Thursday, December 30, 2010

Judaism or Democracy: What Would You Choose?

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter Judaic Director of Recruiting and Judaic Studies Instructor

In the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, signed on the eve of Israel's War of Independence, the founders of the State tiptoed around a fundamental paradox. Their attempt to evade this glaring issue, probably because they could see no ready solution to the problem, has been the root of many, if not most of the major debates in Israel and across the Jewish world.
It's worthwhile to spend time studying the document in its entirety, but I'll focus on two small sections for now.
השואה שנתחוללה על עם ישראל בזמן האחרון, בה הוכרעו לטבח מיליונים יהודים באירופה, הוכיחה מחדש בעליל את ההכרח בפתרון בעיית העם היהודי מחוסר המולדת והעצמאות על-ידי חידוש המדינה היהודית בארץ-ישראל, אשר תפתח לרווחה את שערי המולדת לכל יהודי ותעניק לעם היהודי מעמד של אומה שוות-זכויות בתוך משפחת העמים.
The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.
Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.
I need to make a small but critical point here: there's a problem with the translation in the text. I didn't translate here. The Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did. Notice the section that I've highlighted in bold and red: "the problem of its homelessness", which is a paraphrasing of the words, בעיית העם היהודי. While technically correct, it's missing the critical nuance of the language that the framers clearly intended. When we translate the words בעיית העם היהודי literally, we find that this phrase means "the problem of the Jewish nation." This is clearly a reference to the "Jewish Problem" articulated by Nazi Germany. See also here. As we all well know, the Nazis came up with a rather ingenious solution to the problem. I see this minor translation (or the lack of nuance) as critical, because it highlights how strong a role the Holocaust played in the creation of the State of Israel, not only in the minds of the members of the international community, but also in the minds of the founders of the Jewish State.
With this is mind, we can begin to get a sense of the urgency of creating a Jewish State. Jews were slaughtered by the millions, with nowhere to run for refuge. The founders of the State declared openly that this would never happen again. Israel would stand ready to accept any Jew running from persecution. It would be a haven for Jews fleeing from the rampages of antisemitism. It would do so, by definition, by creating itself as a Jewish State: by the Jews, and for the Jews.
But then, later on in the document, the framers make another important statement:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
In other words, Israel would be a democracy, granting full rights to all of its citizens. Sounds great. But there's only problem. How do you ensure that the State remains Jewish if it truly adheres to the principles of democracy fully? If you grant "complete equality" to all citizens, what do you do if a minority grows to the point that it threatens to overtake the Jewish minority?
Let's leave the territories of out the equation. What do you do when you see secular Israelis fleeing the country, while the Israeli Arab population explodes? Would the State of Israel still be a Jewish State if its Arab majority voted for an Arab Prime Minister? How then do you guarantee that the State remains both Jewish, and a democracy?
In a word, you can't.
Until now, we've been avoiding this internal contradiction. We haven't had to confront the truth: a Jewish State and true democratic values might not be completely compatible. Something has to give.
So you've got to choose. Which are you willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to risk Israel's status as a Jewish State for the sake of the principles of democracy, equality and fairness, hallowed and sacred and important values? Or, will you sacrifice that equality for all to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish country?
That's the choice. Which would you choose?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Education Certification Course for Paramedical Professionals

By Dr. Avia Gutman
Chair, Department of Special Education

Orot Israel College became the first religious college in Israel's history to offer a course in continuing education for professional working in fields related to paramedical therapies.
The program began in October with more than twenty students who hold bachelor's degrees – and some even master's degrees – in the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and the creative therapies (art, movement, music, drama, and psychodrama). Successful completion of the course will qualify the participants for a special education teacher's license in the school system.
The course will teach the theoretical principles and practical aspects of special education, in order to help promote the careers of paraprofessional staff already working within the education system. In addition, Orot's religious outlook adds special value to the program by providing a spiritual and religious perspective on special education to complement the therapeutic training.
For example, instructors often insert examples from Tanach and stories from Talmudic sources to illustrate how tradition teaches us to relate to children with special needs.
The continuing education course was designed according to the Ministry of Education requirements in coordination with the ministry's Special Education Division for those seeking to advance their careers in the education system. The course offers the best lecturers in an interdisciplinary approach combining special education with the therapeutic professions. The curriculum includes:
• Therapeutic intervention with children of special needs (learning disabilities, autism, mental retardation, etc.)
• Lesson plans in special education
• Learning environment design
• Working with parents
• Dealing with discipline problems
Students who complete the course will receive a certificate from the Orot Israel College of Education, recognized by the Ministry of Education for credit toward achieving a teacher's license, tenure or career advancement in the educational system.
Orot is extremely proud of this exciting new program, which furthers its mission to train qualified and dedicated educators devoted to the values of Torah and the Land of Israel, ready to develop the next generation of Israel's youth.

