Teachers on the frontline
The year: 1913, ahead of World War I. A bitter fight is taking place in the Land of Israel. The Berlin-based directorship of the Ezra organization decides that science classes in a soon-to-be-opened high school in Haifa will be taught in German. The "language wars" have begun. Among the first to sign a letter of protest against the insult to the Hebrew language was my father and teacher, Professor Yosef Yoel Rivlin.
The teachers who resign over the issue have nowhere and no way to teach. They hold their training classes out in the city, on lawns and under trees. There, they establish the first Hebrew teachers seminary, headed by David Yellin. They teach Hebrew in Hebrew.
For my father, the moment the Hebrew teachers seminary was founded was a turning point. It was his deep commitment to the Hebrew language and his identify that increased his desire to build bridges to the neighboring Arab culture and identity. He learned Arabic fluently and busied himself building bridges between Hebrew and Arabic, between Judaism and Islam.
The year: 2014. The Hebrew school system is standing strong, but you, the teachers, sometimes feel like you're in a war, alone on the front. Each one of you leads a class of 40 energetic, opinionated children. Steadfastly and with a sense of purpose, you face recurring violence that bears the ugly face of incitement, and sometimes racism. You are fighting for values, for principles. You are fighting for our home and for our ability to live here together.
There are no enemies in your war. In your war, if not everyone wins, everyone loses. Your battle demands that you be a "protective edge" of tolerance and moderation, an excellent role model who proves that even in these difficult times we can and must behave differently -- listen to and respect each other. You have shouldered a heavy responsibility, and you have a difficult mission ahead. But not an impossible one.
Dear teacher, we are entrusting the Jewish people's most precious treasure to you: our future. We are placing in your capable hands the complicated mission of inculcating in our children a unique Israeli identity of their own while also preparing them for life in a shared civilian environment. We are hanging our hopes and dreams on you and on them.
You are spearheading the fight for the future and the identity of the Jewish, democratic state of Israel. As the educators of this wonderful, complex generation, I ask that you not compromise. It is possible to teach national pride and cultural identity alongside commitment to democracy and religious tolerance. It is possible to fight for Hebrew while learning Arabic fluently, and the opposite.
As the new school year opens, good luck with your teaching, but not only with teaching. May you plant your love of humanity in the soil of this land.
May your work be blessed and may you have a fruitful year.