Israeli Schools to Honor Wounded in War and Terror, but Program Criticized for Militarism

Next month's Appreciation Day will teach 'significance of sacrifice, giving and heroism on behalf of the people and the country.'

Or Kashti
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Wounded IDF soldier evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, September 21, 2012.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Or Kashti

School principals received instructions in the past few days to prepare for the Annual Day of Appreciation for those Wounded in Israel’s Wars and in Terrorist Attacks. However, the program drew criticism from some educators, with one Tel Aviv high school principal accusing organizers of taking a “fascistic approach” to the issue.

The first annual day of appreciation will take place on December 9. Educational institutions were called on to mark the day with discussions in the classes and various ceremonies, from first grade through ninth. Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman (Habayit Hayehudi) is in charge of the event in cooperation with the ministry’s Torah Culture Department and Zehut - Centers for Deepening the Jewish Identity.

'My brother is a hero'

The schools were told they were invited to “include all the students in the day of appreciation, doing so with lesson plans and activities built especially for the day.” There are also proposals for the discussions for the various ages: Under the title “My brother is a hero,” the proposed discussion in first and second grades will revolve around 10-year-old Noam and his big brother, who is recovering from an injury, “who together learn the significance of sacrifice, giving and heroism on behalf of the people and the country.” Grades three and four will learn about a girl who finds herself in a rehabilitation hospital surrounded by wounded soldiers, whom her grandmother is caring for. Fifth and sixth grades can meet with a basketball team of disabled IDF veterans and learn that the “principles of dedication, joint destiny and giving meet us on the battlefield, on the basketball court and in life in general.” Eighth and ninth grades can learn that “the story of heroism and the injury of Ronny” has caused his brother to understand what is heroism, steadfastness and strength.

Other activities proposed for elementary schools and junior high schools include a school-wide production of a huge sign of thanks made up of military-related items; meetings with wounded IDF soldiers and victims of terror attacks; and a visit to the sports, recreation and rehabilitation centers for wounded veterans (Beit Halochem) to hear their personal stories and how they deal with life after their injuries.

The cabinet approved the annual appreciation day in July of this year. The official part of the day includes two events, one in the Knesset and another led by the president. “The education system and youth movements will hold educational and informational activities on the issue, including meetings between pupils and those wounded in Israel’s wars and in terrorist attacks,” states the cabinet decision.

The lesson plans and activities were prepared by Zehut, which represents some 30 nonprofit organizations that work in 700 elementary and secondary schools around the country. The Education Ministry’s Torah Culture Department supervises these activities. The funding comes from the department’s budget, which is 89 million shekels in 2014. The IDF Disabled Veterans Organization is also participating in the programs as is the Terror Victims Association.

Wortzman wrote in a letter to principals two weeks ago: “This gratitude toward the injured and disabled must be emphasized and reinforced. It is a moral and educational activity of the highest level to focus the students’ eyes and hearts and to see the suffering and struggle of the injured – and to thank them for their contribution – with their bodies – to the defense of Israel, the revival and independence of the country.

Tel Aviv principal: 'Fascistic'

“IDF soldiers and victims of terror attacks are people worthy of every aid from the country, in order to allow them to live with dignity and to integrate the best way possible into society,” said Ram Cohen, principal of Natan Alterman Tichonet High School in Tel Aviv. “Nonetheless, I do not believe that this day is offered to honor the wounded, but is intended to blind us from the deadlock and the lack of initiative of the political leadership. Given the lack of courage for a solution and vision, they are selling impassioned and nationalistic goods. This is a fascistic approach that comes to educate the youth to rise up to the level of holiness, death, bereavement and the injured, who were willing to sacrifice their lives,” said Cohen.

The principal of another high school from the center of the country, who asked not to be identified, said: “There is no dispute that we need to honor the wounded, but it is not clear to me why we need to start already in first grade to teach about ‘sacrifice and heroism on behalf of the people and the country,’ or to introduce the battlefield into discussions in fifth grade. I don’t think the role of the educational system is to prepare the next generation of fighters, but the opposite: To try to expose the children to other viewpoints,” she said.

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