Realizing a Dream: Hopes and Challenges - Lesson Plan for Adults
This lesson plan is part of a larger Go & Learn guide entitled “A Young American Jew in Israel, 1947-1948. ”
- Letter from Jerusalem, November 30, 1947
- Letter from Haifa Bay, November 29, 1948
- Letter from Jerusalem, January 8, 1948
- Letter from Jerusalem, December 7, 1947
Begin by asking participants what they know about the creation of the State of Israel. Depending on the age of the participants, they may have some first hand memories of Israel's founding. Ask them to share what they remember, or, if their parents or relatives have memories that they have shared with them, what do they recall from those stories?
Give participants a basic timeline of the history of the founding of the state, touching on questions such as: who populated the land of Israel at the time and what was the demographic distribution of population? What role did the Holocaust play in the establishment of the State of Israel? What was the role of the British Mandate, the Balfour Declaration, and lastly, the U.N. Partition vote on November 29, 1947 in the founding of the State? What was the result of the Partition Plan (e.g. war, Arab refugees, British pull-out, declaration of State with different borders than those proposed by the Partition Plan)? You may want to consider the politics surrounding the displacement of Arab refugees (estimated by Israeli historian Benny Morris to be between 600,000-760,000). You may want to consult the following websites for more information:
- Wikipedia Article about the British Mandate
- Wikipedia Article about the Balfour Declaration of 1917
- For information about the U.N. Partition Plan
- Full text of the U.N. resolution approving partition from the Avalon Project at Yale Law School
- Information on the Partition from the English Gateway of the Knesset
You may also want to listen to a radio broadcast of the U.N. vote and celebration in Tel Aviv (note that Porath was writing from Jerusalem).
Read or Listen to the Letters from Zippy
Share with the participants Zipporah "Zippy" Porath's biographical information and her two letters (from Nov. 30, 1947 and Nov. 29, 1948). You can have them read these, or for a more dramatic effect, tape someone in advance (preferably a young person, 18-22 years old) reading them with emotion—an aspiring actor, perhaps. Play these aloud, interrupting only to explain that the second letter is written one year later.
The following sections provide two program options. Use one or both as you see fit.
Battles of Gender in the Midst of a Greater Battle
Zippy's experiences capture the paradox of gender in Israel. Zionist ideology claimed gender equality, and indeed some women found themselves working in non-traditional roles. However, despite the fact that some women were fighting in combat, taking leadership roles, and working in the fields, true equality of the sexes was—and remains—elusive. Today, for example, women remain underrepresented in the leadership of both the army and the government. (For more, read this article about women in Israeli politics.)
Zippy's letters suggest some of the issues regarding the treatment and place of women in Israel at this time.
Read the letter dated Jan. 8, 1948. Have participants read and analyze this letter for some of the gender issues Zippy herself was sensitive to. (For example: “As far as I can tell, women have an equal status with men in the Haganah—but they are still given low-level duties…”)
- Do you also believe that if the war were only against the British, the women would have had different duties assigned to them?
- What justification is used here for keeping the women behind the scenes, and what do you think of these justifications?
- What do you think of Zippy's “romance” with Yehudah – and about the nickname for his gun?
- Are there comments in the other two letters that also make you wonder about how it would have felt to be a woman at this time?
- Do you see parallels to the U.S. today?
Idealizing the Struggle for a Dream
Many of your participants may have experienced a struggle for the attainment of a dream or against something they thought was wrong. People who came of age in the 1960s and 70s may have personal recollections of the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the Women's Movement, among others, while 1980s and 90s activists may recall protests in support of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry. All may have personal stories of efforts to get a school, organization, or cause off the ground.
One of the things we see in Zippy Porath's letters is a person entangled in the realization of a communal dream. While the dream may come true, the daily struggles, anxieties, and conflicts along the way may be forgotten. Porath's letters serve as a timely reminder of the difficulties inherent in building a new country.
Guide the participants through a close reading of the two featured letters (Nov. 30, 1947 and Nov. 29, 1948), which were introduced earlier in the lesson. What do you see that is evidence of not just the enthusiasm and spirit of the day but some of the difficulties that have already or will soon be facing Zippy and others? How does our contemporary perspective inform our reading of her letters? Is there anything not included in the letters that you would have expected to see?
Introduce the letter dated December 7, 1947. Only a week after the celebrations over the U.N. vote, Zippy's writing already conveys a very different feeling. If your group is large, feel free to break into smaller groups to promote conversation.
- What can we read between the lines of this letter? How is it different from the letter that was written one year later?
- How would you characterize Zippy's mood in this letter? What are her concerns? How does she characterize their morale?
- What are the challenges Zippy faces as a woman, as an American, as a Jew?
- Allow participants to share some of the challenges they've faced in the struggles they have been a part of. Were these issues that they had not thought about in a while? If so, why?
- How do we balance the romanticizing of a struggle for ideals with the realities of that struggle? You can bring in current struggles as examples—fighting against the war in Iraq, or for rights of Palestinians, working for a particular candidate in a political campaign, or anything you think is relevant to your population.
Conclusion: A Conversation About the Meaning of the Zionist Dream Today
- We've discussed how the struggles to idealize a dream can be romanticized. How do we “unromanticize” and grapple with the ongoing process of trying to realize a dream? Today, 60 years after Zippy wrote her letters, in what ways do you think Israel has realized the Zionist dream and it what ways has it fallen short?
- What are we celebrating when we celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)? How do we celebrate and also address the unfinished aspects of Zionism?
- In commemorating Israel's Independence Day, what is our responsibility to consider other perspectives on the events of 1948? (You may want to bring for discussion the following article from Ha'aretz about the recent decision of the Jewish National Fund to add to the signs in its parks information about the Palestinian villages that were once located there: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/950689.html)
- What do you think the relationship of American Jews to Israel should be today?
- What do you think are the biggest issues in Israeli society today? (e.g. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the religious-secular divide, ethnic discrimination and racism, what it means for a Jewish state to be a democracy, etc.)
- What are your hopes for Israel in the next 60 years?
Activity idea: Have participants write letters describing their hopes and dreams for Israel and what they perceive as the challenges to be faced in realizing them.