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Noam Weissman: How to Unpack Israel’s Story

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SUMMARY

This series is sponsored by Unpacking Israeli History.

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Noam Weissman, executive vice president of OpenDor Media, about Israel education.

In a world in which Israel is a key component of Jewish identity, young people often are given a sanitized, doctrinaire understanding of the Jewish state, rather than getting to build on an authentic experience of connection. Dr. Weissman helps us try to correct this by unpacking some recent Jewish history. 

In this episode we discuss:

  • How should we provide Israel education in the contemporary world? 
  • How can we further uplift and inspire our enduring connection with the Land of Israel?
  • What is the difference between education and indoctrination? 

Tune in to hear a conversation about the Jewish people, the Jewish land, and the Jewish state.

Interview begins at 18:03.

Dr. Noam Weissman is the Executive Vice President of OpenDor Media. Noam is also the Founder of LaHaV. Noam previously served as Principal of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. Noam earned a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Southern California, with a focus on curriculum design. His dissertation, entitled “Approaching Israel Education,” argues for a new vision in learning about the modern State of Israel, focusing on Zionist identity development, narrative formation, and the ability to have a mature and loving relationship with Israel without sacrificing empathy.

References:

Seinfeld

Could Judaism Survive Israel?” by Gary Epstein

Jewish History Unpacked

Genesis 12:1

OpenDor Media

The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People by Walter Russell Mead 

The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity by Micah Goodman

Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine

Israel: A History by Anita Shapira  

Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert

The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership by Yehuda Avner 

Bonus References from Unpacking Israeli History:

Altalena

Munich Massacre

Kishinev

War of Independence

Yom Kippur War

Entebbe

Deir Yassin

Six-Day War

UN Resolution 3379

Black Panthers

Rabin’s Assassination

David Bashevkin: 
Hello, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast where each month, we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin. And this month, believe it or not, we’re exploring Zionism. This series was sponsored by our friends at Unpacked to learn more about the incredible podcast, including their new series, Unpacking Israeli History, hosted by our guest today, Dr. Noam Weissman. Check out jewishunpack.com or wherever your local podcasts are sold.

And if you’re interested in sponsoring a future series or episode, be sure to reach out to 18forty.org. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org, where you could also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. It is hard to describe the type of Zionism that I grew up with. It is not really a term that I heard my parents or grandparents use a great deal. It was not something that I really heard them display like we are now involved in being Zionists.

I went to an elementary school known as South Shore, some called it Yeshivas Toras Chaim. I can’t even put it into words what exactly their relationship was to the notion of Zionism. It was the kind of place where we did not march in the Israeli Day parade. We did not say any special prayers like a hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Though I remember in some years the head of the school was Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky. He is the son, the oldest son, alav ha-shalom, zekher tzadik livrakhah.

Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky is the oldest son of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was the rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaath, one of the real leaders, the gadol hador, the leaders of the generation of the Jewish people. His younger brother, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, is the rosh yeshiva in Philly and is obviously a storied personality and one of the older rosh yeshiva, if not, the oldest rosh yeshiva in America today. His older brother, Rav Binyamin, who happened to have been a very close friend of our families, our families and the Kamenetsky’s intersect in 1,001 ways.

For those who are really in the know, we almost call them relatives. That’s probably because of our fictitional relationship with Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky’s son, Rav Zvi Kamenetsky, Rav Mordechai Kamenetsky. The original ties are really with my grandfather and Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky who went to Torah Vodaath together in those early years. We have pictures of them together and they would always had any South Shore Elementary school event.

They would always catch up and reminisce and it was a big source of pride for myself that my grandfather knew the head of the school, the rosh yeshiva of the elementary school. But growing up, I don’t remember, I don’t have a lot of memories about Yom Ha’atzmaut and about the formal expressions of Zionism. I have one memory of Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky telling the menahel, that’s like the principal, Rav Chanina Herzberg, after davening Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky, went up and said, “We’re going to say Tehillim.” After davening, it was on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

He didn’t say, we’re going to say hallel, he said, “We’re going to say Tehillim,” psalms. And the chapters and psalms that we said corresponded to the ones that we normally say during hallel. They didn’t tell us that. They just said, “We’re going to say some Tehillimnow,” and I don’t know if there was maybe differences of opinion of what should be done. I remember Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky, who was the head of school, the rosh yeshiva of the elementary school, was the one who made the announcement, who was not the principal, Rav Chanina Herzberg.

But I remember there was a dance about what exactly am I even looking, reflecting on myself? Am I a proper Zionist? I was never really sure how to characterize myself because in America, at least growing up in America, the way that you express Zionism, as with these certain rituals that I don’t think fully capture one’s relationship, not just to Israel, but as I always try to call it, Eretz Yisrael, which is much older.

It didn’t begin in 1948, began with God’s promise to Abraham, lech lecha m’eretzcha, to leave your land and go to the land, el-haarez asher areka, to the land that I will show you. It’s the fulfillment of a lifelong promise and a lifelong yearning that transcends any individual government or any individual person, and that’s the world that I grew up in. It seemed to be much larger than the expressions that we had in America, blue and white cookies, marching in the parade, do you say hallel, do you not say hallel, do you make a berakhah, do you not make a berakhah.

All of those discussions, as important as they are, to me, felt very temporal. I don’t want to use the word political, but they felt very like of the moment and not stretching into history, which is for me what really evokes the soulfulness that I have toward Eretz Yisrael, toward the land of Israel, towards the medinat of Eretz Yisrael, the government that we have in Israel. I always wanted to feel that anchor in something that was more transcendent and I guess, I don’t know, blue and white cookies, blue and white donuts, which I think the school did serve some years, never fully captured it.

And I first marched in the Israeli Day parade. I don’t know why it’s scheduled when it is. The parade is never on Yom Ha’atzmaut, to my recollection. I don’t know when it is or why it is, but the first time I ever marched, I was actually in ninth grade in high school. My memories of that are really just my rabbiem and the question of, is rabbiem going to put on the Israeli day t-shirt about his white shirt or going to take off the white shirt and just wear a t-shirt?

You can really tell a lot from the different styles of rabbiem, of teachers in Modern Orthodox high schools based on how they negotiate their classic white shirt and tie and their special Yom Ha’atzmaut t-shirt. Does the t-shirt go on top like many? Or in later years, the menahel of my high school, Rav Yisroel Kaminetsky, I believe, has gone on the full t-shirt bandwagon, no white shirt underneath, which I believe is how he began and just wears a t-shirt during the parade.

Though I know different rabbiem, at least in the high school I go to, negotiate with that question differently. But all of these questions, Yom Ha’atzmaut t-shirts, blue and white cookies, even whether or not you have a flag inside of the sanctuary of your shuls, the flag on the outside, do you not have a flag altogether. None of these fully captured and, I guess, were almost lost on me growing up. They never felt to capture the enormity of what the state of Israel was really all about. And I remember feeling that misalignment almost in my own life.

