent community resulting in increasingly disengaged, passive, and passive citizens, rather than engaged women and men, just as concerned for Australia (or other countries) as Israel. If I am not wrong, in the 1920s, Horace Kallen developed such vision for locally-based cultural pluralism, including diverse Jewish life in the US that was not necessarily tied to physical Zionism.

    I’d hope that there was increasing maturity to look at the situation in Australia in such a way, and that people felt that sending kids (or families) to Israel or Poland was not necessary as an impramatur for identity.

    The constant focus on affirmation of ‘self’ through an exclusive (and expensive) connection to the ‘other’ seems to me to undercut identity that is organic.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I should have mentioned that on Kallen, a summary is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Kallen, though some of his works are available through Google Books. Of course, the challenge of modernity and independent identity, linked to American democracy with a religious flavour was addressed by Mordechai Kaplan in numerous works.

  • Akiva says:

    Ugh. Thank you for helping clarify my reasons for never sending my (yet to be born) children to a Jewish day school. They’ll learn about Judaism, but not in that context. Can’t stand the thought of creating an acquiescent and supportive community through ‘indoctrination’. Interesting piece.

    I agree with Rachsd – this is a very mild critique, surely the idea that one may disagree with *some* of the actions of the Israeli government of the day should hardly be considered controversial? If for no other reason than the fact that the current approach fails to equip the school graduates with the means to convincingly deal with the attitudes to Israel that they find in the outside world. In my experience (a poor sample, true), the kids who come out of this system see all negative responses to Israel as the same, and deal with them in the same, standard way. It is terrifically ineffective, and only becoming more so. One would think that the perpetuators of this sort of ‘education’ would come up with more sophisticated methods.

    That aside, if one is to accept that there is a chance that real actual education rather than propaganda is to be taught in these schools, I’d like to think that it would involve examining the way in which the modern state of Israel was founded – a less ‘varnished’ history than the one that is currently taught, and one which increasingly preoccupying some excellent Israeli historians. Otherwise it’s just papering over unpleasant foundations. It shouldn’t have to mean any less attachment to Israel is formed.

  • NicoleE says:

    Hi Mandi,

    I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said: “Are we prepared – emotionally and with adequate information – to talk honestly”.

    It looks like (hopefully) the discourse is changing from when I attended one of these aforementioned schools. It’s one thing (as you mentioned) to claim to be able to criticise Israeli policy, and quite another to really understand the implications of the ongoing displacement and occupation of the Palestinians, and why there is so much legitimate anger (along with the self-righteous anger) toward Israel. It is part of our duty of care to empower children with all the facts and allow them to come to their own conclusions, wherever they should lead. And indeed, I think it is more likely to lead to a more healthy appreciation of Israel/Judaism that can’t be easily disrupted by confusion or defensiveness when they finally hear about places like Sheikh Jarrah. Having an authentic – rather than sanitised or manufactured – understanding is the only way forward. And it might even make them more thoughtful, complex human beings. Who knows.

    Also just out of curiosity – during the trips to Israel you suggest are a good idea, like the Scopus or Bialik ones – do the students get exposed to the Palestinian narrative? Or are they generally shielded from it (like the American Birthright trips?).


  • Malki Rose says:


    Instead of abandoning the idea of sending our kids to Jewish schools for the reasons you mention, would it not be more helpful to instead try and create the change we would ideally like to see.
    A Jewish school, in my perhaps idealistic view, should be the place where Jewish kids can build a strong and proud Jewish identity while simultaneously being encouraged to respect and understand all other cultural identities, without either one detracting from the other.

    I agree that none of the Jewish schools do this (perhaps some do to varying, small degrees), but is there any reason why this ideal model cannot be built?


    “Are we prepared – emotionally and with adequate information – to talk honestly”.

    Some are. They are few. But as a community, definitely not.

    One of the biggest obstacles I see, is this unhelpful infatuation people seem to have with grouping and defining the information and the people who share it as either Left wing or Right-wing. Zionist or anti-Zionist. (The labels are often a punishments for voicing, presenting or exploring contrary views.)

    It makes honest discussion both difficult and exhausting.

