An alternative viewpoint on Milken’s relationship to Israel

Daniel Kort

Contributing Writer

My homework is fairly routine, with one exception. Every time I open up my planner to cross off an assignment and move one step closer to freedom, I must roll my eyes. I’m fortunate enough to attend a school that provides its students with detailed planners, but every time I open mine, I find myself angrily staring at page three: “We value each member of our pluralistic community while we foster a deep connection to Israel, a lifelong dedication to the Jewish people and a passionate commitment to the service of humanity and the perfection of God’s world.” An excerpt of my school’s mission statement, these contradictory words diminish my pride as a student at Milken Community High School.

I’ve grown up in a Jewish home, attending High Holiday services at a Reform synagogue, Temple Beth Hillel. My parents, though not the most observant, wanted to send my two siblings and me to Jewish schools. Growing up in a world of Jewish dogma, I engaged in my own small-scale rebellion. Ever since the age of 11, I’ve identified as an atheist. I attribute this quality to my brother, Joel, who once outlined for me all of the similarities between the Bible and fiction. However, I have not let that hinder my own “Jewish identity.” I embody two of the most crucial elements of Judaism – education and community service – therefore, I satisfy a large component of my school’s mission statement, but that is the extent of my “Jewish identity.”

My frustration with Milken’s hypocrisy began in my ninth grade Jewish studies class, when it was mandated that I pray thanking God for the study of Torah prior to each session. I never open my mouth during the prayer, and my teachers very confidently questioned my silence and urged further participation. This relic has tortured me every other day throughout high school.

As a sophomore, I couldn’t wait to attend one of Milken’s most popular programs, the Tiferet Israel Fellowship (TIF) at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. As soon as I walked into the course that guides the program’s curriculum, Core, I felt reassured by my instructor’s statement that the class would be unbiased towards the history of the Jews. But bias was inevitable. Learning about Israeli-Palestinian conflicts from an Orthodox Zionist is like learning about the Civil War from Abraham Lincoln. No – it was like learning about the Cold War while in Soviet Russia: Propaganda, bias, even brainwashing. At the program’s end, a group called the David Project was invited to present about how to verbally defend Israel. To this day, I regret not having confronted that day’s presenter who urged participants to bend the truth and spin the facts.

This pressure to advocate continued into junior year when the same program required all participants to engage in Israel advocacy seminars. Who put the administration under the impression that I wanted to be an Israel advocate? Perhaps it was my school’s mission statement that has stereotyped my school as a group of unconditional Israel supporters and AIPAC-goers. This expectation highly detracts from Jewish innovation as conformity to a political concept in a religious frame of mind and has become highly commonplace. Just a few days ago, I received the same email as the rest of Milken’s upperclassmen that presented the Israel political situation as one that does not “allow our people and our land the equal rights and respect which is long overdue.” Perhaps not utilizing biases and avoiding first-person plural possessive pronouns would be more effective in fostering a pluralistic community.

It is important to understand that my goals in writing this article are not to argue about the existence of a god or the politics of Israel. Rather, I seek to reveal the minority demographic at Milken. I often find myself in rooms of people to whom it would be difficult to bring up something like this. I urge my classmates to voice their opinions, regardless of their points of view, and speak up.

I, for one, hope to be a part of a pluralistic community. My school assures me that I already am, but I strongly feel that I am not because I will never “foster a deep connection to Israel” or “perfect God’s world.” I came to Milken to participate in this ideal “pluralistic community,” but almost four years later, Milken has fallen short of my high expectations.

Featured image by Alexi Rosenfeld.