Israel seminar vs. core class

Rachel Chistyakov

Voices Editor

Two years ago, I went on a trip that changed my life. Every student who participates on the Tiferet Israel Fellowship says this phrase and many people might think it is completely overused at Milken. But it is completely inescapable; I spent four months in a country that is very close to my family and my heart, and I studied with an amazing teacher who has impacted my life forever. The lessons I learned on this trip are ones that I will never forget. Unfortunately, that is the problem.

As I sit in my Israel Seminar class this semester, I learn about the Arab population in Israel pre-1948. I learn about the Balfour Declaration, the Holocaust and the Palestinian plea to the UN for recognized statehood. We debate on haughty topics, like the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish connection to the land. As I read over these documents and listen to these conversations, I involuntarily mumble, “I know.” Whenever a Tiferet student answers a question in my seminar class, I feel other students staring at them in an annoyed manner. Whenever a non-Tiferet student asks a question, the Tiferet students look at them with a look that reads, “How could you not know the answer to that?” Every time I enter this class, I feel as if I am entering a battle zone.

The unavoidable fact is that half of my grade already knows the information we are reading about in our Israel Seminar classes. The painful part is that we mentally relate these lessons to the life-changing trips we took all over Israel and the teachers who gave us the information. It is not only the Tiferet students who feel this uncomfortable sentiment during their Israel Seminar class; a handful of students already had these same lessons on Ramah Seminar in Poland and Israel. In reality, more than half of the senior class participated on programs about Israel education and the good majority already knows this information.

This is in no way a valid reason to end the seminar, and I am in no way suggesting that the faculty take that extreme. However, I cannot help but feel pain and longing every time I go to my class. All I can envision is Danny Stein, my Core teacher, standing at the front of our classroom, reading the Jerusalem Post every single morning, following with a lecture on ancient Israel. And the problem is that there is no way that I can replace that memory with Rabbi Sara Zacharia leading a discussion on the Gaza Strip, no matter how invigorating the discussion is. This is not fair for other students who have not learned this information and truly want to receive all that they can from this class. If half of the class is not completely invested in the material, how can any meaningful discussions happen? Will this class become just another “Milken project” that students are expected to fulfill in order to graduate? That is not fair for any student taking the class or any faculty member teaching the class.

As Tiferet continues each year, there will inevitably be a problem when those students become seniors. The faculty and students at Milken need to find a solution to the “Tiferet problem” that seems to be causing distress to many seniors. A solution offered in the past suggests a possible Core class for the sophomores who stay at Milken. Why shouldn’t these sophomores receive the same type of education that their counterparts in Israel are receiving? Why do they have to wait until senior year to experience a similar class? Perhaps the administration should consider the Israel Seminar idea for sophomore year instead of senior year. Then, no matter what path the sophomores decide to go on, they will receive an education on the history of Israel and will not miss out on a great experience. I think it is only fair for current and future seniors to experience the Israel Seminar curriculum when they are sophomores; perhaps this class could be during their history class or be an elective, like health during freshmen year. Then, seniors could keep their free period during their second semester in twelfth grade or even take another elective.

My experience on Tiferet was very memorable and irreplaceable, and all sophomores should be able to learn these valuable lessons. As Jews, we need to know this information in order to defend our homeland and also learn to criticize some things about Israel that we might not find 100% correct. At Milken, we should not wait until our last semester of high school to receive this extraordinary experience, nor should we repeat this curriculum once already taught.