Israel, My Love

It’s around eleven in the evening. My daughter has been sleeping peacefully for several hours. However, I’m still up, working on yet another freelance project. Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable playback from the morning news on the Radio Lev Hamedina and realize it’s getting late. The Toronto clock has hit past midnight.

Many of my friends wonder why I had decided to learn Hebrew or what on earth is the Kol Israel app doing on my cell phone. I’m not Jewish and have no plans of converting to Judaism. In fact, I’m perfectly happy with my Russian Orthodox heritage and plan on raising my kids this way. I simply find all things related to Israel, both ancient and modern, exciting.

I’ve been fascinated with Jewish/Israeli culture since thirteen and had even received a master’s degree in Ancient Israel. Now that I’m no longer in a grad school, I still keep on reading everything about the topic, from Bethsaida‘s annual field reports to books and articles written by Hershel Shanks. Most of my favorite music artists and talk shows are of Israeli origins. Some may find such fascination a bit strange, as Hebrew doesn’t have the same role in the popular culture as Spanish or French. Well, if a white person can enjoy Luis Armstrong’s jazz songs, there no reason why I can’t enjoy Boaz Sharabi’s ballads.

Before I continue, let me mention that Israel is VERY controversial. News, media, and differences in political opinions can easily turn a simple Mediterranean country into a hot topic. When discussing my last visit from three years ago with Pakistani coworkers over a cup of coffee, I wasn’t sure how to call the Golan Heights. Should I call the region Syria or Palestine? I thought to myself. I didn’t want to offend anyone. Many people, especially from the Eastern Hemisphere, don’t agree with the results of the Six Day War, and I fully respect that. Yet I can’t help myself but feel relieved that the world still has Banias, Katzrin, and Gamla secluded from the Syria’s conflict. Controversies aside, Israel is an amazing country for a variety of reasons.

#1 Israel makes a great tourist destination.

No matter what your interests are, you’ll always find something special to enjoy. Love nature? Try hiking in Ein Gedi or the Timna Valley Park. Are you an archaeology enthusiast? Consider signing up for an archaeologcal dig. Most digs are quite flexible with the duration of stay and can be easily fit into personal vacation plans. By becoming part of a dig, you’ll meet many interesting people from around the world and make an invaluable contribution to the archaeological research.  A thematic tour is another great option. Depending on your religious background and personal preferences, you can sign up for a Holy Land tour, which will focus heavily on sites from the New Testament, a Jewish heritage tour, which will include famous synagogues and historic centers, or even an ecological tour, which will mostly likely take place in the Arava or the Negev desert.  Even if you’re one of those overworked people, who want nothing more than spending an entire holiday on a beach, you can still benefit from a week-long getaway in Tel Aviv or Eilat. Both cities are famous for dining and nightlife, so rest assured you won’t get bored during your stay.

#2 Israel has an amazing entertainment scene.

Neither Sarit Hadad nor Miri Messika is topping the world charts. In fact, most people have no clue about who they are. However, it doesn’t mean these singers aren’t awesome.

Israeli music is quite diverse, as it bears influences of several cultures, including Eastern
European, Yemenite, Mediterranean, and, of course, British/ American. It’s not untypical to hear a rock song with Middle Eastern melody or a nostalgic ballad reminiscent of Russian music from the 90s. One can also hear Mediterranean songs infused with an addictive dance beat, clearly influenced by current trends in the music industry.

Israeli music scene is also very inclusive. Not all Israeli artists are of Jewish origins. Nasrin Kadri who had won a popular talent show two years ago is an Arab from Haifa, while Sharif, a famous mizrahi singer is Druze. Sameh Zakout (AKA Saz), who was born in an Arab town of Ramlah, was presented an opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and participate in the second season of Chai Be La La Land, a reality show that aimed at exposing Israeli singers to the international music. Let this be a mental note to those who believe in the “apartheid state” propaganda.

#3 Israel has made a great contribution to the world technology.

