Cult of Death

The memory of the dead must not be turned into a defining element of national identity.

A new Education Ministry program - details of which are reported by Or Kashti in today's Haaretz English edition - that would have Israeli junior high and high school students adopt memorial sites and soldiers' graves, is flawed and unnecessary. It is certainly appropriate for schools to teach students about exemplary figures who gave their lives for their country and about acts of heroism on the battlefield, but there is no need in this context to send students to tend gravesites.

The Israeli education system has trouble imparting sufficient knowledge to its students in many subjects. Perhaps the heritage of heroism and sacrifice in battle is one of them, but it is doubtful that it is an essential topic. Battlefield heritage should be taught first and foremost in the Israel Defense Forces. Schools should concentrate on imparting knowledge and values, both national and universal. Adoration of the dead, heroic and exalted as they may have been, is a death cult and not the heritage of life.

grave - Tomer Appelbaum - May 8 2011
Tomer Appelbaum

The memory of those who have given their lives should be cherished and perpetuated and honored on Memorial Day. The rest of the year should be devoted to other educational goals. The memory of the dead must not be turned into a defining element of national identity, as the advocates of the program, including the Yad Labanim soldiers' memorial organization, propose.

Neither should the militaristic element of the program be ignored. The educational system already suffers from the undue and dangerous intrusion of the army. Depicting Israel (and the Jewish people ) as the eternal victim, and particularly the only victim, is not an appropriate message.

This program, which Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar is to approve, did not take shape in a vacuum. It is part of Sa'ar's initiative to reinforce "national values" education, suggesting a new trend - an effort by the state educational system to instill lessons of nationalism and militarism in the students at the expense of civil and humanist education.

The education minister would do well to quickly shelve the gravesite adoption program and devote all his energies and the resources of his ministry to more essential tasks.