    It creates a culture of “with us” or “against us”. And both Left and Right (I HATE those words) are guilty of this ugly form of ‘opinion bullying’.

    If adults are not yet ready to engage in honest, non-emotive information sharing without resorting to categorizing one another, how on earth can we possibly hope to be able to prepare our children to dialogue honestly?

    The fear of being labelled and demonised with these labels, is curbing truly open dialogue.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Lots of very thoughtful and interesting comments. I’ d love to discuss some of this further.

    For now, Larry I anticipated a response from you and that it would have the word bifurcation in it – :)

    You raise very interesting and challenging questions. I just remembered an article about some research that challenges some assumptions about what sort of schooling produces community minded graduates.


    The header is crap and has very little to do with the article but the gist is that grads of independent (defined as everything other than state or Catholic parish schools I think) are more likely to demonstrate some of the social justice consciousness you refer to. heres a taste:

    “Graduates of independent schools were more likely to have participated in a demonstration, attended a political rally, and donated money to or raised funds for a social or political activity than graduates of government or Catholic schools.

    Graduates of independent schools were also more likely to be members of environmental groups or aid organisations.”

    Dont know about the scale or standing of the research but these things are complicated…

  • melina says:

    i watched with horror , amusement and bemusement the students at university who came from non jewish schools and those that did and we made comparisons.

    i will not divulge that information here as it is not appropriate and i respect their privacy however the experiment has failed to some degree with some of your schools.

    i empathise with them and great to see a blog like this tackle these issues.

    well done and continued success!!!

  • Liam says:

    Enrolment in Jewish day schools is around 70-75% of the population, so it does include the far majority of Jewish secondary students. Yes, there is still a large non-Jewish day school population, but nevertheless Mandi’s points are integral to the future communal conversation about our Jewish day schools.

    I hadn’t known about that speech from Joseph Gerassi, but it is very good to hear we can increasingly have an open conversation.

    Thank you to Joseph, and to Mandi, for helping us understand this issue.


  • Thank you Mandi for putting this on the table so thoughtfully. I believe most secondary school students don’t just accept ambiguity -they thrive on it. In most parts of their education today’s students
    learn to question received wisdom, interrogate authority, deconstruct text and develop their own creative thinking about ideas and issues. If their school environment does not encourage (or even allow!)them to approach Jewish issues, including Israel, with the same honesty and flexibility they are faced with a stark choice: swallow the system whole or spit it out. Many will make a choice that means they lose the essential uplifting possibilities of Jewish life and we, as a community, lose them.

  • Mohan to all says:

    Articles should nt be based on false dichotomies – Israel is always right – always wrong. The critics of Israel are valid so long as they base their criticism on facts on the ground both historical and contemporary.

    Supporters should equally base their arguments on factual grounds not on the requirements of hasbara, “balance” or fanciful claims based on myths, fables and distortions of science.

  • Foob says:

    To me, Larry’s point is well made. Israel is an issue however I think that the notion of private schooling is just as big. I could never afford fees for my 2 kids. Hence, state schools it is. I am sure that I am not alone in this, and I wonder where the rather high percentage of 75 comes from. Am I completely naive in wondering why there is no low cost schooling similar to the Catholic school system?

  • larry stillman says:

    Schools, especially private schools are an industry that thrive on parental expectations and aspirations, and this is particularly attached to material assets–which are expensive. In a materialist community wywiwyg (figure that out).
    The catholic system is not as well endowed with a few exceptions and I understand that salaries may also be lower.

    It is also a matter of social capital (of great interest to thinkers about eduction)…in highly motivated communities, this is what gets people across the line, but perhaps what has happened in the Jewish and upper middle class communities with the rise of individualism and the breakdown of a will/desire/capacity for collective shard, and culturally important ‘brain’ work, there is a focus on physical capital and all the attributes that go with it. .

    I only think of another example. I was just in India, at one of their leading institutes of higher education. There were stray dogs in the corridors, cows in the grounds, incredibly shabby buildings and offices, yet the intellectual capacity of the faculty and students was extraordinary-why?

