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A Question of Education

It takes courage to educate children to a historical and national consciousness that refuses to close its eyes and knows how to link the siege to the Holocaust, the state and war • An education that in time will exact a price and give in return

Moriah Kor | 21/12/23

I used to not know that we fast on the 10th of Tevet.

At the school where I studied in Tel Aviv, the 10th of Tevet was actually marked on the calendar as an important date, there was even a ceremony in the auditorium: we celebrated [Chaim Nachman] Bialik’s birthday. To this day, this detail helps me in trivia games. As I grew older, I came full circle when I also encountered the date of his death: 21 Tammuz.

But despite the love for the national poet, the 10th of Tevet is an important date for other reasons and with mostly other significance. The first is to remember that on the 10th of Tevet the siege of Jerusalem began, a siege that heralded a terrible year and a half, and which eventually led to the fall of the city walls, fierce battles and the destruction of the Temple. And the 10th of Tevet also has a second function – the “General Kaddish Day” in memory of the deceased and murdered whose burial place is unknown and in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Each of the functions of this day is sad and heart-wrenching.

Morning in the Ulpana

To mark the day, I was invited to speak to the girls of Ohr Torah Stone’s Ulpanat Neveh Channah in Gush Etzion. The coordinator said that the 12th graders had prepared a ceremony, which would be followed immediately by my lecture. I arrived early and was privileged to witness a most moving and meaningful ceremony. A timeline fashioned from black poster-board adorned the stage: 588 BC – the year the siege began, 1939 – the year World War II began, 1948 – the establishment of the state, and 2023 – the year the Simchat Torah massacre took place and the war began – a war whose name has not yet been decided, a discussion which is distracting from the fact that its goals have not really been articulated. On the wall was a phrase we are used to singing on Seder night: “And this is what has stood by our forefathers and us… And the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” A sentence that refers to God’s promise to save us from the troubles that frequently come upon the Jews, each time from a different place.

Grades 9-12 in the packed auditorium and a staff that doesn’t have to worry about disciplinary problems sang verses composed by Gush Etzion resident Maj. (res.) Yossi Hershkovitz two days before he fell in Gaza, read passages they wrote on their own, and connected the existential challenges from 2000 years ago to those from 80 years ago, 75 years ago and two months ago. There was truth and faith in this ritual as clear as good and evil. Truth and faith without complexity, the kind you encounter in public discourse mainly in articles from the field without commentary, containing only the spirit of the soldiers who are imbued with a sense of mission. It takes a lot of courage to educate children to a historical and national consciousness that refuses to close its eyes, a consciousness that knows how to link the siege to the Holocaust, the state and war. But this consciousness is necessary in order to sustain the State of Israel here. This consciousness is necessary in order to leave work, livelihood, home and children and go to Gaza. The state must have such children and such educational institutions in order to exist. Parents who choose to educate such an engaged and conscious generation know that when the time comes, their education will come to fruition, and they will be liable to pay a heavy price. It’s a very big responsibility.

Afternoon at the Yeshiva

Not far away, in Efrat, a conversation took place at noon with Zvika Mor, whose son, Eitan, is kidnapped in Gaza. Zvika was invited to strengthen grades 9-12 at Ohr Torah Stones Neveh Shmuel Yeshiva High School, which lost seven of its graduates in battle in the Gaza Strip.

Zvika is an educator himself at another yeshiva, the high school yeshiva in Kiryat Arba, which also lost seven of its graduates in the current war. He begins by sharing simple things about Eitan and tells us that he is a good boy who rents an apartment in Nachlaot with roommates, and how when he comes home for Shabbat, the first thing he does is to send his parents for a nap, checks what they haven’t had time to cook yet and handles everything needed until the time of candle lighting. Zvika told how he made fun of his seven brothers, and that on one of the last Shabbatot he was at home, after the meal, as they all sat around nibbling on nuts, a conversation broke out about the [Gilad] Shalit deal. There was a lively discussion and Eitan said: “If I am ever taken captive when on reserve duty, I do not want them to release terrorists in exchange for me and endanger other people.”

Zvika shares with the audience in the Neveh Shmuel beit midrash the amazing detail told by an eyewitness: how Eitan his son, together with Elyakim Libman, were working the Nova party as security guards. Using an ATV they had found in the field even before the attack, they evacuated wounded all morning long. At noon, they found the bodies of two murdered women and decided to evacuate them to a nearby pit, lest the terrorists find them. The eyewitness overheard a conversation between the two men and IDF forces on the ground, in which Libman and Moore asked to “evacuate the girls so that their bodies aren’t taken into Gaza like [Hadar] Goldin and [Oron] Shaul [in 2014].” They managed to hide the first body, but when they tried to prevent the abduction of the second body, they were kidnapped themselves.

“Every fighter who left home and left a family behind metaphorically picked up a big sign that read: ‘I love the people and the country more than myself.’ Otherwise, why did he go out to fight? After all, it’s dangerous in battle. Sometimes it is difficult for outsiders to understand, after decades of individualistic Western upbringing, how warriors think about the whole. I, too, personally receive messages: ‘You gave up on your son, you don’t love your son,'” Zvika says, continuing to hug his son’s large picture, as he has been doing since the beginning of the meeting. “But that’s exactly what my son would want me to say. I know exactly what he’s thinking. How do I know? I educated him.

“The families of the hostages are not the most miserable in the world,” Zvika says. “There are families of the murdered, families of the fallen, families of the wounded, we are all in a difficult reality. If we think about the common good and not just our own good, we can fight properly and win.”

Read the original (Hebrew) article on the Yisrael Hayom website

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