The founders of The King David School carefully devised a school emblem of King David’s harp sitting in a bed of wattle. This was designed to attest to the importance of our striving to nurture a strong Jewish identity and connection with Israel and an abiding allegiance to Australia.
While developing pride in being Australian seems second nature to our students, our school has a responsibility to reinforce this by highlighting Australia’s significant events and achievements. For this reason we have decided to add a Canberra trip for our Year 6 students next year to allow them to deepen their understanding of Australia’s history and democratic institutions. This, together with our Year 8 Jabiru trip to explore Australia’s First Nations’ culture and history, forms part of the holistic educational experience that our students truly gain from.
Over the last month, our students have also benefited from the presence of Israeli Madrichim (leaders) who have been in residence at school. They help our students to deepen their knowledge of Israel, Israeli culture, ideas, history, politics and complexities. They will also help prepare our Year 10 students for their experience on the four-week Yesh trip to Israel that will occur at the end of the year.
Last week I was privileged to hear from Professor Gil Troy, a leading American historian, and Zionist scholar who also visited our school. Professor Troy challenged the traditional channels of teaching about Israel. He suggested that he had seen two main approaches to teaching about Zionism which were both problematic in their own ways. One was Israel as a “land of milk and honey” or in a contemporary context – drip irrigation and cherry tomatoes. He suggested that overemphasising Israel’s unique and spectacular achievements can set students up for disillusionment when confronted with Israel’s imperfections. Secondly, he suggested that another common approach was to teach an Israel based on its conflicts. He suggested that this can create a negative attitude.
Rather, Professor Troy argues that Israel should be normalised and should thus become a part of a student’s personal identity. Students should appreciate that they have agency in the thousands year old connection between our people and the land. Through engaging fantastic Madrichim, rich programming and peak Israel experiences, I believe that this is being well established at King David.
Last week I also had the opportunity to attend the Senior Kindergarten’s Grandparents and Special Friends’ Shabbatot. These are incredibly joyous and uplifting events but cannot be characterised as “special” because our students are simply showing their special guests what they do in school every week. As we attend these events we gain an appreciation of the uncomplicated love and passion that our youngest students have in learning and presenting their Jewish knowledge and practice. The songs, skits and laughs all act to augment our students’ burgeoning Jewish identities. Their loved ones’ presence in these moments fosters an understanding that this is the stuff that matters.
What I have presented in this column is but a snapshot of the myriad ways our school tries to foment a strong sense of identity amongst our students. Our hope is that this will help our students to understand who they are and how they fit in to the world. We believe that this sense of connection and a deepening knowledge allows them to develop their unique and individual personalities from a basis of firm communal roots.