    OK, it was a brutally selective institution, but in terms of focussing on the core issue–knowledge, the physical artefacts were often irrelevant. It was the same with the Russians in the past. Crap facilities, brilliant mathematicians. Now, locally, we have got the equation wrong and focussed on resourcing those who need resourcing the least.

  • ariel says:

    I just had a meeting at work where we were told about how another company in our industry handles external presentations and forums:

    They have a meeting and nut out all their differences amongst themselves.
    Then they make sure everyone is on the same page.
    Then they head out to the public to give their presentation and when interrogated, they all provide the same answer – no dissent, no in fighting, all one voice.

    This is how the Jewish community should deal with the issue of talking about Israel.

  • Mohan to ariel says:

    The one difference is that a community is not a corporate ltd company. It does not have a CEO or a board of directors to reward and punish performance according to the requirments of profitability, market dominance and share price. If a community did that, it would be called the inquisition or fascism.

  • eli says:

    Not sure if I am off topic, but in any case. The 20-21st century sees the first generations of Jews able to even ponder and discuss Israel as a state, as a the home of the Jewish nation. Prior to that it was a hope and dream for most Jews ( there were always some that did not share that vision) up until 1967

    For the majority, Israel’s existence, strength and security were primary. I wonder if the excesses, the consequences of survival in that and previous wars, if the information were as available then as it is now would the Jews in the Diaspora then, be as critical as unsure of the “rightness” of it all as this generation is of the Israel as it exits today.

    Perhaps the passion has dissipated to conditional love, while those that would see Israel disappear either geographically or demographically still have passion and certainly patience, allowing our Jewish sense of justice to ultimately hand them the prize, that till now is still at arms length.

  • Dennis the sensible one says:

    Larry and Foob,

    Good discussion but straying off topic.

    I’m sure the editors of this website would welcome a separate blog on jewish schools v state schools.

    What are your views about the points in the article?



  • larry stillman says:


    Isn’t it obvious, the ‘Israel’ question needs to be opened up on all fronts. It should not be the raison d’etre of identity. I don’t think I need to detail that any more, as my views are well known. The way this community has dealt with diversity of opinion for decades on this issue has been pretty shoddy.

    As for state schools-private schools, there was an extensive debate on Galus about 18 months ago between other writers, so I don’t think the issue needs to be revisited extensively by me http://galusaustralis.com/2009/07/646/time-to-abandon-the-private-school-system/.

    So let’s not beat about the bush. People don’t like admitting up front that they are selfish and will do anything for their kids, even if that means beating up on little guys. One of the roles of government is to limit selfishness (and taxes for example, are a means of utilitarian income redistribution for the greater social good)

    I’ve been using the work of Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner, who has been highly influential in his thinking on the issue of inequality for other purposes, but it has also been of particular interest to theorists and practitioners of education, but it is probably known in different forms in other writers’ and researchers’ works (eg Bowles and Gintis in the 70s) .

    Sen’s argument comes down to this: not only is it the presence of resources such as buildings/labs/teachers, but the environment which affects the capability of students to take advantage of such ‘goods’. In situations of (relative) deprivation, people are far less likely to succeed. So children in deprived schools suffer the double whammy of not only having bad facilities, but frequently, a stigmatized environment. In democratic societies, Sen would argue, the purpose of effective income and wealth distribution is to prevent such fundamental inequalities from occurring, and to encourage people’s capacities and capabilities, since by and large, they stay with people for life. If it doesn’t then the underpinnings of social democratic societies are under threat.

    Jewish schools can claim they need to be Jewish for cultural reasons, but that doesn’t mean that they should be able to (as with other private schools) set up private social systems which create a separate and unequal system of physical and psychological advantage that is skewed towards reinforcing educational inequality. As far as I am concerned (and perhaps there are exceptions such as in low-cost Catholic schools with social justice orientations), the whole education system has become manipulated to perpetuate disadvantage and indiviudalistic middle class aspirationalism (often unrealistic) at any price- and the argument has been going on in the Age for the past couple of days.

    This attitude has emerged in complete contrast to the strong public will for public education a century ago, when it was realised that shared educational experience was critical in democratic society–it is not just WHAT you learn, but WITH WHOM you learn, that contributes to your development as a citizen.