When I was having a conversation, I had mentioned her once. I have a sister, Ilana, who lives in Israel. At the time, I believe I had two sisters, and I remember talking to her husband who was learning in kollel, was part of the Haredi community in Israel. And I remember talking to him about Zionism during my year in Israel when I was studying in Shaalvim. And I think in my youthful zeal, I don’t know what it was, I was lecturing him like, “How can you not be a Zionist in all of these ways?”

I remember midway through the conversation, I was like, wow, what a fascinating dialogue we are having right now, David Bashevkin, 19 years old, 18 years old, lives in America, spending one year in Israel lecturing my brother-in-law who has decided to raise a family in Israel. And I just realized, have I been sucked into Zionism as this performative expression of the checkboxes that you have of what does and does not make a Zionist?

Or is this something much more transcendent that generations of the Am Yisrael of the Jewish people were longing for and were yearning for? It’s an analogy that a friend of mine, Eli Steinberg, who lives in Lakewood, we were one time talking maybe over Twitter or maybe on the phone, I don’t fully remember, and he said that a lot of times questions about whether or not you are a full Zionist or what makes somebody a full Zionist reminds him of a Seinfeld episode where Kramer is urged to wear a ribbon while marching in some fundraiser walk, in some marathon walk.

Everybody needs to wear a ribbon. I think in the episode, it was an AIDS march, and everybody needed to wear this specific ribbon and they’re just putting a lot of pressure, “You need to wear the ribbon, that’s the only way that you can participate in this enterprise.”

Speaker 2: 
You must wear the ribbon.

Speaker 3: 
What you are?

Speaker 4: 
You’re a ribbon bully.

Speaker 2: 
Hey, you, come back here. Come back here and put this on.

Speaker 5: 
Who do you think you are?

Speaker 6: 
Put the ribbon on.

Speaker 7: 
Hey, Cedric, Bob, this guy won’t wear a ribbon.

Speaker 8: 
Who? Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon? What’s it going to be? Are you going to wear the ribbon?

Speaker 5: 
No, never.

Speaker 8: 
But I’m wearing the ribbon, he’s wearing the ribbon, we are all wearing the ribbon. So why aren’t you going to wear the ribbon?

Speaker 5: 
This is America! I don’t have to wear anything I don’t want to wear.

Speaker 8: 
What are we going to do with it, ma’am?

Speaker 5: 
Huh?

Speaker 8: 
I guess we’re just going to have to teach him to wear the ribbon.

David Bashevkin: 
He was lamenting to me that a lot of times, conversations about what Zionism means seems to be conversations that devolve into who does and does not wear the ribbon and whatever that ribbon may or may not be, whether it’s blue and white cookies, whether it’s where you display the flag, or even what you do on Yom Ha’atzmaut or you’re saying hallel with a berakhah, without a berakhah. And those become the ribbon, so to speak, that you must wear if you want to participate in the marathon of Zionism. I don’t know who it was or what I was reading.

I like to think that I was reading the writings of Gershom Scholem, the academic mystic Kabbalist and his relationship to Zionism, which evolved over the course of his life. But at some point, I think my relationship with Zionism, though it’s a word that doesn’t have that familial closeness with me personally, it feels very political. But my relationship with Eretz Yisrael with Medinat Yisrael is something that I’ve begun to start thinking about a lot more and a lot more serious way because in my lifetime, in our lifetimes, I’ve seen the pushback against Israel, against the state of Israel, even from within the Jewish community.

And it can be extraordinarily painful. And I am very often left without words because my foundational relationship to Israel was never formed through politics. It wasn’t formed through op-eds and articles and newspapers. My relationship to Israel begins with the siddur, it begins with davening the vtechezana aneinu lshuvcha tzion verachamim, that we should see before our eyes the return to Tzion with mercy, through mercy.

It’s the prayers every day that I have uttered that my ancestors and generations of Jews have uttered vtechezana aneinu lshuvcha tzion verachamim that we should be able to see a return Tzion, a full return of full embodiment in Israel and that we’re beginning to see that in our lifetime, to not recognize it, to not be moved by it. I feel it is a disservice. It is a cruel disservice to generations who had yearned, to see even a glimmer, a sliver of what we have now in Israel. It would be the cruelest lack of gratitude to not even pause for a moment and appreciate what we have.

And I think there was one article that was extraordinarily controversial when it came out that actually gave me a new lens, an inverted lens to appreciate what we have with the state of Israel. And that was an article that was published in the summer of 1976 in volume 16, the first issue of tradition. It was published by Gary Epstein. You may know his son, Dr. Benjy Epstein, who is absolutely wonderful. He is a psychologist, a close friend of mine and hopefully, we’ll have him on here one of these days.

But he wrote this article which caused, when I say an article caused an uproar, I mean legitimately an uproar. It is the only article that has ever been published in Tradition to my knowledge that starts with a disclaimer from the editors of tradition where they write, although the editors of tradition regard the state of Israel as a pivotal instrumentality for the survival of Judaism in the modern world, they deem it important to open the pages of this journal for the discussion of controversial positions.

Professor Epstein is a member of the Department of English at the University of Iowa. There’s a disclaimer from the editors before the article, I’ve never seen this before. And the article asked a basic question, could Judaism survive Israel? And it has up contemplate, halila vechas, chas v’shalom, God forbid, the article does have us contemplate what would happen if we saw in our lifetime the collapse of the state of Israel. And the letters to the editor were outraged that somebody would even present this as a possibility.

The article itself argues that Judaism would survive, but even the possibility was seemed to be so disgusting to put on the pages, how could we even contemplate such a thing? Here’s one letter from the editor, a more tasteless article than the one by Gary Epstein on his self-serving proposition that Judaism can survive the fall of Israel. I have not read in a long time. If you cannot print this letter in your magazine, please forward it to Professor Epstein.

There is another letter that came out which paraphrases the Rebbe of Kotzk where he says, “Much of this article should not have been thought about, more of it not spoken about it, and most of it not put into printed form.” This is not something that we should be thinking about. And I’m going to be honest, as controversial as this article is, I do think about this a lot. Because for me, while I grew up in a generation that almost took the state of Israel for granted, I do sometimes think that the inverted lens of thinking, God forbid, what would it mean for Yiddishkeit in our lifetime if we lost it?

Would it be like Tisha B’Av? Would it be like mourning the fall of the first and second temple? How would we relate to that absence in our lives? And more and more it seems like this generation who grew up within a world that takes the state of Israel for granted. And I’m not talking about not showing appreciation. Of course, to be a Jew is to show appreciation for the city of Israel. When I say take it for granted, it’s unimaginable for us what Yiddishkeit would look like without a state of Israel. What would continue, what would not continue? What would happen next?

