Preparing for his talk on "Giants in Zionism," delivered Monday at the Fort Lee Jewish Center, Jack Reisner said the list of Zionist leaders was quite long and that he was ready to face some controversy over his choices, especially that of Ariel Sharon.
Reisner born in Riga, Latvia, and raised in South Africa lived in Israel for 1′ years before moving to Fort Lee eight years ago. He says he considers Sharon a great leader because while the former prime minister clearly favored the concept of "Greater Israel" and in the late 1970s provided generous incentives for settlers in the west bank, he was also a supreme realist. "He saw that he couldn’t implement his dream," said Reisner, so he changed course for the sake of the nation.
Wally Greene, director of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Educational Services, says that while deciding whom to include on a list of great Zionist leaders ultimately depends on political orientation, he wouldn’t limit candidates to political Zionists.
Noting that names such as Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Abba Eban, Menachem Begin, Golda Meir, and Chaim Weissman should (of course) appear on any such list, he said, he would also be sure to include the great Sephardic scholar and poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi as well as early proponents of religious Zionism such as Rabbis Judah ben Shlomo Alkalai, Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer, and Shmuel Mohliver. He would also pay tribute to the proto-Zionist Chovevei Tziyon movement, which ultimately merged into the Zionist movement founded by Herzl.
Agreeing with Reisner that it is important to teach Jewish children about Zionism, Greene said that the JES Teachers Center "offers curricular guides and resource materials for all ages." He pointed out, however, that in discussing the teaching of Zionism in local Jewish schools, it is necessary to distinguish between elementary schools and high schools.
He pointed out that the six Jewish high schools in the federation catchment area all have Israel and/or Zionism curricula, "whether taught as part of modern Jewish history or as a separate semester."
Three years ago, he said, JES sponsored a yom iyun (day of learning), attended by representatives of local Jewish high schools. Also at the event were authors of new curricula on Israel and Zionism, who reviewed their material with the teachers. Participants were sent home with copies of the curricula as well as supplemental CDs and other materials. Greene said, however, that "some schools use the materials more than others, or use them for the purpose of advocacy."
Elementary schools are less systematic in the teaching of these subjects, he said, and tend to introduce material on these topics around occasions such Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. Still, said Greene, "creative teachers can always find a way to insert these teachings" into the curriculum.
The JES head noted that three supplementary high school programs in this area tackle the issue of Israel/Zionism. The Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism Supplemental High School and the Bergen High School of Jewish Studies provide full-year courses, with the latter offering college credit, as well. And in the public high schools, he said, the JES is enjoying some success in "inserting" Israel-related material into Jewish cultural clubs.
Reisner told The Jewish Standard that most people know very little about Zionist history, and Greene agreed that adults are "on their own" in obtaining this information. "They need to attend lectures and classes," he said.
For information on Zionist resources available through the JES Teachers Center, call Judy Gutin, (’01)488-6800.