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    A Belated Debt of Gratitude: A Rosh Hashanah Mashal

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    How vital to Israel’s long-range health was Hazony’s earlier campaign

    Often the consequences of our actions are not clear for many years, even decades. Take the one-man campaign that Dr. Yoram Hazony waged against the introduction of a new history textbook, A World of Changes, into the Israeli educational system in 2000.

    Hazony fought his battle at a time of low national morale in Israel. Daniel Pipes wrote ominously at the time in Commentary that despite Israel’s overwhelming military and economic superiority over her enemies, “Again and again, the record of history shows that victory goes not to the side with the greater firepower but to the side with greater determination.”

    Hazony understood that if young Israelis were systematically stripped of any pride in the long history of the Jewish People or of any belief in Israel’s national mission, the side with the greater determination would not be Israel.

    Hazony chose an American magazine, New Republic, which in those days was both serious and pro-Israel, to launch his attack on Israel’s Education Ministry, thus forcing the Ministry to respond.

    His method was to contrast the new textbook with the textbook it was supposed to replace and thereby expose its major flaw. In Hillel Halkin’s words: “Nowhere is the ninth-grader reminded that he belongs to the people that he is reading about, that he is flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood.”

    Taken as a whole, the proposed new textbook was a sustained effort to deny the Israeli student any pride in being a Jew or an Israeli. Further, the textbook consistently downplayed the enmity directed at the Jewish People. In place of three pages on Allied indifference to the fate of Europe’s Jews, the new textbook contented itself with a 1942 Allied proclamation that war criminals would be prosecuted after the Axis defeat.

    All paragraphs in Israel’s Declaration of Independence locating the state in the long history of the Jewish People were removed. Seventeen pages in the earlier textbook on the War of Independence were reduced to two paragraphs. In place of maps of seven attacking Arab armies were maps showing Arabs’ flight. Photographs of Jewish fighters or Jews under siege were replaced by one of a Palestinian refugee child. The implicit message: The main outcome of the War of Independence was not the creation of the State of Israel, but creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

    The Sinai campaign was attributed to Israeli bellicosity, and the account of the Six Day War omitted Nasser’s threats to throw the Jews into the Sea and closure of the Straits of Tiran. The famous photos of the jubilation upon reconquering the Old City and the Kotel were removed.

    ONLY TWENTY YEARS LATER, when the impact of the dramatic inroads of left-wing curricula into American elementary and high schools — including pro-Palestinian and pro-Islam modules — has become clear, can we fully assess how vital to Israel’s long-range health was Hazony’s earlier campaign.

    As Princeton Professor Robert George, one of the few with his finger in the dike to prevent a complete woke takeover of college and university campuses, told me last week: High school students arrive on campus today with very little need for indoctrination from “woke” professors; they’ve already been pretty thoroughly indoctrinated in high school.

    High schools across the United States are planning to introduce the New York Times “1619 Project,” which retells American history through the lens of slavery, and which has been thoroughly rebutted by American historians across the political spectrum.

    As with most frightening trends in America, the inroads into American education, often financed by left-wing family foundations, have gone furthest in California. Last year California’s legislature passed an ethnic studies bill for high schools. The state education department’s curriculum, however, proved too extreme even for the Democratic super-majority in Sacramento, and the legislation imposing it was withdrawn by the sponsor. Sample offering: “Scholars are often very critical of the system of capitalism as research has shown the Native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system.”

    But in the wake of Black Lives Matter’s ascendance, the state education department is back at it, and now California’s governor and legislature have climbed on board. The current model curriculum, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, urges teachers to introduce their students to systems of power, whether they be economic, like capitalism; or social, like patriarchy. Among the course outlines are some that seem to require student political activities, and among the suggested topics for students to address are: racism, LGBTQ rights, access to quality health care, and income inequality. Here’s an interesting paper topic: How did Jewish and Irish Americans gain racial privilege?

    Ultimately, a unanimous Knesset Education Committee rejected A World of Changes for use in Israeli schools. Now, in hindsight, we can see the full magnitude of the gratitude owed to Yoram Hazony for not allowing Israel to head down America’s path of alienating its youth from their country and people.

    A Rosh Hashanah Mashal

    Rav Yisrael Salanter (Iggeres 7) urges us to mine the world around us for guidance in our avodah for Elul. He gives as an example the great effort many are prepared to expend in order to increase their income even the slightest bit. Or to take another example, how much we would be prepared to expend for a cure if we were suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. We would even be prepared to spend a great deal on medications that offer no hope of cure, but provide some relief from pain.

    So why are we not prepared to make similar exertions in the spiritual realm? The answer, he suggests, is that we do not sufficiently value even small efforts, because we have convinced ourselves that they are worthless; we are too cut off from HaKadosh Baruch Hu for anything to be achieved by a small time set aside for learning or by some small improvement in a positive direction or refraining from negative temptation.

    But in reality even the smallest — i.e., the easiest — steps provide enormous benefit. The easier a mitzvah is to perform, the greater the punishment for failing to do so. Similarly, the smaller the temptation to sin, the greater the punishment for succumbing.

    In the year of the coronavirus, I doubt any of us will have difficulty finding in recent events spurs to heighten our preparations for Rosh Hashanah. The profound disorientation of the last six months has forced us all to reexamine our lives through new, more finely tuned lenses.

    But my personal Elul mashal has nothing to do with the coronavirus. Early in the month, an official-looking missive arrived in our mailbox. My natural inclination is to ignore such missives on the grounds that I won’t understand the Hebrew, and if I do, it’s likely bad news. And indeed that proved to be the case. The Israeli tax authorities were inviting us for a tête-à-tête ten days hence, and thoughtfully provided a list of documents we should bring.

    I will confess that the invitation sent me into a panic. I did not sleep at night wondering what the tax authorities might have found amiss in our returns. For ten days, I was, as they say, ois mensch.

    At an early morning minyan on the day of the appointment, however, it suddenly hit me that I had another hearing scheduled in less than three weeks, and that the consequences of that judgment should be of considerably more concern.

    In all likelihood, the audit was a routine matter; we had been randomly selected, and it would be over in five minutes. After all, they hadn’t asked for years of records. And our tax preparer had insisted that for the initial meeting, it would be sufficient for him to go.

    On the other hand, there could be no doubt that the Judgment coming up would be complete and searching — no questions like, “Why did you include 2019 and 2020 receipts in one receipt book?” And it would take place in front of the Judge before Whom nothing is hidden, with no possibility of sending someone else in my place as a representative.

    Suddenly, the fear of the tax authorities melted in front of the far greater fear of passing before HaKadosh Baruch Hu kivnei maron on Rosh Hashanah.

    Unquestionably, the invite from the tax office had proven a perfect Elul wake-up call. Now, if I can just hold on to the memory of the panic it engendered and multiply it many times over in order to reexamine all my deeds as closely as I studied every recent bank transaction.


    Yonoson Rosenblum
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