Bringing Zionist Education from Israel to the U.S.
A student reflects on watching UPHEAVAL in Israel
Looking around at my surroundings, smelling the aroma of Israeli cuisine, seeing people from all backgrounds in Judaism, and hearing blasts of lyrics from upbeat Israeli music, I began to reflect on the past few months of my life. As I was sitting in First Station in Jerusalem, Tachana Rishona, writing my final paper for my History of Zionism course, I realized that living in Israel for the past four and a half months gave me a new perspective on the country and Jewish history as a whole.
I had the privilege of participating in a semester abroad in Israel along with 11 other students as part of Yeshiva University. I had the unique opportunity of traveling the country, experiencing the culture, learning Hebrew through Ulpan, and building friendships. At the same time, I was able to complete credits towards my undergraduate degree under the leadership of Mrs. Stephanie Strauss, Rabbanit Shani Taragin, and Rabbi Josh and Margot Botwinick.
Each week, we would learn about the history of Zionism from Professor Gil Troy. Professor Troy introduced us to the leaders of Zionism that helped build the State of Israel. He took us through an all-encompassing and intriguing journey that shaped the place that we call home today. Through learning about the Zionist leaders, builders, and shakers, I was able to understand and put into perspective the hurdles that the Jewish people went through in order to create a country where Jews can freely live in and flourish today.
As part of our course, we had the special chance to watch Upheaval. This documentary about Menachem Begin honors his legacy, by first introducing who Begin was and where he came from, and then telling the story of his incredible life. Menachem Begin was an incredible hero in Israeli history. From surviving the Holocaust, to becoming the seventh Prime Minister of Israel in 1977, Begin leaves a trail of rich history that deserves both attention and admiration. Begin teaches us endless lessons about leadership, Israel, and the Jewish people as a whole. At a time where anti-Semitism is on the rise, Begin reminds us to remain strong and be proud of who we are, despite the constant threats we face. Watching the film while sitting in Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but think of how much more there is to do for the Jewish world today. Many students like myself are searching for ways to make an impact in the world. Especially when it comes to Zionism, there is so much that we have not learned enough about. When Rob Schwartz, the Executive Producer of Upheaval, asked our cohort the question: “If you were approached by an anti-Zionist student on campus, do you think you would be able to defend yourself and provide the proper knowledge of the history of Zionism?” only two students raised their hand. It is astonishing that as young adults we are not educated enough about the things that really matter.
It is crucial to educate our generation of young adults about the history of Zionism and essential Jewish history in order for the Jewish world to move forward. Thinking back to the “Day of Hate”, on February 25th, where groups of radical movements together called for a day to protest against Jews, it is scary to think that a country such as the United States of America, which is supposed to be a safe haven for the Jews, is transitioning to a place where we are not only hated, but, now, unwanted. The Holocaust did not happen overnight. A series of events led up to this terrible time in history, including anti-Semitic verbal propaganda, exclusion and censorship. Anti-Jewish violence began on a small scale but kept building up and eventually ended in the mass destruction of six million Jews. It is important to remember that words are powerful and hateful words are very damaging. The fact that the “Day of Hate” could occur in 2023 is another testament to why we must stand up against anti-Semitism. At Columbia, NYU, and Brooklyn College, Jewish students “report a hostile and anti-Semitic environment when their identity or Zionist beliefs are expressed.” In the 2022 “Stop Antisemitism” report, these universities received an “F” grade for their failure to confront anti-Semitism and protect their Jewish students. We need to have our eyes wide open to the fact that this is happening in America, a country that was once a safe haven for us as a nation.
It’s now time to continue to bring Upheaval, along with more Zionist education, to the United States, starting on college campuses.
Looking back to when I was writing my final paper for the History of Zionism course in Jerusalem, in a former train station that has been renovated into a beautiful outdoor market complete with shops and restaurants, it is apparent that our history is not over. With strong foundations from Zionist leaders such as Menachem Begin, our work is just beginning and it is incumbent on our generation to be the next movers and shakers of the Zionist journey.
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