Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Higher Learning

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 11 November 2005.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Art, science, and music. Enviornmental Studies... Road Safety... Torah? All of these are part of the standard public school education in Israel. Anywhere else in the world, I would likely object to the inclusion of bible study in the curriculum. But here, I find it surprisingly satisfying that my children are going to spend 11 years studying the Tanach.

Israeli students begin their biblical studies in second grade. The children participate in a marvelous ceremony known as Kabbalat Torah - receiving the Torah. The kids sing a few songs, the teachers and rabbi make speeches, the parents take lots of photos, and everyone has fun. At the end of the ceremony, each child receives a decoratively-covered textbook containing the book of Genesis and a bag of candy. After all, the study of Torah is a sweet thing.

Though this all may sound pretty simple, it is a special moment, for kids and their parents. Just this morning I saw a friend and her husband, on their way to their third such ceremony. She told me, "Each one is different, and each one is special. I am very excited!"

One result of this course of study is that Israelis know whole parts of the bible by heart. In casual conversation they may use direct quotations, or cite certain stories as examples that prove their point. The Tanach has become a part of the national language, even amongst secular Israelis. It's not something they forget over time, either - even if they cease studying upon high school graduation.

During the school year, there are local Torah Competitions, whose purpose is to test students' knowledge. And every Independence Day, the International Torah Competition is broadcast on television, live from Jerusalem. Everyone tunes in, both to watch and to try to beat the contestants to the correct answer.

I suppose it's pretty odd that this touches me so. I'm not a religious person, and there are other subjects I feel are more vital to my children's future success in life. But it is such a very Israeli thing, this inclusion of Torah in the school program. Like the star of David on our flag, it is a symbol and reminder that this is, indeed, the Jewish State. It was for things such as this that I moved here.

(c)Amy Samin

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