    I’d like to quote something about Sen’s work on education, which is geared to thinking about the needs of the disadvantaged:

    “Having the opportunity for education and the development of an education capability expands human freedoms.

    Not having education harms human development and choosing and having a full life. Education, argues Sen (1999), fulfills an instrumental social role in that critical literacy, for example, fosters public debate and dialogue about social and political arrangements. It has an instrumental process role by expanding the people one comes into contact with, broad-ening our horizons. Finally, it has an empowering and distributive role in facilitating the ability of the disadvantaged, marginalized, and excluded to organize politically. It has redistributive effects between social groups, households, and within families. Overall, education contributes to inter-personal effects where people are able to use the benefits of education to help others and hence contribute to the social good and democratic freedoms. In short, for Sen, “education” is an unqualified good for human capability expansion and human freedom.

    The approach thus leads us to ask questions such as: Are valued capabilities distributed fairly in and through education? Do some people get more opportunities to convert their resources into capabilities than others, and if so who, how, and why? In short, it means taking up the crucial importance Sen (1999) allocates to education in the formation of human capabilities”

    [Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Social Justice in Education
    M. Walker; E. Unterhalter, p.8]

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    Much of the discussion here revolves around education and the correct age for exposure to complexity together with questions relating to aims of education etc. However a quick question to Mandi and most of the responders to this blog(assuming, from what I’ve seen that you are Zionists);
    If(and obviously this is up for debate) presenting the ‘complexity’ of the issue to students is, shown, categorically in the future to weaken the Jewish State and its security, would you support it?
    -Is it a debate over overall goals or simply over execution?
    Within a communty overall the question is different. If a community which is seen as not supporting Israel shoulder to shoulder would weaken the State and jeopardise would we then, if we were in a position to do so, encourage such debate or not?

  • larry stillman says:

    There is no need to pretend that Jewish schools are disadvantaged in terms of the capacity to engender funding from their school communities if funding is taken away. Look at the myschool index (now out) –Mt Scopus, Bialik, King David Yeshivah, Sholem Aleichem, are right up there in terms of the index of social economic disadvantage. Adass is not listed. It is arguable that in social justice terms, the schools should not receive the degree of public subsidy–along with schools like Scotch, Geelong Grammar, Lauriston etc– that they do, because public funds shold be directed at the really needy.

  • Mandi,

    A very thought provoking piece. It left me wondering what has happened to education in these times of moral relativism and political correctness. It’s hard enough to give our children some sense of Jewish identity through their school experience. To present all sides of the complex middle east situation (with a true left-wing equivalence) and expect them to work their way through it all and come out with some clear views sounds impossible.

    More importantly, is this formula for Jewish education going to lead to their grandchildren being Jewish? Sadly, I think not.

  • ariel says:

    What’s amazing is that we all live here in Australia and have probably never wondered what our governments would do – Labor or Coalition – if we were in a similar situation to Israel for the last century.

    Perhaps we should think about that before getting all “high and moral” about what Israel should and should not do.

  • Sol Salbe says:


    70 -75 per cent of Jewish secondary school students attend Jewish day school? Is there a source for that figure and does the source of the statistics have any circular element?

  • rachsd says:


    The best phrase that I can think of to describe your contribution to this thread is reductionist idealism. Idealism in the philosophical sense, as in emphasis on ideas in opposition to experience, and reductionist because this seems to lead you to write reductively about the issues, questions and challenges raised by Mandi as a result of lived experience.

    It doesn’t matter what proportion of Jewish school students attend Jewish day schools because we know that a large group of Jewish students do attend these schools. And it doesn’t matter whether this is the ideal situation. Issues relating to how Jewish education should/does work are still important and valid in this community because the reality is that a large group of Jewish students do go to these schools. I say this even though I don’t personally feel attached to the Jewish day school model as an ideal for Jewish education.

    Furthermore, the issue of pedagogy around Israel is not necessarily reducible to the issue of diversity of opinion, as you imply at the beginning of your recent long comment. Nor is it necessarily reducible to a general discussion on the ‘Israel’ question – your previous assertion in that same comment.

    How inane and boring would life be if we reduced every dilemma, experience, situation to some broad generality or universal?