It is a question that is hard to think about, but I think, in many ways, helps us appreciate what we actually have. As I’ve written about before on 18Forty, in relation to Halakah. I think I grew up in a home where my father saw generations of Jewish children grow up and lose their connection to Halakah. And his ability to see a generation lose their connection to something gave him a better appreciation for what he actually has and possesses.

And in a similar way, I think very often reflecting on Eretz Yisrael, reflecting on the state of Israel, and not just showing appreciation for all the amazing contributions that it’s had. Which I don’t mean to say in a voice that’s like, okay, we’ve been there, done that, we’ve heard that already. But I think taking a new glance and really learning to dig deep within the collective souls of Am Yisrael of the Jewish people and realize what we have and how it is a fulfillment of what so many generations had been yearning for, what so many generations had been davening for.

And to not be able to see even a sliver of that, to not be able to imagine of what Yiddishkeit would feel like, what Yiddishkeit would be like without the state of Israel and the way that it protects Am Yisrael and the way that it uplifts Am Yisrael and the Jewish people is a lens that I constantly am reflecting on and thinking about. And that’s why I think it’s so important right now, even though there’s so many political upheavals taking place in Israel, and we had planned this series before a lot of the upheavals were happening.

Some of it we’ll discuss, some of it we won’t discuss. I never look at 18Forty as commentary on breaking news. You can go to newspapers for that. You can go to your local Jewish leaders for that. I really try to think of 18Forty as unpacking some of the foundational issues that will endure regardless of the headlines, regardless of what the contemporary crisis that’s unfolding, and try to unpack something that is far more transcendent and far more enduring.

Though, of course, not to minimize in any ways the importance of contemporary politics and being involved in supporting and contending and reflecting and negotiating with all of the developments that take place in the state of Israel. And to begin with this, I wanted to talk about how we educate our children about Israel. There is a lot of pushback, particularly in contemporary times about the sanitized version of Zionism that schools that do give a Zionist education, how should they be doing it? Should it be sanitized? Should it just be through the siddur?

That’s how I was raised. And in many ways, still hold onto that as the form of education. And in order to have that discussion, I could think of nobody better than Dr. Noam Weissman. Aside from being an old and dear friend, he is the executive vice president of OpenDor Media. OpenDor Media is an incredible organization. And I’m not just saying that because they’re sponsoring this series, though Lord knows I am saying it also because they’re sponsoring this series.

But I do listen to a lot of their incredible podcast, Jewish History Unpacked, unpacking the Israel story, which is hosted by Dr. Noam Weissman. And our conversation today, which in so many ways intersects with the questions of 18Forty, is how do we provide Israel education in the contemporary world? What is the landscape? How should we do it? And how can we further uplift and inspire our enduring connection? The connection, not of any one generation, but the connection of vtechezana aneinu lshuvcha tzion verachamim, that we should see with our eyes the full and complete return of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael with mercy, with peace, with kindness.

Without further ado, here is our conversation with Dr. Noam Weissman. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce someone who I know for many, many years. I consider him a friend. I am so excited to share with you our conversation with Noam Weissman. Welcome, Noam.

Noam Weissman: 
David, I consider you a friend as well. I’m so happy to be here, and an avid listener of your podcast. So thank you so much for having me.

David Bashevkin: 
That means a great deal to me. What I want to talk about is you have spent a career and run an incredible enterprise that is dedicated to Israel education called Unpacked. And I want to, and you’ll kill me for this pun, I want to unpack exactly what you and Unpacked are doing, which is what problem is Israel education coming to solve? And I want to begin with the question of noting that I am not your target demographic. My relationship to Israel was formed in like the old-fashioned way.

I went to almost like a non-Zionist, God forbid, not an anti-Zionist, like a non-Zionist school where my relationship to Israel was founded through the siddur. It was founded through the fact that I have family members who live in Israel, that it was a place that I visited the holy sites, the Kotel, Tzfat, the people who are buried there, the lives that are there. It’s very familial. It is not political. And Unpacked is very political in the way that they try to unpack the nature of Israel education. Who is the demographic that you are trying to reach and what problem are you trying to solve?

Noam Weissman: 
I think that the way you framed that in terms of you going to a non-Zionist school, I want to start there because I think that that’s, in some ways, the most interesting element. There’s probably one theological interpretation of events of 1948 that I don’t understand very well, and that’s non-Zionism. And so I find that particularly fascinating. I understand anti-Zionism in a profound way.

David Bashevkin: 
I do understand anti-Zionism in a profound theological way. And I understand Zionism. Let me clarify what I mean by non-Zionism. It is an elementary school. We didn’t march in the Israeli day parade. We didn’t celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in the traditional way. Maybe some years there were blue and white donuts, maybe some years there were not. But I would say it was non-political Zionist. When there was, God forbid, something going on in Eretz Yisrael, there was a terrorist attack or something happened, we would get together and we would say Tehillim.

And I said the lens towards Israel, the foundation was through the siddur. And I grew up in a home where we were always talking about Israel, but it wasn’t a polemical relationship where we were trying to justify and understand the very nature of the state of Israel’s existence. And a lot of your content is doing exactly that. I understand why my educational upbringing for me in particular worked very well because no political development is going to sever my very familial, visceral ties to Israel. And my question is, it’s really a question on Israel education in general.

Are you trying to convince an anti-Zionist why you should be a Zionist? Are you trying to reach somebody and build that familial connection to Israel? Are you trying to give people educational information for when they get into debates on campus? Who is the demographic that Israel education, almost in general, I’m not talking about Unpacked in particular, is trying to reach? What’s the problem that you’re trying to solve?

Noam Weissman: 
Israel Education became a field, and this is so interesting. 10 to 15 years ago, it didn’t really exist. It was kind of there was Jewish education where people would work on Tanakh or perhaps Gemara Talmud education. But there wasn’t really a place for Israel education. And so 10 to 15 years ago, there was a field that developed. And the goal of the field was to say there are three basically different approaches to teaching about Israel. One is what you were describing, and I couldn’t help but smile and smirk the whole time, the blue and white donuts, the Israel parade, the falafel, the cherry tomatoes, the waze, the startups.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s called Modern Orthodox American Yom Ha’atzmaut education.

Noam Weissman: 
That’s a-

David Bashevkin: 
It works. It works for a lot of people. It works. It works for a lot of people. It actually was not my education. But for some people, that’s their connection.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. I don’t know if we’re going to come back to this, but I want to challenge whether or not it works and what it’s working to accomplish.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay. But let’s hear all three and then we’ll discuss.

Noam Weissman: 
What I was just describing is what’s called Israel advocacy, and that is part of Israel lowercase education. And I’ll explain why in a second, why say lowercase E.

