When I was in 11th grade, a group of Israeli kids came to visit our public school. They discussed their lives, touched on Israeli politics and spoke frankly about different aspects of Israeli society, their impending draft into the Israeli army and their complex relationship with a complex society. The visit was an intensely meaningful one for me and helped cement my decision to make aliyah.
Various Jewish and Israeli institutions, including the Jewish Agency, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry and several private organizations continue to organize such visits but the young ambassadors can't reach every school.
Last week JETS used distance learning to "bring" a young man named Ze'evi , to the classroom of Yeshivat Kadima where he spoke about his military service in a combat unit.
Ze'evi spoke frankly about the difficulties of serving in sensitive areas, specifically serving in the Judea and Sameria region. The students have heard, and debated the different issues involved, but the real-time visit with Ze'evi helped them to see the concerns from the perspective of someone who had actually served in the region.
JETS has created an opportunity for the school to run a
simultaneous boys and girls class, with the same
marterial and the same teacher, but in an environment
in which the students are separated by sex
Ze'evi discussed subjects that the JETS-Yeshivat Kadima Contemporary Jewish Issues class has been exploring during the past year, including the dilemma of whether Israel should negotiate with terrorist organizations in order to free captives.
The kids had many questions. They asked about the military operations in which Ze'evi participated, the qualifications that combat soldiers must have, how soldiers request a specific unit, Hesder yeshivahs, etc.
The students were particularly interested in hearing Ze'evi's view of the media reports that they've read criticizing the Israeli army, specifically the charges that the army indiscriminately hurts and kills Palestinians. Ze'evi responded from the standpoint of a former soldier, explaining that soldiers frequently find themselves in dangerous situations but, per army rules, aren't able to do what they would have liked to do to protect themselves and their fellow soldiers. He summarized the soldiers' frustrations at the situation and noted that no other army in the world goes out of its way to protect civilians in the way that the Israeli army does.
The students had many more questions which demonstrated the depth of their curiosity about the possibility of aliyah, as well as their evolving personal connections to Israel. One young student asked Ze'evi to summarize the most meaningful experience that he had as a soldier. Ze'evi gave a few examples relating to the camaraderie of the soldiers, but noted that one of the most moving moments of his army experience occurred when he visited the kotel with his unit and was asked to pose with an elderly American tourist. As the man, a Holocaust survivor, stood with 20 young soldiers he began to cry, and, Ze'evi, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, cried with him.