  • larry stillman says:


    I am not arguing for a boring or idealizing ‘laicite’ as in France, which is ultimately deeply intolerant. I think diversity should be part of enriching state-supported education. As others have argued, I have no objection to religion classes (Religious Instruction), or Hebrew or Arabic being taught in state schools as well as after school. This may challenge some Muslims and some Jews, but I believe it is building a better society.

    If people are so desperate for their own religious schools, they should pay for them, as in most other countries. And as you probably know, the funding regime has allowed the emergence of conservative separatist Christian schools. We have adopted an strong version of support of the privatization of education, one which reinforces disadvantage and social division. In the long term, this imperils the social fabric as a whole.

    What I have forgotten to add is that the added sting for state-funded schools is that private schools are run as as tax-deductible business under various charity and non-profit legislation. This sets in place a further impediment to equality.

    We enrich our society through interaction.

    See the Age op-ed by Joel Windle today on the segregated school system. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/by/joel-windle
    There is also further argument about the socially divisive nature of private schooling–it reinforces inequality in today’s Age.

  • Akiva says:

    Rachsd – I suggest that there are many worse approaches to teaching about the Israel than ‘reducing it to the issue of diversity of opinion’. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.

    David Werdinger – does one’s Jewish identity really depend on being coerced as a teenager into an clear opinion on Israel which is acceptable to you? The heart of my Judaism certainly has nothing to do with this, nor my observance, nor my desire to raise my children in an observant household. Judaism is so amazingly rich and complex and rewarding that I find your confined conception of it saddening and depressing.

    The ‘Israel’ question, is, like the rest of life, complex. I don’t believe it harms kids to be exposed to this complexity, as long as you intend to respect your kids enough to be able to negotiate with any position they may come up with. A truly engaged (and intelligent)person doesn’t have one fixed opinion, but really engages with the ‘situation’ as it changes. Insisting that there is one – your – way, and only one way to understand the situation is going to do much more towards harming my grandkids’ jewish identity than allowing them the freedom of thought.

  • Liam says:

    @Sol – That’s the number I remember from the Gen08 survey. I didn’t have a copy on me to double check, but it wouldn’t be too far off that.

  • Sam says:

    Obviously it is going to be impossible to find a formula for Jewish Schooling that will suit all children, with regard to their forming a fairly balanced opinion on Israel,while being eager to question the complexities, and being able to evolve their opinion as they become more mature.
    Larry has written quite a lot re funding for private schools and advantages afforded these students. In W.A. even poor jewish familes can send their children to Carmel School (Orthodox religious), for reduced or no fees, and I assume that this would also be the case in Melbourne and Sydney.
    We made the decision in consultation with our children at the time that after a religious jewish education in primary school, that their secondary school would be an Anglican private school. This exposure to both sides of the community in which they would be living as an adolescent and then as an adult has appeared to have achieved a good result in terms of my initial premise, (stated at the beginning of this posting).

  • frosh says:

    @Liam & Sol

    Sounds like it could be sampling bias. My guess is that Jews who did the survey were more likely to have gone to (or sent their kids to) a Jewish day school than those Jews who didn’t do the survey.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Its very interesting to read these comments.

    I tried to frame this as not ONLY about schools but also as what we as a diverse and pluralistic community might want to do to promote open conversations – also involving parents, shules, youth movements. It’s certainly not about bagging Jewish schools. I am grateful for what my children’s schools have provided our kids Jewishly -which is the reason we stick with that option despite the financial burden and despite sharing (with qualification) some of Larry’s concerns.

    Rach – I wasn’t suggesting that schools have ever seen themselves as hasbara agents. But my sense is that they are constrained by community affiliations and hasbara type considerations so that the approach on Israel studies (and possibly Jewish stuff generally, but that’s a bigger topic) is not quite the same as the educational approach taken generally – where the approach is more critical, questioning, and open to multiple perspectives.

    Nicole – when I say the tours to Israel are good idea I mean because they connect young Jews to Israel – I think that’s important and I’m not apologising for that. I don’t know exactly but I suspect they don’t provide a particularly balanced perspective.