David Bashevkin: 
And why is that called Israel advocacy? It seems like the most parve, the most neutral, just like we love Israel, we march, we have the blue and white donut. Is that really called Israel advocacy?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, it’s part of the Israel advocacy world where Israel advocacy is basically divided itself into Israel branding, which is really what that is, and Israel advocacy, which is to take the issues, whatever they are, and to prove something, to have a lens of advocacy, to have a lens of indoctrination in some ways, which is to accept what is being taught in a somewhat uncritical sort of way, to say, I have the truth and I’m here to make sure that you emerge out of whatever intervention, call it school, call it youth group, call it trip, that you emerge with one specific takeaway. And I’m speaking about it in, and I hope in a polite way and a dispassionate way on purpose because I wanted to first describe it.

David Bashevkin: 
Meaning when you say, I want to clarify because this helps, when you say Israel advocacy, you don’t necessarily mean that it’s training them to be advocates politically, but it’s advocating a specific point of view.

Noam Weissman: 
Exactly. Precisely. It’s saying, I have the truth about something or I have the beauty of something and it’s my job to pass this on to you.

David Bashevkin: 
To advocate for one specific idea. That makes a lot of sense to me now.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, so that’s the world of Israel advocacy. And for years, when schools would say they’re doing Israel education, what they meant was they were doing Israel advocacy.

David Bashevkin: 
And that’s option one, right?

Noam Weissman: 
That’s option one, and that’s pretty typical in the modern Orthodox world. Maybe in a minute you’ll tell me when, I could get into what I think is a little bit lacking in that approach.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Noam Weissman: 
That’s number one. I want to describe it first. Number two is what’s called Israel studies. The goal of Israel studies is to basically say, I have a dispassionate view on what’s going on here. My goal is not to solve a specific problem for you to have a training, like Israel advocacy is about training, but to dispassionately develop knowledge about Israeli society, about Israeli history, about Israeli politics, to look at primary sources and to come out, whatever it means, there’s no affective emotional goals.

And really, that’s the way that hopefully some universities are engaging in Israel. But often, obviously, we know that’s not the case where it’s more antagonistic towards Israel. But it’s a different approach to learning about Israel, which is to study Israel in a dispassionate way where I have the fact, I have the history. And then there’s a third approach, what I call Israel Education, capital E, bolded E, underline E. And that’s when the goal is not to train and the goal is not to dispassionately develop, but the goal is to cultivate one’s Jewish identity with Israel as part of that.

And the reason that that is such a helpful way, what I find educationally to engage young people in their learning about Israel, studying about Israel, is because what it does is it helps them ensure that they are not being defensive, that they’re not here to just have one way to view something, but that they really utilize, I guess, what you would call, what I would call the IKEA effect, where they’re building something, where they’re cultivating something, and they’re not there to prove something.

They’re there to understand something and have it form their identity, but without needing to have one prescribed way to view it. That’s education as opposed to, let’s say, indoctrination or inoculation, which is to give a little bit of the problem and then to serve as that antidote. That’s the capital E, Israel Education.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m so fascinated. I love the way that you laid out these three approaches. I think the thing that I struggle with the most is the real difference between one and three, the real difference between Israel advocacy, which we’re advocating for a particular point of view, and Israel education. I’m trying to understand, is the difference about the tone and the tenor that the first one has this more hasbara intensity where it’s like Israel or bust and you got to be with Israel on anything.

Maybe I don’t know who you’d put in that category, AIPAC, just like we stand with Israel, double underline. And Israel education is just a little bit softer or it gives you a wider perspective. But ultimately, you also want them to come out with a very particular point of view. Or is the number three really open to anything? Are you saying that if somebody listens to you and studies with you and is involved in Israel education, is it okay if they come out and they are antagonistic, they become anti-Zionist, they no longer believe in the current iteration of the State of Israel?

Noam Weissman: 
That’s a good question as to whether or not it’s a binary or a spectrum. But I’ll explain the difference the way I see it and the way we try to do it on Unpacking Israeli History and really, all of the short form content on Unpacked in general. It’s a term that I created called Taking a Mikraot Gedolot Approach to Israel education.

David Bashevkin: 
A Mikraot Gedolot approach to Israel education. The Mikraot Gedolot, I’m familiar with is the classic chumash that has the Bible, that has all of the classic commentaries from the medieval, even down even a little bit past that. It has Rashi, it has the Ramban. What would a Mikraot Gedolot approach be to Israel education?

Noam Weissman: 
Once upon a time, I had a friend, not Jewish, Christian, and asked me what it means for the Jews to be the chosen people. You’re like, so what does it mean that you’re the chosen people? Instead of answering the question, like a good Jewish person, instead of answering the question, I said, “I want you to see your Bible and I want you to see my Bible.” And took out her Bible. And the Bible was essentially just the words on the page.

It was the words of God or with the B’rit Chadashah, with the new covenant, with the New Testament, whatever you want to describe that as it. It’s just the words on the page. I then showed her my Bible and it was Mikraot Gedolot. I said, “Where are the words of God here? Where are the words of the Bible?” She’s like, “The whole thing, what do you mean?” No. I’m like, “No, no, no. Literally, five lines. There’re five lines, the top right here, the top. And everything else, what does Moshe sin look like? What is the relationship between angels and mankind?” Any question you could possibly ask, it’s Rashi versus Rashbam, Eben-Ezer versus Ramban, Sefarno vs Chizkuni.

David Bashevkin: 
The commentators are fighting this out.

Noam Weissman: 
They’re fighting it out. Yes, there’s some common ground and for sure, there’s common ground. But the whole excitement and enthusiasm about studying Tanakh is to see the debates emerge and the implications. What we need to do in Israel education, what we’re trying to do is the same exact thing, but with Israel. Imagine a moment in history happens, call it 1948, call it the War of Independence. If I say phrases like Deir Yassin or Kafr Qasim or Kibuye or any moment, difficult moment in Israeli history, and now we’re just focusing difficult moments of Israeli history.

But I’ll get to a whole other aspect, which is Zionism, hopefully in a bit. But imagine if we took a Mikraot Gedolot approach and we said, on each of these moments, what we’re going to do is we’re going to show you how Martin Gilbert understands it, how Betty Morris understands it, how Francine Klagsbrun understands it, how Anita Shapiro understands it, how Yossi Klein Halevi understands it, how Micah Goodman understands it. And we said to our students, you’re smart, you’re thoughtful, you’re intelligent, you’re curious, engage in the debate. And that’s what Israel education looks like. And I take a lot of the approach that I developed that I wrote my dissertation on.

David Bashevkin: 
What was the topic of your dissertation? Tell me immediately.

Noam Weissman: 
Okay, right now. Israel education and identity development was the topic-

David Bashevkin: 
Fascinating.

Noam Weissman: 
… was what I studied. I’m very interested in terms of how identities are cultivated, how to cultivate a healthy relationship with Judaism, with text, with Jewish identity, with Israel, with peoplehood. And so what really stands out to me is utilizing this incredible tradition that we have in Tanakh education, in Talmud education and utilizing it for Israel. We know that Israel matters so much to one’s Jewish identity, but what happens is it’s so thin, the relationship. I don’t have a better word for it, it’s thin. It’s this defensive approach.

