Mitchell Bard is the author/​editor of 22 books includ­ing Israel Mat­ters: Under­stand the Past — Look to the Future and The Arab Lob­by: The Invis­i­ble Alliance That Under­mines Amer­i­ca’s Inter­ests in the Mid­dle EastHe is blog­ging here today for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I had an all too famil­iar con­ver­sa­tion with some­one the oth­er day who was talk­ing about a com­mu­ni­ty Jew­ish high school that offered only one course on Israel, in 12th grade, that was option­al. Sev­er­al years ago, when my kids were in day school, I had been shocked to learn that I was pay­ing a for­tune for a Jew­ish edu­ca­tion that I took for grant­ed includ­edcours­es on Israel but had only one poor­ly taught elec­tive course on Zion­ism offered the semes­ter before grad­u­a­tion. After that epiphany, I learned that this was com­mon in many day schools. And par­ents won­der why Jew­ish stu­dents are ill-equipped to respond to Israel’s detrac­tors in college.

The truth is the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty has been asleep at the wheel for decades. Since at least the 1960s, peo­ple have writ­ten about the lack of prepa­ra­tion of our young peo­ple and yet lit­tle has been done since then to edu­cate them. In the last ten years, espe­cial­ly, the com­mu­ni­ty has thrown a lot of mon­ey into Israel advo­ca­cy train­ing for col­lege stu­dents. This has been very impor­tant; how­ev­er, it is also very late to first intro­duce young Jews to the Aleph-Bet of Israeli his­to­ry, pol­i­tics and cul­ture.

It is cer­tain­ly not the kids’ fault that they are igno­rant. Where would they get the nec­es­sary back­ground if not in day schools? They cer­tain­ly don’t get it in pub­lic schools or after school Hebrew schools that bare­ly have the time to teach basic Judaism.

I recent­ly attend­ed a meet­ing of edu­ca­tors and donors that seemed to, at long last, rec­og­nize the cri­sis in Israel edu­ca­tion. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, there is a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of opin­ions as to how to address the prob­lem. Still, a few areas of con­sen­sus were clear. These included:

• The need to inte­grate Israel edu­ca­tion in an age-appro­pri­ate man­ner from kinder­garten through high school.

• That Jew­ish sum­mer camps offer oppor­tu­ni­ties to teach Israel to large num­bers of stu­dents, espe­cial­ly those who do not attend day schools.

• The impor­tance of train­ing teach­ers to teach about Israel.

Peo­ple have cer­tain­ly talked about teach­ing Israel for a long time and a lot of cur­ric­u­la have been devel­oped over the years. Shock­ing­ly, how­ev­er, no text­books were avail­able to teach basic Israeli his­to­ry to high school stu­dents. A typ­i­cal course would be in a loose-leaf binder and con­tain a hodge­podge of infor­ma­tion, arti­cles and maps. The Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion of Los Ange­les used some­thing like this in a unique pro­gram they devel­oped for edu­cat­ing stu­dents in Catholic schools about Israel. The orga­niz­ers of this Holy Land Democ­ra­cy Project rec­og­nized that some­thing more was need­ed and asked me to write a book that would cov­er what every­one should know about Israel.

Hav­ing writ­ten the Com­plete Idiot’s Guide to Mid­dle East Con­flict, I had expe­ri­ence in explain­ing the com­plex­i­ties of the his­to­ry and pol­i­tics of Israel for a lay audi­ence. My goal with this new book was to help read­ers get to bet­ter know Israel and Israelis, to teach them the essen­tial his­to­ry, lay out some of the dilem­mas the nation faces and to ensure they have the infor­ma­tion they need to feel knowl­edge­able. Of course, one book can­not pro­vide all the answers. The Amer­i­can-Israeli Coop­er­a­tive Enter­prise pub­lish­es the bookMyths and Facts to address more spe­cif­ic issues that fre­quent­ly arise on col­lege cam­pus­es such as attacks on Zion­ism, cri­tiques of Israeli secu­ri­ty mea­sures and canards about Israel’s treat­ment of the Pales­tini­ans.

The new book, Israel Mat­ters: Under­stand the Past – Look to the Future (Behrman House), does pro­vide an overview and con­text that enables read­ers to under­stand how his­to­ry, pol­i­tics, reli­gion, geog­ra­phy and psy­chol­o­gy influ­ence Israelis and the poli­cies of their gov­ern­ment. Through pro­files of impor­tant fig­ures in Israeli his­to­ry, and descrip­tions of typ­i­cal young Israelis, I hope that read­ers will also get a bet­ter sense of the peo­ple who live in Israel.

One of the prob­lems with Israel edu­ca­tion has been to present an idyl­lic por­tray­al of the Jew­ish State. Stu­dents today are too sophis­ti­cat­ed to see Israel through rose-col­ored glass­es. They are sen­si­tive to what appears to them to be pro­pa­gan­da. They are cor­rect in rec­og­niz­ing that Israel is a com­plex place that aspires to be a light unto the nations but is not per­fect. Part of our chal­lenge as edu­ca­tors is to give them the back­ground they need to wres­tle with Israel, to see it, warts and all, and to reach their own conclusions.

Giv­en the prop­er edu­ca­tion, I am con­fi­dent that young Jews will become pas­sion­ate Zion­ists who will know how to respond to the detrac­tors inside and out­side col­lege class­rooms and, ulti­mate­ly, become active mem­bers of the pro-Israel community.

Mitchell Bard is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of The Amer­i­can-Israeli Coop­er­a­tive Enter­prise.

Mitchell Bard is the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can-Israeli Coop­er­a­tive Enter­prise (AICE) and one of the lead­ing author­i­ties on U.S.-Middle East pol­i­cy. He is the cre­ator and direc­tor of the Jew­ish Vir­tu­al Library (www​.Jew​ishVir​tu​al​Li​brary​.org), the world’s most com­pre­hen­sive online ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish his­to­ry and cul­ture. He has writ­ten and edit­ed 22 books.