Mika, my 13-year-old daughter, came home with a report card that sums up her academic achievements in the first half of seventh grade. In her comments, the homeroom teacher wrote: “You are an intelligent girl, you are diligent and hard-working in your studies, you are active in the student council.” The grades are also impressive: 92 in science, 87 in math, 90 in English, 87 in Arabic and 95 in art. But the grade of which I’m most proud as a father is actually in the subject that she failed.
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Yes, for the first time since starting school, Mika received a failing grade, and the person who gave it to her was none other than Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
The Culture of the Jewish People was added to the curriculum when Bennett became the minister of education. Its purpose, according to the ministry’s website, is “connecting secondary-school students to their Jewish identity.”
As part of the course requirements, Mika was assigned to compose new prayers that would be appropriate to add to the siddur, the Jewish prayer book.
Mika chose to adapt the prayer for the welfare of Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and decided to make God a woman: “May She, who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, bless the soldiers of the IDF.” She explained her choice by saying that if God were a woman, She would not mobilize the soldiers in the first place, and even if she were to mobilize them, a mother’s worry is not like that of a father, who takes pride in his son going to war.
The second prayer she chose to adapt was one of the seven blessings of the Jewish wedding ceremony, changing it to make it appropriate for the marriage of two men: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who created joy and happiness, groom and groom ... who gladdens the groom with the groom.”
She printed out her project, made a binding for it out of denim and wrote the word “Siddur” on the cover, which she decorated with a blue Star of David.
Two weeks after Mika submitted her assignment, it was returned to her with a failing grade of 55. Mika had not expect to receive a grade of 100, and she herself found a few errors in her work, but the equivalent of an F seemed odd to her, even after comparing grades with classmates. She went to the teacher and asked her for an explanation.
“It’s disrespectful to submit such a project,” the teacher told her, saying that she was not even prepared to look at the prayers that Mika submitted, and as a result she did not receive a grade for them.
What Mika, who after all is only 13, does not yet understand is that “connecting secondary-school students to their Jewish identity” actually means connecting secondary-school students to the Jewish identity of Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and MK Bezalel Smotrich. They are the ones who will determine her Jewish identity for her. Judaism as she would like to study and talk about it, just like the questions whose answers she hopes to receive, are irrelevant. Moreover, they are considered “disrespectful.”
Mika decided to keep her failing grade rather than redo her project, which left me feeling proud and optimistic. Mika, at the bottom of your report card you will find five important words: “Keep up the good work.”