In spite of being relatively young (only 68 years), Israel has become one of the world leaders in science and technology. Many of its inventions, such as Intel, are being used all over the world. You can find the complete list of the technological inventions here.

#4 Israel is rich in history and culture.

This point needs no further explaining. The world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, the prehistoric megaliths from the north, and the
Greco-Roman temples from various sites across the
country are a product of thousands years of history. Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where archaeological research is actively encouraged by the government and where it’s possible to experience both Egypt and Mesopotamia in a relatively safe environment.

How Educators Can Incorporate Heritage Conservation into School Curricula

The first time I walked into my daughter’s playgroup, I saw a model of St. Peter’s Cathedral from Rome placed on one of the classroom’s shelves. Having walked around, I also noticed the model of St. Basil’s Cathedral from Moscow in another room along with models of a few other landmarks from around the world. These were obviously built by older kids, who attend math and history classes in the same school. Just as we were driving back home, the idea hit me.  Why don’t these students build a model of one of the Palmyra’s temples or the Northwest Palace from Nimrud? Then I thought, Why not make heritage conservation part of school curricula?

As I had mentioned in my other post, heritage destruction is one of the biggest tragedies of our age. It’s almost impossible to talk about Mesopotamia without mentioning the issue. With Syria’s Civil War getting out of control and political instability in other adjacent countries being present, the number of important heritage sites is diminishing rapidly. Neglect, illegal construction, militarization, as well as deliberate destruction—all of these contribute to the dwindling of Syria’s and Iraq’s cultural heritages.

The question is how do we reach out to the general public? After all, the biggest percentage of our population consists of non-scholars with little-to-no background in heritage conservation.  I believe there is no better place to start educating lay people about the topic than schools, where future generations are developing.

My experience with public education is somewhat limited. I had enrolled in a teachers’ college right after finishing my master’s program because that was what everyone with a humanities background was doing (assuming that a law school or a Ph.D. program wasn’t part of the agenda).  After barely surviving the first two weeks of the practicum, I quit. The program’s structure and the school noise simply weren’t for me. However, I’d learned a few things about education in Canada during that month and a half of coursework that had preceded the practicum.

  1. Ontario curriculum is big on social justice. As a teacher, or at least as a practicum student from a teachers’ college, you’ll be expected to incorporate social justice into pretty much everything, be it a geometry lesson or a science class. Which can often be next to impossible.
  2. In the ideal world, all subjects should be interrelated. Math, science, history, and even physical education—all have to have some form of connection. The fancy term for this idea is cross-curricular/interdisciplinary learning.

In Ontario, ancient civilizations are being taught in Grade 5 Social Studies class and later in Grade 11 and Grade 12 history courses. It would make sense to include recent events into the curriculum. Please note that I’m using the plural form in my title because I’m also referring to curricula of other provinces and states. I believe it should be a global effort.  By incorporating heritage destruction into their curricula, educators would not only link courses on ancient history with modern issues but also raise greater awareness about the problem. Some activities teachers could plan for their students include the following:

  • Have students construct a model of the Northwest Palace as a group project during the study of Mesopotamia in Grade 5 Social Studies class. This cross-curricular activity would help students to bridge connections between Match and Social Studies and develop teambuilding skills, as it would be done in a group. This project could be readjusted for older/younger groups.
  • Encourage high school students to obtain volunteer hours, which are mandatory in Ontario, by participating in one of the global initiatives against heritage destruction, such as the ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives or Project Mosul. In an exchange for their hours, students would gain valuable experience and obtain a letter of recommendation from one of the leaders in heritage conservation.
  • Invite archaeology professionals to schools to host special workshops on heritage conservation.
  • Organize discussion groups about the importance of fighting heritage destruction.

In spite of overwhelming presence of popular archaeology magazines and free information on the Internet, there is still a big gap between the scholarly world and the general public. In the times like these, it’s important for different communities to come together and collaborate. The more people become aware of the issue, the more empowered our society will become in dealing with the crisis.