In early January our class went on a siyur to Mt. Herzl, Israel’s official state cemetery. I have been to Mt. Herzl many times, both with my family and Young Judaea’s Machon, and had very defined expectations. What I remember from my past experiences is going to see the graves of pioneers, prime ministers and paratroopers. I remember discussing Herzl’s vision of a Jewish State to shelter us from European hatred, and feeling warm and fuzzy about the whole thing. I was quite surprised when Rabbi Rob, our teacher, began discussing Ahad Ha’am, the as-of-yet unfamiliar (to me) stalwart of Cultural Zionism. We talked about modern Israel’s cultural, political, and religious aspects, debating how the current state embodied Herzl’s vision, Ahad Ha’am’s vision, and things that neither had anticipated.
After our discussion, we headed to the Herzl museum, which I found more engaging, although it certainly generated some cognitive dissonance. Looking back on the other times I had been to this museum, I don’t think I ever really paid much attention. However, this time I looked at the exhibits critically and was surprised to find that I already knew much of what I heard and saw. I found myself thinking that the information had been oversimplified and had skipped over important nuances. What I found disappointing is that I couldn’t learn any more from the material. It was too watered down.
In our discussion afterwards, Rabbi Rob told us that the museum was targeted at Israeli high schoolers that don’t know much about Israel’s history. I found it odd that my classmates and I, who grew up in the diaspora, knew more about the history of Israel than those living here. It saddened me that they needed such a simplified narrative that only scratches the surface to learn about their history, even if the narrative is important. I realized that I need to look to other venues to deepen my knowledge. I guess my Jewish education worked.