But what if you were able to explore, to uncover, to excavate, to cultivate, to develop your own worldview on it? What would happen? That’s what I’m trying to do. And I’ll say one more thing on this because just to take this Tanakh approach. One of my favorite ideas of my educational philosophy emerged from a great thinker. His name is Menachem Leibtag. And he points out that the best education does not come from Piaget or Vygotsky or even Rav Soloveitchik, but it comes from an Israeli construction site. And an Israeli construction site, because I’m answering your question, at every Israeli construction site, you know what it says?

David Bashevkin: 
What?

Noam Weissman: 
Sakana – kan bonim, danger, we’re building here. When you’re building something, there is some danger to view our young people as automatons. And to think, and you know this from your podcast-

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, yes.

Noam Weissman: 
… to think that if you just tell them the truth, here are the facts, the truth is … Let’s see how everyone is going to react to that. Sakana – kan bonim means danger, we’re building here. If you’re going to be building, if you’re going to be cultivating someone’s identity, if you’re going to be exploring, it’s dangerous. But there’s a second parosh, a second interpretation of that Israeli construction site, which is that in a place of danger, the makum sakana, in the place of danger, kan bonim, that’s where you build. That’s where identity could actually be formed.

David Bashevkin: 
Ooh, that’s beautiful.

Noam Weissman: 
That’s my peirush on Menachem Leibtag’s analysis of an Israeli construction site.

David Bashevkin: 
It really does resonate. I mean, you know the work that we’re doing, and it’s going to lead to my obvious followup question. I love the notion of sakana – kan bonim, there’s danger. We are building here and we are building in the place of danger. The analogy that I’ve used many times on 18Forty is a car that is spinning out of control. You don’t try to spin away from the disaster, you turn into it, and that allows you to regain control of the car.

Noam Weissman: 
That’s good.

David Bashevkin: 
It is in the place of danger, in the place of friction that we need to build most. And we’ve been doing this on other topics of Jewish theology and Jewish life and Jewish practice. I am woefully ignorant and almost deliberately so about Israel, but I know enough about developing content and I know enough about the Mikraos Gedolos Chumash to ask the obvious question. If you open up Mikraos Gedolos Chumash, there are some commentaries that are not in there that have not made their way in there.

And there is a canonization process of who is considered to be an authentic voice. I am curious for you, how do you determine which voices are allowed to be on the page? And I’m not asking from Unpacked policy. I’m asking you as an educator, I’m asking you as a pedagogue. It is criticism that I have gotten. And very often, the criticism is 100% right. David, that was an idea, that wasn’t a voice, you should not have included. And I often find myself not just pushing back, but accepting the criticism. Maybe I should not have voiced that.

I’m curious for you, are there specific voices that you do not feel comfortable including? Are there voices that you have included in educational programming and have gotten pushback for? And how do you conceptualize the boundaries of what to include on your page of commentaries?

Noam Weissman: 
There’s a great and age-old question about what is in, what is out, what is allowed, what is not allowed. The way I think about it is I want to generalize, first, if that’s okay, and then go to the specific.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Noam Weissman: 
And I heard this from President Richard Joel once, maybe a decade ago, there’s a difference between pluralism and relativism. And the idea of pluralism is to say that I’m right about what I think and you’re wrong about what you think, but the two of us could sit at the table and have a conversation together. Whereas relativism says, I’m right about what I think and you’re right about what you think and there’s no such thing as the absolute truth on anything. I take not a relativistic approach in Richard Joel’s understanding, but an educationally pluralistic approach. Which is saying that if we’re going to have a complete understanding of any given topic, we have to be able to see different ways to view it, the Rashomon effect.

David Bashevkin: 
Explain the Rashomon effect, just say it in 60 seconds.

Noam Weissman: 
The Rashomon effect is when you look at an elephant, let’s say-

David Bashevkin: 
Four blind people.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, and you only see the trunk or you see the legs and you think it’s something as a result of-

David Bashevkin: 
Or a tusk.

Noam Weissman: 
Or a tusk, yeah. Thank you. I’m not so good at elephant body parts. It’s not my strength. But you think it’s one thing as a result of it, but you put the whole thing together and then all of a sudden, you’re like, oh, I understand. If I put these pieces together, I see the tapestry, I see that it’s actually something beautiful, I see a broader understanding of it. When doing Israel education, if I’m doing a story on, let’s say, the Munich massacre or I’m doing a story on the Altalena, and I want young people to understand the story of the Altalena, would it make sense to merely share the descendants of Menachem Begin’s approach and to show this through the prism exclusively as the heroic moment of Menachem Begin? Or-

David Bashevkin: 
Again, you’re referencing a lot of events. Assume you’re talking to an absolute ignoramus about Israeli history. The Altalena was a ship?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
Why is that significant?

Noam Weissman: 
The Altalena is probably, I would argue, one of the five most significant moments in Jewish history of the last 1500, 1800 years. Don’t ask me to say the other four.

David Bashevkin: 
I was about to ask you and I will absolutely ask you later on. You can’t talk to somebody who literally wrote a book called Top Five. It was a humor book, but I am going to be asking for your top five list. You could try to gather that in the back of your head. We’ll come back to it. But just tell us the basic facts and then you’ll use the example.

Noam Weissman: 
In June 1948, right after Israel established itself as a Jewish state, there was a question mark, would Israel actually be able to exist? And it’s a question, by the way, that some pundits are asking now in 2023 with everything going on with the judicial reforms, which we will not get into right now, hopefully, because that will take a whole other podcast. That’s two in the weeds. But the Altalena was a month in. You have to remember, there were multiple Jewish militias. There was the Irgun, there was the Haganah, there was Lehi. And how do you actually form a state?

If you have multiple armies, are you going to be able to have a state? Well, that was the question Israel had to deal with and that was a question that the State Department was unsure Israel would be able to deal with and figure out. And within a month of Israel declaring statehood and all these Arab countries around Israel declaring war and trying to annihilate Israel, there was a ship, Altalena, which actually is Italian for seesaw. And that’s just a fun, weird, random fact.

David Bashevkin: 
Thank you for that.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, you got it. There was shipments of ammunition that Menachem Begin was on that ship, and David Ben-Gurion didn’t want it to dock and for a whole host of reasons. Ben-Gurion and Rabin, at the time who was a young commander, shot on the Altalena Jews were shooting other Jews, if you could imagine this, Jews shooting other Jews.

David Bashevkin: 
Obviously, this is a controversial moment in Israeli history-

Noam Weissman: 
Oh my gosh, tremendous.