    I don’t agree with David that moral equivalence is an issue here. It’s clear to me what the values are that we as “adults” want to transmit. What seems to be more difficult is how willing we are to provide a range of facts and historical and cultural perspectives when they may challenge those values.

    So to take as an example one of the questions I posed – which as struck a chord with some people here – which was how willing are we talk honestly about the occupation. The values in that discussion are those embodied in the political idea of democracy.

    What’s complex – but not in a sense of relativity – is how this can ever be resolved politically. But how is it a matter of engaging in moral relativism to look at information or opinions regarding the occupation from diverse sources? To me talking about moral relativism in this context seems like avoidance and deflection. It’s terrible, but its Israel’s reality and we need to confront that.

    The nub of the issue is how much ambiguity is tolerable and productive and how much is just confusing. And I accept that it’s a matter of balance and that there are many variables – including maturity, intellectual acumen, and level of knowledge and interest.

    In our extended family, shabbat dinners often involve heated discussions on Israel. The kids – mine and the cousins – hear our differing views and sometimes find the disagreement uncomfortable and sometimes they ask us not to have those the discussions. But overall I think that to varying degrees they listen to and understand a fair bit, and mostly take away that we are passionate about being Jewish, that we care deeply about Israel and that we can have different views within one family and still love and respect each other.

    How is that a threat to Jewish continuity?

  • Mandi Katz says:

    And shabbat shalom all.

  • jan says:

    The sociological analysis that Larry argues about funding is very, very relevant.

    I quote Gene Sherman about Jewish day schools in The Australian Financial Review a while ago)

    …That background is not something the Shermans, like many other Jewish Australians, necessarily want to have dominate their lives or their identities to the exclusion of all else. They did not, for example, choose to send their children to Jewish schools; rather they chose their neighbourhood because it had good local schools. “Jews are a strange group,” muses Gene, “because whether you intend to [bring children up] in the Jewish culture, or you don’t, you do. For some reason, there is such a strong racial memory, and such a focus on education … I know people who’ve set out to separate themselves, and they don’t succeed fully because there’s too much ingrained.”

    “…….Jews are a strange group….”

    How does one interpret this quote?

    Her children did not attend any Jewish schools and her son Emile did okay with an Oscar thus far!

    Plutocracy remains supreme Larry i think to some degree with your argument as i see it?

    best regards.

  • jan says:


    The article on The Shermans above can be found here in full.

  • @Akiva – my comment was about Jewish education in general, to the effect that people no longer want to stand up for many of the values that have been taught to Jewish children for thousands of years. I’m glad you’ve found an expression for your Jewishness; the test of its durability will only be in two generations’ time.

    @Mandi – the moral relativism that pervades society means there are no values any more, and no absolute right or wrong. Instead we teach our children that whatever they think is fine as long as they can validate it in some way. It’s a slippery slope.

  • Akiva says:

    How do people manage to be online and coherent so close to shabbat? Can’t do it myself!

    David – can you name one of these Jewish values which have been taught for generations? (Besides Israel-related things). I don’t know what you mean.

  • jan says:

    Josh Frydenberg should be an interesting example of the above debate.

    His participation at the federal level politically and his “Jewishness” as a gen y and third generation jew, ex- Bialik student.

    Watch with interest and see for yourselves where the old school ties are if they still do exist?

  • public says:

    Those with the loudest voices win. In this case the wealthy and middle classes.

    McKinnon, Glen Waverley, Balwyn, are amongst the top schools in the state, they are non competitive entry, they are zoned schools, and open to all local residents immaterial of their capacity. In fact far superior to the majority of Private schools.

    How many Jews attend these schools and are in the state or federal parliament and make a difference outside of the bagel belt et al.

    John Faine comes to mind?

  • @Akiva – you know … stuff like God, the Torah and Mitzvot. Those little things that have been taught to Jewish children for thousands of years.

  • letter published in the age says:

    Sacrifice or self-interest?
    WE HEAR much talk of those parents who are making “sacrifices” to send their children to private schools. What, pray tell, are they “sacrificing”? Would they be otherwise giving the money to the needy? No, I think they are probably sacrificing their mortgage repayments or their superannuation, or perhaps an annual holiday or a nice car, or even the time with the kids they might have otherwise had if they didn’t have to work to pay their school fees.

