Author Archives: Mitchell Bard

Waiting Too Long to Teach about Israel

I had an all too familiar conversation with someone the other day who was talking about a community Jewish high school that offered only one course on Israel, in 12th grade, that was optional. Several years ago, when my kids were in day school, I had been shocked to learn that I was paying a fortune for a Jewish education that I took for granted included

courses on Israel but had only one poorly taught elective course on Zionism offered the semester before graduation. After that epiphany, I learned that this was common in many day schools. And parents wonder why Jewish students are ill-equipped to respond to Israel’s detractors in college.

The truth is the Jewish community has been asleep at the wheel for decades. Since at least the 1960s, people have written about the lack of preparation of our young people and yet little has been done since then to educate them. In the last ten years, especially, the community has thrown a lot of money into Israel advocacy training for college students. This has been very important; however, it is also very late to first introduce young Jews to the Aleph-Bet of Israeli history, politics and culture.

It is certainly not the kids’ fault that they are ignorant. Where would they get the necessary background if not in day schools? They certainly don’t get it in public schools or after school Hebrew schools that barely have the time to teach basic Judaism.

I recently attended a meeting of educators and donors that seemed to, at long last, recognize the crisis in Israel education. Not surprisingly, there is a multiplicity of opinions as to how to address the problem. Still, a few areas of consensus were clear. These included:

• The need to integrate Israel education in an age-appropriate manner from kindergarten through high school.

• That Jewish summer camps offer opportunities to teach Israel to large numbers of students, especially those who do not attend day schools.

• The importance of training teachers to teach about Israel.

Yom Kippur War

Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Virtual Library.

 In 1971, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat raised the possibility of signing an agreement with Israel, provided that all the occupied territories were returned by the Israelis. No progress toward peace was made, however, so, the following year, Sadat said war was inevitable and he was prepared to sacrifice one million soldiers in the showdown with Israel. His threat did not materialize that year. 

Throughout 1972, and for much of 1973, Sadat threatened war unless the United States forced Israel to accept his interpretation of Resolution 242 [which the United Nations passed following the 1967 Six Day War]–total Israeli withdrawal from territories taken in 1967.

Simultaneously, the Egyptian leader carried on a diplomatic offensive among European and African states to win support for his cause. He appealed to the Soviets to bring pressure on the United States and to provide Egypt with more offensive weapons to cross the Suez Canal. The Soviet Union was more interested in maintaining the appearance of detente with the United States than in confrontation in the Middle East; therefore, it rejected Sadat’s demands. Sadat’s response was to abruptly expel approximately 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt.

In an April 1973 interview, Sadat again warned he would renew the war. But it was the same threat he had made in 1971 and 1972, and most observers remained skeptical.

The War Begins

On October 6, 1973–Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar–Egypt and Syria opened a coordinated surprise attack against Israel. The equivalent of the total forces of NATO in Europe were mobilized on Israel’s borders. On the Golan Heights, approximately 180 Israeli tanks faced an onslaught of 1,400 Syrian tanks. Along the Suez Canal, fewer than 500 Israeli defenders were attacked by 80,000 Egyptians.

At least nine Arab states, including four non-Middle Eastern nations, actively aided the Egyptian-Syrian war effort.

A few months before the Yom Kippur War, Iraq transferred a squadron of Hunter jets to Egypt. During the war, an Iraqi division of some 18,000 men and several hundred tanks was deployed in the central Golan and participated in the October 16 attack against Israeli positions. Iraqi MiGs began operating over the Golan Heights as early as October 8, the third day of the war.