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How to help Israel: share its stories – with kids.


Does your Judaism include Israel?

Are you sharing it with your kids?  If not, you should.

I’ve been Jewish for a while, but I’ll honestly admit: for most my life, being Jewish didn’t include Israel, at least, not all that much.  Israel was more of a presence in the background than a daily thing for me.

If you don’t live here, you probably have a million reasons not to spend much time thinking about Israel:

  • it’s so far away
  • its history is too complex to think about
  • its politics are too convoluted to have an opinion about
  • it’s a difficult and dangerous place to live
  • it’s boring
  • Hebrew is a hard language to learn
  • it’s full of religious people
  • it’s full of non-religious / anti-religious people
  • it has nothing to do with me

All of the above – I’ve learned, now that I live here – are both true and untrue, by the way, which is part of what makes this place most fascinating.

If you have kids, your attitudes about Israel will rub off.  But even if you’re still wrestling with it yourself, they can still receive a good, solid Israel education.  I sent my kids to a religious Zionist day school, which helped take care of some of the issues in  my own list.

Choosing books that share the realities of Israel and its history in an honest way is also essential. 

Books that are well-written and realistic but also written with love.  I don’t think books for Jewish kids should be neutral on Israel – I think they should embrace it, with enthusiasm, even as they face some of its problems head-on (how this is handled depends on the kids’ age, of course).

Before we moved here, as a homeschooler, I was doing a lot of writing for other kids and parents learning together at home.   That changed when we made aliyah.  I wasn’t homeschooling anymore… and my writing changed focus, rather dramatically. 

Shifted towards Israel, almost against my will.  I didn’t even realize I was doing it, for a while. 

But looking at all I’ve written since we arrived, it seems that the Land has chosen to tell me her stories.  I feel lucky to be able to write them down.  I feel honoured to have the opportunity to walk around listening.  (Okay, yeah, that sounds way more airy-fairy than I usually get.  I like to think I’m usually a pragmatic and down to earth person.  But if I’m handed a great story, who am I to argue???)

Here are some of the stories I’ve created about Israel so far (in no particular order).  If you have kids, or teach kids, I’d love it if you shared some with them.

image Seven Special Gifts The Seven Species of the Land of Israel – come to life!  A short book, perfect for Sukkot, Shavuot, or introducing the connection between the Torah and the Land of Israel.  Ages 4-8. 
Naomi Shemer:  Teaching Israel to Sing
“The First Lady of Israeli song,” in English for kids for the very first time.  Written as a labour of love for my daughter Naomi (yes, she’s named after Naomi Shemer).  Ages 6-12.
Elijah and the Priests of Baal
Based on events in the book of Melachim / Kings, this Biblical story is richly illustrated with intense paintings – and it took place in the area of my hometown of modern-day Haifa.  (More about why I wrote this story here.)  Ages 8-10 and up.
Captain Steve:  A story of coming home
Meet an unsung non-Jewish hero of immigration in Israel’s early years… and one of the families for whom Israel became home.  Based on true events, with paintings based on historical photos.  Ages 6-8 and up.
Now You Know:  Israel for Kids
Nonfiction, for slightly older kids.  Not just the facts, this book – for Jews and non-Jews – tries to share what’s special and wonderful about Israel while at the same time taking an honest kids-eye look at some of its problems.  (The “oys and the joys,” so to speak.)  Ages 8-12 and up.
Ezra’s Aliyah
Ezra’s family is moving… to Israel!  I wrote this book to help kids understand and cope with their own family’s aliyah.  Watch a video interview about this book, and all about aliyah with kids.  Ages 4-8 (ish).

(for a full list of all my books, click here)

If you haven’t listened to Israel’s stories before, you should. 

Ever noticed how Biblical stories that were either deathly dull or babyish when you read them as a kid (every school kid thinks they know all about the battle of David and Goliath, or the story of Purim), but it turns out when you’re an adult that there’s so much more complexity and depth to the story?

Israel is like that.  Whatever you’ve heard, there so much more to its stories.  That’s what I’m trying to get across when I write.

I still have days, by the way, where I feel all of the above and more.  Believe it or not, even here, just north of Haifa, Israel can feel very, very far away, boring and irrelevant.

On days like that, I love that I can turn to a story to remind me of what’s so special about this place.

I’d love to hear what stories are on YOUR Israel bookshelf, by the way!  Let me know in the Comments.

(photo credit:  San Jose Library via flickr)

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

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