David Bashevkin: 
… where Jews are attacking each other. We’ll talk about some of the other significant moments. And there are probably different approaches for how to process unpack a incident like this, correct?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, exactly. Exactly, David. And Menachem Begin chose not to shoot back, and he basically said, “Never milchemet ezrachim, that we will never have a civil war.” And the reason it’s so significant is because he had a huge following, Menachem Begin. And this is one of the arguments, he could have fought Ben-Gurion and said, no, no, no. The state that you’re declaring is not the type of state I want. I have my own people. I have my own political system. I have my own army. And Ben-Gurion had this moment where he actually shot, Haganah, shot other Jews. And Begin held back. And that’s a huge story in modern Jewish history. Because I think, frankly, if Begin shot back, I’m not sure there would be a Jewish state.

David Bashevkin: 
But come back to the original question. I had asked you about approaches and commentaries that you don’t feel comfortable or commentaries that you’ve shared and gotten a tremendous amount of pushback, either a commentary or an incident. You were talking about the Rashomon effect. How do you conceptualize what’s in, what’s out? And have you ever either made a mistake or put something in that people were like, this cannot be taught?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. Definitely, in every institution, this sounds like a political statement, every institution should decide its own boundaries. But it’s very true. Every community should decide that. Listen, curiosity is in some ways the original sin. Because what curiosity does for any community is it opens one up to any possible interest, any possible intrigue to something beyond what my community is saying. And so every community is going to say, this is in and this is out. Have I made mistakes? Absolutely, I’ve made mistakes. Without a doubt, I’ve made mistakes.

I made mistakes in adult education. I want to say it’s not necessarily about how young they are, though that is certainly part of it. There’s a way to build what’s called a mature approach to Zionism as opposed to maturing people out of Zionism. We want them to have a mature engagement with Zionism. But if there’s an audience that doesn’t have the background necessary to understand a certain topic, I don’t think that we should be teaching them.

If the goal of the community is fidelity to the Orthodox Jewish world or fidelity to the state of Israel in an unquestioned sort of way, then, of course, that community has a right to make its decisions about what’s in and what’s out. And I can’t possibly tell anyone what that is. I don’t know each and every community. But what I’m trying to basically argue for is, regardless what your community’s boundaries are, to open it up a little bit more.

Because in a world of Google and TikTok where people are searching content and their TikTok is finding you, finding the young person, what they’re able to see, what young Jewish people are able to see is just so different, David, than what you and I, when I was at Beth Tfiloh and you were at Ner Israel, what the two of us were seeing, even beyond 17-year-old girls at Mama Leah’s, there were so many other people, there’s so many other things-

David Bashevkin: 
That’s a deep cut Baltimore reference. That’s a pretty deep cut.

Noam Weissman: 
But there’s so many things that we did not see and that everyone is able to now see. And so are there lines? Of course. The Ner Israel’s lines are going to look different. I’m using that as a reference point than Beth Tfiloh’s lines. And every organization and institution has a right to say, here’s what’s in and here’s what’s out.

David Bashevkin: 
Could you take me through something that you shared related to Israel education that people said, you know what, maybe it’s best if we didn’t talk about this, maybe it’s best if that perspective wasn’t aired. And I’m curious because I don’t know the ins and outs of Israeli thought and even Israeli history with such an intense grasp that I would even know where the red lines are. I’m curious what evokes that type of controversy. Where are the lines that the Israel education community are grappling with?

Noam Weissman: 
The reason that I’m actually struggling to answer this question, and it’s a phenomenal question, is because I think that 15 years ago, this question would have been asked more and more. But I actually have a list of … I just spoke at this conference in Chicago called The Eye Center Conference.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Noam Weissman: 
It’s so interesting because a lot of people don’t know about it, this two, three-day conference was about Israel education, had 120 Israel educators in the room talking about the challenges of Israel education. And I’m just going to read to you very quickly what their challenges were. Ready? Very quickly.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, let’s go.

Noam Weissman: 
Number one, addressing sensationalized, dramatized, personalized, decontextualized, that sounds like a hip hop song, media influence. Number two, connecting, understanding why young people should care about what happens in Israel. Number three, how to make sure that people don’t get too emotional about it. Number four, acknowledging nuance and complexity without getting stuck in it. Number five, the emotional connections and attachments to the land of Israel. Number six, providing context.

Number seven, getting people to show up in the first place to actually care about Israel, which often doesn’t happen. Number eight, allowing criticism while maintaining a positive bond with Israel. Number nine, laying the foundation before diving into current events in Israel. Number 10, how to teach about Israel to different ages. I have no idea how to do that. Number 11, remaining apolitical for the sake of building meaning and constructive conversations for all. Number 12, how to deal with predetermined biases of the audience.

Number 13, being honest about Israel’s fault and mistakes to social racism that exist in Israel on unfair policies towards Arabs. Number 14, the occupation. And this is note, they did not put the occupation in quotation marks. Number 15, misinformation, breaking down myths. Number 16, how do you deal with student knowledge to build upon? Number 17, how do you tiptoe around the sensitivities of parents and funders and philanthropists about what we’re doing and don’t really understand what we’re doing? And number 18, how and why should we be teaching about Israel in the first place? And so these are the questions that I dealt with.

David Bashevkin: 
What a phenomenal list. I’ll be honest, listening to most things on that list gives me a great deal of confidence with the non-Zionist approach I was raised with. Because from first grade to, I would say, maybe in that high school was the first time we had a formal Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. But I was deeply connected to … Again, I’m using this words deliberately to Eretz Yisrael, to that familial connection to Israel.

The foundation was so immutable that there’s only a limited amount of … And I admit this to myself, there’s only so much that my relationship to the state of Israel can erode because it wasn’t founded upon the state of Israel, it was founded upon the State of Israel as an iteration of Eretz Yisrael, something that we’ve been davening for, for so, so many years. And this is a permutation that we have that, I guess, through this tempered non-Zionist lens, we’re still deeply connected to everything going on there. But it doesn’t begin with the political connection.

It doesn’t begin with, wow, love Israel because it’s the startup nation, because they made the microchipping your cell phone and all the emails that my zadie used to forward to me, forward, forward, forward. Did you know that Israel and fill in the blank? It was very visceral. And I grew up with it. Dare I say, the model of the Yeshiva community, I’m not talking about the anti-Zionist that exists in some parts, but the non-Zionist yeshiva. They have some things right. They have some things right, in my opinion, which is building a visceral connection to Eretz Yisrael and to Am Chai Yisrael.

Noam Weissman: 
That’s great and that’s wonderful, but that’s not what Zionism was about. The whole purpose of Zionism was to change the existential condition of the Jew. That was the whole purpose of Zionism. And that’s, by the way, why I deeply understand anti-Zionism much more than I understand non-Zionism. And within Zionism, actually, there were three major reasons why Zionism was created. If you look at the different great philosophers, basically comes down to three different reasons why Zionism needs to exist.

David Bashevkin: 
Noam, I just want to say I love your lists. I love that you have lists for everything-

Noam Weissman: 
Because I think in term-

David Bashevkin: 
You’re speaking my language right now.

