On November 2018, 28 Year 10 students explored Israel together, participating in activities that reflected the unique diversity that is Masada College, but which they discovered is also the reality of Israel.
When David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the Jewish State in 1948 many of the religious groups living on the land became a part of the new state. Arab Christians and Muslims, Jews and later Bahai and Druzim all make up the religious groups represented in the population of Israel. Our students too reflected that diversity; Israeli Jews, Australian Jews, Christians, students of Palestinian Christian descent and Chinese students left Sydney International Airport only to thoroughly perplex the EL AL security in Bangkok! This group was not one they were expecting from a Jewish Day School on the leafy North Shore of Sydney.
As we made our way through Yad Vashem, the culmination of the Year 10 Holocaust Studies, our students realised that when the world allows a genocide on the scale of the Holocaust, other genocides can and will follow. When anti-Semitism becomes the way societies express their fear of others, soon bigotry, homophobia, sexism and racism become the norm. But, as they wandered through the “Avenue of the Righteous Amongst the Nations” they learned that human goodness, dignity and respect for all life is universal and all of us have the capacity to stand up against hate if we dig deep and find the courage to do so.
In the alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem our students heard the sounds of the muezzin’s call to prayer while church bells rang and the sounds of prayer rose from the Kotel. They saw imams, priests and ultra-Orthodox Jews garbed in traditional clothing standing next to Jews, Muslims and Christians dressed in ripped jeans and t-shirts. In this dynamic mix of people, secular and religious blend easily in the Israeli landscape. Many people are not strictly religious or secular, yet co-exist. However, they also saw and heard of the tensions that run high in some neighbourhoods when religious observance or way of life is perceived to be threatened. In short, they saw the diversity and complexity which is human nature. Our students began their journey to grapple with the reality with which we, as adults, still struggle – people are multi-faceted and seldom fit into neat categories. We live in a world in which it is assumed that if one is so-called “right wing” on one political issue, one is “right wing” on all issues. We have lost the art of bipartisanship and nuanced response. With all its challenges this complexity is evident in Israel.
Our final activity was a graffiti tour of the Florentine neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. Nowhere was the diversity of thought, political allegiances and culture more apparent. In Australia we are accustomed to the idea of multiculturalism. We are a nation of diverse food, language, culture and religious affiliations. However, we encounter frequent incidents of racial violence and religious intolerance. As educators and policy makers we fail to teach our students the value of multiculturalism lies in the celebration of difference and pride in one’s religious or cultural heritage. Multiculturalism is often confused with “sameness”. Israel’s constant vigilance and internal debates over what constitutes democracy and the enshrining of the rights of all Israelis – Arab Muslim, Christian or Jew, is a lesson for Australia and our own school community. At Masada we pride ourselves on our diversity while maintaining our Jewish ethos.
During their trip our students noted parallels between the challenges faced by Israel and Masada in protecting the identities of all minorities within a Jewish society or school ethos. They also saw that if coexistence is possible within a country like Israel, it is possible here at Masada.
It demands conscious effort, respect and understanding.