A thin green line between education and advocacy

A thin green line between education and advocacy

J Street wants educational maps to show the Green Line.
J Street wants educational maps to show the Green Line.

Jewish communal institutions and schools in Pittsburgh will soon be approached by representatives of J Street to ensure that their educational maps of Israel depict the so-called Green Line — the armistice line between Israel and her neighbors at the conclusion of the country’s first war in 1949 — which J Street members believe forms the basis of a two-state solution, according to Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh.

Many refer to the line around the West Bank as Israel’s internationally-recognized border prior to 1967’s Six Day War. But even in 1949, both Israel and Arab countries recognized the impermanence of the border, subject to a settlement that included permanent peace and security.

The Pittsburgh initiative is part of a nationwide project launched last spring.

“We plan to challenge Jewish communal institutions to remember the physical and symbolic significance of the Green Line,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, at its fifth annual conference last March in Washington, D.C., when the maps initiative was first launched.

By approaching institutions about the Israel maps they are using, J Street aims to focus attention on the former armistice line and start a conversation about the maps, according to Bernstein.

Another aspect of the initiative, she said, has to do with “transparency.”

“We need to have transparency in our funding of Jewish institutions,” Bernstein said. “The maps initiative will make sure the Green Line is on the maps of Israel, and to raise the issue that there is a difference between sovereign Israel and the West Bank territories. J Street U groups have been meeting with [Jewish] federation leaders to determine if their funding is going over the Green Line.”

So far, there is no J Street U group in Pittsburgh, although Bernstein said there are students in town who are interested in creating one.

The maps initiative is a key component of “the transparency issue,” according to Bernstein. “We need to talk about the significance of the Green Line. It’s an armistice line, and there are lots of politics around it.”

The institutions J Street Pittsburgh will be contacting beginning in 2016 will include after-school religious programs at synagogues, day schools and local camps, Bernstein said.

“I think we can start with these,” she said. “We have our work cut out for us.”

It seems to be a touchy topic. Several local after-school Judaics programs contacted by The Chronicle were reluctant to reveal whether the maps they were using in their respective institutions depicted the Green Line. Others did not respond at all to inquiries about their maps.

Both of Pittsburgh’s Orthodox day schools confirmed they are currently using maps that do not show the Green Line.

“We use maps that do not use the Green Line,” said Sam Weinberg, principal and education director of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh. “We have maps of biblical Israel and of modern Israel that we use in our Jewish history classes. Those maps show the ’48, ’56, and ’67 boundaries. We have maps with the Golan and without the Golan. But if we were putting the State of Israel on a sweatshirt or a sign for Yom Ha’atzmaut, they would have no Green Line, because these are the current boundaries of Israel.”

Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh uses “biblical maps that predate the issue with the Green Line,” according to Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld, Yeshiva Schools’ director of development.

At Community Day School, Jackie Goldblum, who teaches Israel studies, uses “current-day maps,” she said.

“The maps show the Green Line,” she said. “It is important to show students exactly what’s happening, and to be up front with them. They need to know the history and to understand it. They don’t know the whole story if you don’t show them the Green Line.”

Children at CDS are “given the source material, and then are asked to make their own decisions,” said Avi Baran Munro, head of school. “We are equipping them with facts, and not opinions.”

At Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha’s religious school, Israel maps “are not an issue,” said Karen Morris, religious school principal.

“I wouldn’t consider not teaching the Green Line. … I would not withhold the Green Line from my students. I think they need to know what’s going on.”

TOL*OLS uses “many different maps of Israel,” depending on the lesson being taught, Morris continued. “It’s not a black and white thing at our school. We would be fine with the J Street map, but we wouldn’t exclusively use that map.”

Students at TOL*OLS “should learn to love Israel, our culture, our people and what we share in common,” Morris said. “As the students get into fifth grade they learn to identify cities in Israel, and major sites, and they become aware of the various borders of Israel since the partition plan in 1947. When these students become older and get into high school, they can learn more about the present conflict and I hope would be presented with all sides.”

Students at J-JEP, the joint Jewish education program of Beth Shalom Congregation and Rodef Shalom Congregation, are exposed both to maps that show the Green Line and to those that do not, according to J-JEP’s director, Liron Lipinsky.

“When we do teach about Israel’s geography and history, and not just culture, we actually use various different maps and show the history of the borders and such,” Lipinsky said. “We believe in providing informed, well-rounded and unbiased education.”

At J Line, a supplemental Judaics school for teens located at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the maps used are not intended to endorse any particular political position, according to Carolyn Gerecht, director of teen learning at the JCC.

While not specifically answering if the maps used at J Line show the Green Line, Gerecht wrote in an email: “All the materials that we use at J Line are intended for educational purposes. Our maps represent the challenges of two peoples trying to live as neighbors. The materials do not promote any one political outcome over another.”

Temple Emanuel of South Hills’ Torah Center, School of Jewish Studies, does not yet use maps with the Green Line, but is not opposed to using them for educational purposes, according to Rabbi Jessica Locketz, Temple Emanuel’s educator.

“Until recently we were using the maps distributed by the Federation iConnect initiative,” she said. “They did not have the Green Line on them. We are currently looking for new maps to buy. They will most likely have the Green Line on them. It makes sense to us to purchase maps that reflect the current reality of the region.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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