    They choose to spend that money on private schooling. Nobody forces them to do it. We chose to send our kids to private schools. Nobody made us do it. There is no “sacrifice”. Such a claim is nonsense. The decision to give one’s children a private education is borne purely of self-interest. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • letter published in the age(2) says:

    ……. Year 10 Bialik group travelled to Israel for a highly subsidised six-week program.

    But for many families, spending time in Israel is still made difficult or impossible by the financial burden of Jewish school fees. For many other families, such opportunities are as out of reach as Jewish schooling itself. But that is a topic for a separate discussion

    Who is this trip subsidized by..the secular Australian taxpayer i assume, please correct me if i am wrong?

    The demographic of the schools population is mainly middle class and above Mandi.

    It’s the CHOICE of the parent to send them to a school but the tax exemptions religious schools have are fairly generous and should be examined further for discussion.

    It’s interesting to note when King David took over Frank Tate House the international school on Dandenong Road there were many objections in the community and the schools was approved otherwise.

    The whole process was unusual if you have a look at the council meetings minutes.


  • larry stillman says:

    Unfortunately, the folk memory of Frank Tate is gone.

    Tate was seminal in the history of public education in Victoria and Australia who was opposed by guess who–the private schools–at a time when the idea of education for all was frowned upon.


  • letter published in the age(2) says:

    Thanking you sir!!!!

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I’m going to continue to leave the Israel-Australia identity argument to others, as I am more concerned about this issue in general educational social justice and social citizenship terms.

    For comparative purposes, look at what has happened in Israel with the emergence of separately-funded school streams (secular, religious, I believe several haredi, Muslim etc), with vastly different curricula and it appears more and more, vastly different educational outcomes, including general ‘civic’ knowledge. Politically and eduationally, it is a disaster (and much more extreme than here), though of course I know there are some exceptions, as there always are..

    If you consider Australia as an equally diverse society, we don’t need the emergence of just ethno-religious (whether Muslim, different Jewish, Presbytarian, Catholic) educational ‘blocs’ coupled with the quite determining effects of deliberatively inequitable investment.

    I emphasise-I am not a hard line about separation of church/state in education,but I believe that it needs to be mainstreamed into a common system in which all kids mix for the greater good (the utilitarian argument). As I have said, kids can also go off and do their language/culture/religion classes. But if you want to have entirely separate schools, then don’t use state money. Of course, the other option is, as has been mooted before, that there only needs to be one, maybe two Jewish schools in Melbourne, but of course, this threatens existing powerblocs and the economies around each school. I argue the same for Muslim and all other church and ‘independent’ schools.

    The impartation of religious/cultural values is as much a family responsibility David, but we live in a society to which we need to contribute for the common good through providing equal measures of educational opportunity for all.

  • letter published in the age(3) says:

    I am a product of such a school that Larry speaks of and we are from an orthodox background but not Jewish.

    It’s the same argument when we see ethno-specific sporting clubs like the Maccabi organisation.

    May i remind you of this incident?


    Look at Alphington Grammar as an example.

    A very modern orthodox school with a very diverse student population.

    It can be done and i think there needs to be serious compromise from the Jewish Community for that to occur.

    Best of luck with it all, it looks challenging to achieve.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Letter published in The Age – the Bialik trips are subsidised by supporters of the school, not by taxpayers. Jewish schools also all have fee subsidy arrangements funded by private donors. A significant proportion of families with kids at Jewish schools receive some sort of fee relief subsidised by private supporters of Jewish education.

    Of course what Larry says about the role of government in facilitating the redistribution of wealth is right, but there is a long and impressive tradition in Jewish life of people who voluntarily give away their money.

    Many of the most generous supporters of Jewish schools are also very generous financial supporters of a range of institutions in the Jewish community and well beyond it.

  • letters from the age(4) says:

    Hey thanks for the reply much appreciated!!

    Does this allow for a culture of plutocracy to be established as a result of these “private arrangements” i wonder?

    Sadly i saw this in some sectors of our schools , that is why i ask the question.

    In the teaching profession, it is widely known that students do adopt the worst from both cultures but as Larry said the identity issue is complex and for another blog only!

