Schooling Seculars in Honey and Halakhah

Believe it or not, Israelis need Jewish education.

Print this page Print this page

Becoming Israeli was something Maor put much effort into during his first decade in the country. Living then at the newly-established Reform Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava Desert, Maor refused to speak English and listened non-stop to Israeli music. After a stint as general secretary of the kibbutz, he was sent on "shlihoot" [education fieldwork]--not abroad to work with Diaspora youth, but to Tel Aviv, to work with the Israeli Reform youth movement.

Lack of Openness

Maor says he was struck by the huge gap between his own experience as a non-Orthodox Diaspora Jew and that of the Israeli youth he was working with. Most, he says, had never participated in a Havdalah (concluding Shabbat) service, and considering Yom Kippur as "a day for personal reflection even though one might not fast or spend the day in synagogue" was unheard of. They had little or no knowledge of what Maor considered to be "the most basic of Jewish texts" or the "humanist messages" in the Jewish holidays. Though they had celebrated the festivals within a school context, he says many never got past that "kindergarten experience of a holiday, so it remained superficial in its meaning."

At first, the youth he worked with "did not know what I was talking about," Maor admits. "The idea of believing in God or a God concept in basic Israeli street terms implies a set of behavior, which if you don't observe, you're considered a hypocrite. What struck me was their lack of openness. I don't want it to sound missionary, but I felt like they were missing something."

Affirming this notion, Maor says the youth found programs he and the other staff ran to be "really meaningful. The feedback was tremendous."

After his three years with the youth movement, Maor, together with his wife Nicky, left the kibbutz, in order to pursue a career in educating secular Israelis in Judaism. His next post---which he held for some six years--involved teaching and facilitating programs and fund-raising at Hamidrasha Center for Study and Fellowship in Oranim, which deals with the Jewish identity and culture of secular Israelis. Then he led and developed programs and strategies, as well as fund-raised, for the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture in Ramat Efal.

Current educational projects at Bina include ongoing Jewish study for young adults, a cross-cultural exchange between immigrants from the former Soviet Union and veteran Israelis, and a Jewish pluralism and social action project in low-income neighborhoods in South Tel Aviv.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Charlotte Halle

Charlotte Halle is editor of the English edition of Haaretz.