Last week, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced the launch of a profoundly important Zionist educational initiative, one that will have a transformative effect on Israel's youth. Speaking in the Knesset, Sa'ar said that a pilot program enabling students to visit Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs will soon be expanded to include schools from across the country.
Previously, the outings, known as "heritage tours," had been limited to students from the Jerusalem area on a trial basis. In the past year, approximately 3,000 Israeli high school teens, two-thirds of whom attend secular schools, took part. This is an invaluable undertaking and Sa'ar deserves praise for pushing it through. It will go a long way toward inculcating Israeli youth with a greater appreciation for our link to this land.
Last June, the education minister accompanied children from a Beit Shemesh school on a visit to Hebron, where he told reporters that "visits by students to Hebron will acquaint them with the historical roots of the people of Israel. Every Jew needs to recognize the historical roots of his own nation."
Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that Israel's educational system desperately needs a strong injection of Zionist and Jewish values. Israeli students must gain a deeper understanding of our past, and there is no better place for them to do so than in Hebron, the burial place of our Biblical patriarchs.
Anyone who is exposed to the heroic story of the return of the Jewish people to Hebron cannot help but be moved by the faith and perseverance which it embodies.
Walking through the ancient streets of the city where King David ruled, and offering a silent prayer while standing beside the tomb of our father Abraham, are powerful and emotive experiences which should be part of every Israeli child's education.
Not surprisingly, however, the proposed plan elicited howls of protest from the extreme Left, which cannot seem to tolerate the idea that Israeli youth should learn about their heritage. When the pilot program was first launched last year, Meretz Chairman MK Haim Oron blasted it as "brain-washing" while MK Ahmed Tibi said that "requiring students to visit occupied territory is ideological coercion."
This past Sunday, after the expansion of the program was announced, more than 200 teachers took Sa'ar to task when they signed a joint letter declaring that they would refuse to participate in what they deemed to be a "manipulative" effort. Some of the teachers, in interviews with the press, actually went so far as to criticize him for trying to promote Zionist and nationalist values, as though there was something inherently wrong in doing so.
What they seem to have forgotten is that schools exist not merely to teach the mechanics of math or the structure of a sentence, but the qualities of good citizenship too. And to be a good citizen means to appreciate and understand one's nation, its history, legacy and traditions.
The Land of Israel is a living curriculum, with a wide array of sites that impart our people's story and evoke pride in its very special saga. We are blessed with so many evocative symbols, from the Western Wall to the Cave of the Patriarchs to Rachel's Tomb, which far too many Israelis no longer go to see.
Reversing that trend by making them a part of every student's education is critical to fortifying our national resolve and ensuring that the next generation will love and cherish this country. If our schools can find time to discuss trapezoids and hexagons, then surely they can also strive to instill a healthy dose of Jewish national pride. Raising Israeli patriots, people who are virtuous, self-assured and confident in the justness of our cause, is key to safeguarding our survival.
As the 18th-century political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu once pointed out, the promotion of love for one's country "ought to be the principal business of education." That must become our motto as well.