Training Better Teachers with Technology

New on the Rehovot Campus: Virtual Fieldwork Instruction

By Nathan Fried and Adiel Brodman
Orot Israel College, Rechovot Campus

Of the many challenges administrators faced in helping students complete their training, the most common obstacle was distance. Student teachers found positions in schools quite far from the college campus – most often in or near their home town – and these student teachers found themselves having the travel often up to four hours at their own expense each week in order to participate in a 2-hour seminar at the college. Thus, they were tempted to ignore the seminar requirement and save themselves precious time and money, while gaining an additional day of work per week.
Fieldwork instructors at the Rehovot campus put their heads together with the Distance Learning Unit's staff and came up with a novel solution for student teachers in the periphery – a virtual fieldwork instruction seminar. The students no longer have to spend hours commuting to the Rehovot campus to meet with their fieldwork supervisor. Armed with the tools of advanced computer networking, the fieldwork seminar comes to their computer anytime, anyplace.

The final year of academic training in the teaching profession is traditionally a year of field work for the student teacher. The year is comprised of three components:
1. Work as a classroom teacher (of at least 1/3 position) in a recognized school
2. On-site supervision from an experienced teacher from the school staff
3. Participation in a 56-hour fieldwork seminar at the college
While all three components are of equal importance, it is imperative that they be coordinated to maximize the value of the fieldwork experience during the student's first teaching year.

Since the Ministry of Education and the college see the fieldwork experience as an integral part of the professional training process, a solution had to we found for the well-meaning student teachers who found it too difficult to attend the seminars. It should be noted that this problem could lead to the delay of receiving one's teaching certificate and any further professional specialization certification as well, especially for elementary school teachers in the "Ofek Chadash" (New Horizon) framework.

To solve this problem, Orot administration established an Internet communication framework that interfaces the student teachers and their seminar instructor via a virtual platform. About 20 participants were chosen (with their agreement) according to their distance from the Rehovot campus. Using the HighLearn computer software application as an Internet platform, the Distant Learning Unit at the Rehovot campus set up a virtual seminar classroom with each of the participants.

How does it work? The semester is divided into sections of 10 workdays, with each section assigned to one student. During each 10-day period one student is expected to post an actual dilemma from his experience in the classroom for feedback from the other students. The chat room discussion that follows examines the problem and alternative solutions offered by the group. The student is expected to answer each comment posted by the group members, thus sharpening his didactic judgment. The seminar instructor monitors the discussion, posts links to salient academic papers and carries on a private email dialogue with the student offering insight and supervision. The student is then expected to produce a term paper based on what was learned in the process of the group discussion on his chosen dilemma.

Orot staff sees this program as an important step in improving teacher training, especially in light of the positive initial reactions to the innovative new system. While a complete evaluation will be conducted at the end of the year, Orot sees this new program as another important tool in the training of Israel's future leaders.

In the Wake of the Independence War Fighters: A Campus Wide Tiyyul

By Dr. Yossi Spanier
Chair, Department of Eretz Yisrael Studies

Orot's first campus-wide tiyyul - required of all Orot students to instill in them a love for the Land of Israel - concentrated on the story of Jerusalem in the War of Independence, with emphasis on the route into the city. This year's topic on which Orot focuses - "הנני שלחני" ("Here I am. Send me"), which emphasizes contribution to society and volunteering for the country, received a special meaning by learning about the contributions of the fighters on their way to Jerusalem.
Guided by students of Orot's Department of Eretz Yisrael Studies, who prepared intensely over the three weeks leading up to the trip, Orot's student body learned first-hand about the challenges that Jerusalem's 100,000 faced during the city's siege and how the Palmach and other fighters risked their lives in order to save the city from hunger.
Orot's student guides also prepared a theoretical research in the library as well as aids in the pedagogical center to clarify the subject matter. Students appreciated their considerable investment, excellent guidance and mastery of both the material and the field as they utilized a variety of sources and training methods,
The field trip included a visit to the "Masrek" nature reserve, where we climbed to the ridge of the convoys with its stunning view on the Sha'ar Ha'Gay and on the main road to Jerusalem (Route 1). Only when looking at this angle from the top of the ridge can one understand the importance of the main artery of Jerusalem then and today. Students reconstructed the events that took place at the beginning of the Independence War along the various stations, some of which were positions from the war.
The preparations for the field trip also included a preliminary lecture given by Yehuda Ziv, a Palmach fighter who shared with us his experiences the way he felt them as a fighter in those days. To listen to Mr. Ziv's talk to the students (in Hebrew) click here.
A tour in the center of our developing country reminds us how difficult it was at the beginning and that the generation of the Independence War who fought for us gave us the independence from which we enjoy to this day.
Yasher Koach to the students of the Eretz Yisrael Studies Department and to the teachers Dr. Yitzhak Sapir and Naama Bindiger whose considerable investment yielded an interesting and enjoyable tour.