Noam Weissman: 
I’m sorry. I think in terms of lists, it helps my brain. I’ve realized-

David Bashevkin: 
Why do you apologize for it? I wrote a book, again, go out and buy it. It’s a humor book, but I think enlist top five-

Noam Weissman: 
I really do.

David Bashevkin: 
… lists of Jewish character and characters. Yeah, this is what it’s about. Tell me, what are the three major justifications for Zionism?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, there were three major ways why should Zionism exist in the first place. Why abrogate from the past in order to create something new? Why deal with all of this? Three different reasons, and you could understand people’s sensitivities. And by the way, Zionism is part of Israel education. It’s not just dealing with the tough subjects. But Zionism itself, and I want people to understand this, a common platform, it’s not an exclusive ideology.

Within Zionism, just like there are great debates between great religious Zionist thinkers, there are great debates within great secular Zionist thinkers. Within this great secular Zionist thinkers, there are three different reasons. Number one is we need Zionism. We need a Jewish state in order to be like everyone else. Basically, the reason that anti-Semitism exist as it were is because the Jewish people, this was the thinking, the Jewish people are ghosts in other people’s lands. And when you’re a ghost in other people’s lands, not tethered to any one place, that’s the reason why anti-Semitism exists. And if you like a good yesod or machlokes, as I’m sure a lot of the listeners-

David Bashevkin: 
The foundational dispute, we translated this space.

Noam Weissman: 
Okay, okay, great.

David Bashevkin: 
I don’t want what kind of hokey-pokey stuff you guys doing on facts. But we translate on the 18Forty Podcast.

Noam Weissman: 
Okay. One of the foundations to the disputes, great foundational disputes were existed. And it’s not like they could gotten in a room and disputed this, but between Herzl and Jabotinsky. And what Herzl was saying was that he believed that the creation of a Jewish state would essentially end anti-Semitism, that’s the verb to think about, or another verb would be to cure the world of anti-Semitism. And his disciple, Jabotinsky, said, “No, no, no. It’s not going to end anti-Semitism. It’s going to protect against anti-Semitism.” Now fast forward, 100 years, who’s right, Herzl or Jabotinsky? And the answer is clearly Jabotinsky.

David Bashevkin: 
Or neither, but yeah.

Noam Weissman: 
Or neither, okay.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, well-

Noam Weissman: 
Well said. Well-

David Bashevkin: 
Call me crazy, yeah.

Noam Weissman: 
Well said. But the reason it needs to exist is because we want to be like everyone else. And this is an example. If you want to understand, if you want to create typologies, we like lists. The reason the Munich massacre in 1972 is so difficult, and the Munich massacre, I will do an explanatory comma, was 51 years ago, 11, I think, Israelis were killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

David Bashevkin: 
It was in Germany, so it’s a bad look. There’s a phenomenal documentary on it that I’m sure people should watch. I found it absolutely riveting and a really painful moment for the world, frankly. The show must go on as they said.

Noam Weissman: 
Exactly. We also have a podcast on the Munich massacre. The reason it’s so difficult is because just think about the purpose of Zionism, it’s to be like everyone else. Is there any better example of just being everyone else, having a seat at the table than the Olympics? Or another example, when there’s so many UN resolutions against Israel and it’s nonstop. The Zionism that’s born out of this need to be everyone else, to want … It’s almost biblical in terms of Samuel, to have a king like everyone else, to be like everyone else. Can’t we just be like everyone else? That was one purpose of Zionism.

David Bashevkin: 
And it showed us that maybe the answer is no, because we were at the table, at the Olympics, and we got-

Noam Weissman: 
Exactly. We feel like a Jew amongst the nations at that point.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, okay. What’s number two and three?

Noam Weissman: 
Number two is the second reason that Zionism should exist to create is to be not normal, but to be exceptional. And this idea, I think, comes from Tal Becker, another thinker on this topic, but to be unique, to be different. And that’s the whole tikkun olam aspect of Israel. When Golda Meir, as part of her foreign ministry, would go to Africa to say, “Just like we’re building up the Jewish people’s self-determination, let’s make life better for Africans as well.”

Or when Israel goes to Turkey or tries to go to Syria or goes to Nepal or goes to Haiti, why does it do that beyond the PR? I choose not to be cynical. And I believe as Zionism’s foundation to understand Zionism, this is actually part of the Jewish state. The whole purpose of it was not just to be normal, but to be exceptional. That’s another reason for Zionism. Why have another state? Well, to do something big, to accomplish something special. And that’s the whole idea of number two.

And the third reason is I think the most common reason, and that is provide an oasis from anti-Semitism that does exist, to provide that refuge, to provide a home that just has to exist, to make sure that when everyone’s kicking you out, when everyone’s oppressing you, when everyone is persecuting you, whether it’s genocide or more microaggression, so I can say that, then there’s a place for you that’s called the Jewish State. Those are the three different reasons for Zionism.

David Bashevkin: 
For secular Zionism.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. Those are three different reasons for secular Zionism.

David Bashevkin: 
May I be real with you? None of those three have anything to do with my relationship with Eretz Yisrael or the state of Israel. Not nothing, but it’s not the foundational reason. They all feel very defensive to me. They’re not proactive in Am Yisrael. And dare I say something a little bit more Messianic, a little bit more-

Noam Weissman: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
… tasting a little bit of redemption in this world-

Noam Weissman: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
… of returning to our homeland, the end of Jewish history almost.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. That only became popular in the mid-60s, early ’70s. Religious Zionism, Mizrahi Zionism, actually, not until after the six-day war was it very popular amongst religious Zionist of Rav Soloveichik. Because I know that you’re aware, maybe your listeners as well, and even like Rabbi Lamm. I don’t think that you would put them in the category of Messianic Zionist.

David Bashevkin: 
No, absolutely not. Rabbi Lamm had a famous dispute with Rabbi Shubert Spero in the pages of Shama Journal, where he was quite clear that Zionism should be denuded of its messianic elements. I have a hard time with that because of the familial relationship to Israel. I find both the danger and the volatility of Israel, the sakana – kan bonim, the danger, it feels a little bit messianic to me. And I’m always moved by the writings of Rav Kook, and even Gershom Scholem and the way Scholem looked at the danger of Hebrew language.

He has a famous letter where he was worried that we’re repurposing in modern Hebrew these very loaded terms, Hashmal, Merkava. We’re taking these mystical terms and using them for Israeli. We’re reshaping the Jewish consciousness as we speak. That’s the sakana element. That’s the danger of all of this. I love these three approaches. I want to take this conversation in a different direction and I want to talk about the contemporary state of anti-Zionism among Jews. And I am wondering if you have any listeners or you have ever had an incident where an anti-Zionist began listening to you and you have been able to change minds. How do you change minds? How do you reach somebody?

