American Jewish History Month Is Good, But an Israel Calendar Is Better
I applaud Jack Gottlieb’s call to do more to promote American Jewish Heritage Month; however, I would rather see our resources devoted to promoting Israel on a monthly basis. While it is certainly worth celebrating the history of Jews in America, the need for such self-promotion and celebration is secondary to the importance of fighting the delegitimization of Israel. We can do this by highlighting the American Jewish connection to Israel, and the values exemplified by the Jewish state.
BDS advocates and the media present the world with a steady drumbeat of negative news about Israel, which need to be countered by an even stronger drumbeat of positive information. Instead of the reactive mode that too many organizations have used to address the delegitimization threat, we need to be proactive.
By creating a calendar that focuses on a different aspect of Israeli history, society or culture each month, it will be possible for communities and campuses around the world to plan ahead — as Jack suggests — and create programming and unified messages that illustrate the virtues of Israel.
Programming need not be restricted to the month’s theme, but if students, federations, synagogues and JCCs knew, for example, that every January was Israel Diversity Month, they could prepare programs that highlight the various diverse communities in Israel. And they would do so knowing that Jews around the country were doing the same thing at the same time. If international organizations joined in, the focus on Israel could be global. Students at Berkeley, Cambridge and Heidelberg could all be presenting programs on the same theme each month.
Such a calendar would have multiple benefits. First, it would give the pro-Israel community a clear area of focus each month, along with lead time to plan for future celebrations. It would create opportunities for cooperation and collaboration across campuses, communities and countries. And each month’s theme would be rooted in a positive aspect of Israeli life. This does not mean that all programming and material would have to be uncritical, but it would allow Israel’s supporters to set the agenda.
Ideally, everyone could agree on 12 general themes related to Israel. They need not be static, however, if it seems that a particular month’s theme does not resonate or if some better idea is proposed. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) has created a calendar with related videos and suggestions for ways to highlight each month’s theme at IsraelCalendar.org. These are the themes that we have adopted:
January: Israel Diversity Month. A month focusing on various communities in Israel, and the role that minorities play in the state.
February: Israel-American Friendship Month. A month highlighting the history, depth and breadth of the US-Israeli relationship. Jews in other countries can substitute their nation’s history instead.
March: Israel Women’s History Month. A month celebrating the role of women in Israel.
April: Israel Environment Month. Earth Day is celebrated in April, and this is a good month to discuss various environmental issues in Israel, such as drip irrigation, desalination and solar energy, as well as the environmental challenges that Israel faces.
May: Israel Peace and Democracy Month. This month celebrates Israel’s independence, and highlights the history of Israel’s efforts to achieve peace.
June: Israel Tourism Month. As schools let it out, many people will plan vacations. What better place to visit than Israel? This month highlights Israel as a tourist destination.
July: Israel Sports Month. Summer is a time for baseball, water sports and other outdoor activities. Israel is not only a sports mecca, but a place with outstanding athletes.
August: Israel Heroes Month. Many people have engaged in heroic actions on behalf of the state — from politicians, such as Golda Meir — to soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country, such as American-born Michael Levin — and to other heroes, such as astronaut Ilan Ramon.
September: Israel Social Justice Month. Israel is not a perfect society, and it suffers from the same social challenges as other countries, including poverty, crime and discrimination. In addition to discussing these problems, programs in September should focus on the innovative ways that Israel is trying to solve them.
October: Israel Innovation Month. Israel is a leader in medical, computer, military and other forms of technology that benefit not only Israelis, but the entire world. This month celebrates the “Startup Nation.”
November: Israel Arts and Culture Month. November is typically Jewish book month, so why not focus on Israeli literature? This would also be a good time to celebrate Israeli art, music, film and dance.
December: Israel Religious Freedom Month: December is a month of religious holidays, and therefore a good opportunity to focus on the freedom to worship in Israel, the different faith communities there and the diversity among Jews in Israel.
If the Israeli government, federations, JCCs, synagogues, Hillels and youth groups get behind the calendar, we can create a 12-month drumbeat that will drown out the delegitimizers. It would be a chance for all of us to unite and share our knowledge with others about the Israel that we know and love.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, director of the Jewish Virtual Library and author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.