Author Angered After School Turns Book on Jerusalem Diversity Into 'Judeocentric' Lesson

Shoham Smith calls the worksheet the 'sodomization' of her story's original pluralistic message

An illustration from Shoam Smith's 2008 children's book “Yomtiyul Yerushalayim” (“Jerusalem Field Trip”).
Shoham Smith

The author of a children's book with a pluralistic message about religious diversity in Jerusalem has expressed anger about the way a Tel Aviv school turned it into a "Judeocentric" lesson.

Writer Shoham Smith published the Hebrew-language book “Yomtiyul Yerushalayim” (“Jerusalem Field Trip”) in 2008. Her book tells the story of Daniel, who joins a group of foreign tourists for whom Daniel’s grandmother, Yizraela, is their tour guide. The group is also accompanied by a lion, which is the city's municipal symbol.

The book is full of pluralistic references, including illustrations depicting synagogues, churches and mosques. The tour visits the (Muslim) Dome of the Rock after a visit to the Western Wall, immediately after which there is a reference to “Jerusalem and the Christian religion.”

However, a worksheet for second-graders at a secular Tel Aviv school concentrated only on the Kotel visit.

The worksheet was apparently used as part of classroom activity to mark Jerusalem Day, which this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when Israel conquered the eastern part of the city.

The sites holy to Islam and Christianity are absent from the worksheet, as is the Knesset and a number of historical facts.

The Hebrew term “Elokim,” which some observant Jews use in contexts other than prayer in referring to God, appears in the worksheet rather than the general Hebrew term “Elohim.” The Jerusalem lion, who in the original story puts a note in the Western Wall, is replaced by Daniel’s brother, Ronen, about whom Yizraela says it is important that he too “sees the holy places in Jerusalem.”

“The text published in my name is the sodomization of my book,” said Smith. “The Judeocentric adaptation has reduced an entire book, and a complete and balanced tour, to one episode of a visit to the Western Wall. In the text I wrote, there is information, and literary and humanistic values. It has been rewritten and used for a purpose that is clearly contrary to my values.”

The worksheet, Smith added, distorted the story, turning it into PR material for Jerusalem “as the Jewish holy city.” She said it was disturbing to think that teachers used the worksheet based on her book “without a warning light going off.”

She called on secular parents to “realize they have to stand guard and review their children’s study materials.”

In April, it was announced that the Education Ministry had convened a team to look into claims that religious content is finding its way into textbooks in the country’s nonreligious schools.

The move follows an examination of textbooks by parents from the Secular Forum, a group whose website states its demand that the secular school system defend itself from what it calls “the widespread religious radicalization” of Israeli society and schools.

State schools in Israel, as opposed to state religious and ultra-Orthodox schools, teach a largely secular curriculum, with some attention to Jewish religious heritage – particularly as students approach their bar and bat mitzvahs. Bible study is also an integral part of the state school curriculum for its literary and historical content.