"Between the Lines": Changing the Conversation on Israel in Day School
When I started working for Hillel in 2002, there was a lot I didn’t understand about the landscape of Jewish education. It may be relevant to mention that I went to Jewish day school for one year, in third grade. What I remember is that the kids were mean, I wore the wrong clothes, and that instead of going to Hebrew class with the rest of my class, I had a tutor. (Bad at Hebrew since 1988, apparently.) Ultimately, though, day school was too expensive, and so the following year, I was back in public school. The point is, I missed out on Israel education in day school (and Hebrew school, which I quit). When students who told me openly that they felt betrayed, not just by day school, but by camp, rabbis, and all facets of their Jewish education, I couldn’t process it. How could they have never been told about the Occupation, or Deir Yassin, or about all the other ugly messes? Was only one narrative really being taught? (Spoiler: Yes.)
Ali Kriegsman went to Jewish day school in California. “I was a really active member of the Jewish community,” she told me. “I loved my school. I felt really lucky, so when I got to college, it was curious to me that there were all these people who hated Israel.” This curiosity led her to major in Modern Middle East studies as an undergraduate at Penn, which Kriegsman describes as her “first exposure to the region in a way that wasn’t overdramatized – it was academic and objective.”
These experiences culminated in the making of Between the Lines, a documentary about how Jewish day schools teach Israel, and how the one sided narrative about Israel that erases complexity and Palestinian peoplehood impacts students in their post day school lives. Made by Kriegsman, and co-director and producer Jana Kozlowski, the film was one hundred percent funded on Indiegogo, as well as by a grant from the Bronfman Youth Fellowship Alumni Grant, for production and equipment costs.
While you might expect to see folks like Rabbi Andy Bachman and Simone Zimmerman (former president of the J Street U National Student Board, and founder of If Not Now When?) in a film like this, there are others you might be surprised by, like Paul Shaviv, head of Manhattan’s modern Orthodox affiliated Ramaz School, and Ken Stein, Director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University. Remarkably, and perhaps, tellingly, Kriegsman said, “No one disagreed with the idea that things needed to change.”
There are many stunning moments in Between the Lines, which you can and should watch immediately on YouTube. Students relate stories of the irreconcilable, of social and Jewish isolation, of being unprepared to confront other realities and narratives, and their desires to find what the truth really is and take action. It’s deeply troubling, rousing, the kind of film that needs to be seen and heeded. The documentary is intended to be part of a larger narrative, a movement for change in Israel education, rather than a stand alone piece. It’s heartening, though not surprising, that those students interviewed are very much hanging in there, still engaged with Israel and, in varying degrees, with Jewish community. When I commented on this, Kriegsman told me, “None of them said, I’m out, I can’t deal with this. People are still negotiating. They still care.”