    It’s the values based education and the inclusive nature of schools that is important as Larry says and that includes students with disabilities etc.

    How many students of special needs attend the schools for example?

    “New under the sun” by M Landau et al has an excellent analysis of the Jewish day school system and is a must read!!

  • Liam says:

    @Frosh & Sol: Re the Gen08 survey, a lot of work was done to find the unaffiliated, and this was taken into account. I apologise that I can’t find my copy at home either, but that was something, from memory, the ACJC was quite proud of in their research, was that they were able to analyse the un-affiliated groups in the community to get a good picture of what they did/didn’t do and what they did/didn’t think.

  • Yaakov says:

    It’s interesting to me that Bialik became an example for a zionist school in this article. Considering that Bialik has far and away the lowest rate of any of the zionist schools in the community of sending people to Israel, I don’t honestly understand how it can be called the paradigm of modern zionism. A school from which almost nobody ever makes aliya is surely not the one which will define zionism for us. If people do not make aliya, that is a choice which I can understand and which certainly has legitimacy, but a position which prima facie excludes aliya from the outset would seem to be incorrectly described as zionist.
    I went to Scopus. I don’t think that scopus forced either right wing or left wing positions on me. I think this is true in Yavneh as well and I’ve done a lot there in terms of camps and beit midrash. It’s fun to bash frum people as biased, and frum people certainly do exhibit a certain trend to the right. This is not the same thing as saying they try to force other people to accept their views. If Yavneh teachers do not currently exhibit a bias to one side, I cannot event understand how you could suggest they should be told to exhibit a bias to the opposite end fo the spectrum. This feels a bit like beating an idealogical drum, not terribly related to fostering a nuanced discussion of zionism in the community.

  • David says:

    The way that the Jewish schools teach about Israel is not only apathetic but it’s boring! So very boring. Stop telling them about JNF, tell them about Peace Now, Kach and the New Israel Fund. Show Israel and Zionism for what it really is. A multi-layered complicated ideology. We are underestimating how clever Jewish school kids are. They will not accept Zionist propaganda and likewise they will not be interested in hearing only criticism.

    Also, as an ex-member of a youth movement I feel as though it’s my duty to point out that the youth movement institution is the most effective on Israel education because kids are treated as intelligent. One look at Hashomer Hatzair’s website shows me how in engaged its members are.
    Bnei Akiva’s extraordinary rates of aliyah also show how successful the youth movements are.

  • jan says:


    This was on the a.b.c website this week pertaining to schools.


  • Shulzi says:

    Several issues I want to raise on a personal level:

    Firstly, I only read the article and am not aware (though I am impressed) by the passionate discussion’s topics.

    My background is one of having just completed a post-graduate degree in international politics, and several years ago I was actively involved in AUJS. I also went to a Jewish Day School for my whole schooling career.

    The issue of arousing passion in discussing Israel, and Mandi’s position, is one I agree with in theory. The fact that Jewish schools in some respects are now acknowledging the complexity of the problems associated with Israel is highly important.

    However, practical reality prevents these goals from becoming fully acknowledged. The first, and frankly core reason in my opinion, is that the complexity of these topics can and is normally highly overwhelming. There is a constant influx of unanswered questions about what and how Israel and the principles upon which it stands should be dealt with, and time has not helped answer these questions. This lack of guidance leads to many (including myself) to simply partially withdraw from the issue because it is simply too much to deal with.

    Furthermore, to suggest that talking about these issues in a frank and open manner from the beginning of an individual’s jewish education is highly naive in my eyes. Israel education in jewish schools begins at primary, even nursery school age and to relay concepts such as ‘black armband history’ to young jews who I firstly believe should want to be associated with concepts that they can never truly escape should be the first priority.

    Finally, to become passionate about an ideology is infinitely easier than holding passion about a highly nuanced position which acknowledges many complicated realities. Those voices will always be loudest be human nature.

  • letter in the age says:

    Complexity also stifles compromise from the community and that is sometimes difficult as well in some sectors.

    Being a bit more open and honest is a good start without the fear of parents and their very judgmental opinions.

    Thanks for the response Shulzi!!

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