My personal theory is that unless you have been raised with that familial instinctive, the narrative that stretches not from 1948, but stretches to 70 CE, to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, to God’s promise to Abraham of taking him, lech lecha m’eretzcha el-haares aser areka, to the land that I will show you, unless you have that really deep, deep knowledge. It’s very hard to win arguments based on the political or philosophical merits. Am I wrong? Do you see that? If we marshal better arguments, no one is lost. You could convince an anti-Zionist about the importance of Israel.

I feel like those arguments need to be instilled not as arguments, but as instinctive components of your Jewish identity. But let’s say to somebody who didn’t grow up in such a home and they don’t have those deep roots, it’s very thinly built. Can you convince an anti-Zionist of the importance or the beauty or the majesty or, at the very least, the right of the state of Israel?

Noam Weissman: 
I’m not the best at convincing or persuasion. I’m not the best debater in the world. What I like to think of myself as and what I try to do with our team at Unpacked is actually a little bit different than that. I mean, I’m not great at it, other people are great at it. But I also think that it just doesn’t work. Adam Grant, who’s a rebbe of mine and probably someone that you’ve read on Shabbat and tweeted about afterwards.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. He says that a common problem in persuasion is that what doesn’t sway us makes our beliefs stronger. And when you’re engaging in the persuasion and you’re thinking about how to convince, I don’t find that particularly compelling. Anyone that I find that’s trying to convince me of something, persuade me on something, my guard is up, I’m less interested, I’m less intrigued. A great example, by the way, is Al Gore’s film from like 20 years ago about climate change-

David Bashevkin: 
And inconvenient truth.

Noam Weissman: 
… would simply made other people who already disagreed with him, disagree with him stronger. It has this almost ironic effect. It has this deleterious effect if you’re trying to persuade. I do think if you’re trying to educate and you’re trying to cultivate and you’re trying to move somebody and allow them to see something slightly differently, if they’re open to it and asking if they’re open to it, then absolutely, it moves people, on the right, on the left, religious, secular. Absolutely. But you have to have their permission first. You got to have their permission first.

And their permission looks at in certain ways. It could be I’m searching for this on the internet. If I’m searching for this on the internet, I want to learn something new as a result of it. I’m searching for this on Spotify. That means I want to learn something new. I’m giving you permission to engage with me. In a classroom, it’s the same sort of thing. I have no interest in trying to convince or persuade anyone of anything if they tell me that they have no interest in being persuaded. From any context, it simply doesn’t work.

David Bashevkin: 
We share such similar philosophies with this, but I’m curious proactively. I mean, imagine the following. Somebody who’s growing up now, they are turning, let’s say, 22, 23 now. Their relationship to Israel, maybe they went on a birthright trip, maybe they went with their high school class in 12th grade, and they are looking at news reports, maybe not in depth, and Israel seems to be, in their eyes, been co-opted by rightwing, politically, by rightwing, religious actors. And they look and say, Israel is no longer for me. This doesn’t reflect who I am when I go to Israel. I don’t feel like my lifestyle is reflected in here. I don’t think that kid is coming to you.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, they are.

David Bashevkin: 
They are coming to you and say, help me.

Noam Weissman: 
That’s not anti-Israel, David. That’s not anti-Israel.

David Bashevkin: 
What is that?

Noam Weissman: 
That’s someone who has a difficulty with the political system in Israel right now. From the beginning, you mentioned this Zionism, this approach is very political. I actually think that it’s davka, not political.

David Bashevkin: 
Specifically, yeah.

Noam Weissman: 
My goal in connecting people to Israel and connecting people to Israelis is not to have them connect to the Israeli government. I don’t care about connecting anyone to anyone’s government. That is superficial, thin, myopic at best. The goal is to connect Jews to Israelis, to connect American Jewry to Israeli Jewry, to connect Americans to their history. I deeply believe in connecting people to Zionism, which is beyond those three things. I was going to say this earlier. Zionism, I would argue, allows you to wear a kippah on the street right now. Zionism is what restored dignity to the Jewish people.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m going to be honest, I’m totally not convinced by that. I appreciate it, and it’s not at all what Zionism does for me on a personal level.

Noam Weissman: 
Okay, fair enough. But I think that for a lot of Jews, it has. It allows them to wear their magen David out, allows them to feel proud of something.

David Bashevkin: 
It gives them a sense of pride.

Noam Weissman: 
It gives them a sense of pride, exactly. But I tell people all the time that you don’t have to agree with the Israeli government. Because imagine it’s like this. Imagine you’re on the right. And in the mid-90s, it’s been a while, right? But in the mid-90s, the Israeli government was more towards the left. Does that mean if you don’t connect with Israeli government, you don’t connect with Israel? No. Of course, you could connect with Israel. You don’t agree with their policies, but that’s okay. You’re allowed to disagree with policies.

You know who disagrees with Israeli policies? Israelis. Israelis disagree with Israeli policies. I think what’s happened in America, specifically, is we’ve almost asked young people to sit on the sidelines and to say, hey, listen, your job is to cheer for Israel and to support Israel and to just make sure that that happens. I think that that has an unintended consequence of not giving people the authority and handing them the ball to dribble and saying to them, hey, build, hey, cultivate, hey, be part of. I have no issue with people disagreeing with the Israeli government.

I think they should learn why they disagree with the Israeli government. If they’re so passionate about the Israeli government, they should learn about it more and more and understand the history of it. But I don’t view that as antagonistic towards Israel. And I think educationally, my goal, really, is to allow people to see the wide contours of dispute that exist within Israeli society and that exists within the Knesset and bring that to your table. That is part of the Zionist project.

David Bashevkin: 
I really genuinely love just the way you’re describing your educational approach. If somebody were to come to you, and you had mentioned this list earlier, the five most significant events in the establishment of the state of Israel. Now you could give me two different lists. I actually would prefer the list of what are the five events that we need to tiptoe around or that require the largest Mikraos Gedolospage that requires the most commentary. What are the events that are the most complicated to explain and need the most educational context? What are we avoiding? What are the five conversations that are the hardest to really confront and develop?

Noam Weissman: 
I’ll divide them up into categories. One is Zionism, one is Israel history and military being part of that. I don’t know if you want me to give you the five most important events in Zionist Israeli history or the five most difficult moments.

David Bashevkin: 
Let’s do both. Let’s start with the most significant and then let’s do-

Noam Weissman: 
Alright.

David Bashevkin: 
… the five most controversial, most difficult, even for my own, frankly, just like a framework of understanding what I should be learning.

Noam Weissman: 
Okay. The first event that I think everyone should learn about is Kishinev, specifically Kishinev. A listener who’s maybe Jewish, I’m not sure, he leads a secular non-denominational school, reached out to me, told me that learning about Kishinev, “changed his life.”

David Bashevkin: 
What’s a line, Kishinev is a place, is a town?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. Kishinev is a city. It’s actually in, I think, modern day Ukraine, which is wilder, right around there. And the way I view it is it was Auschwitz before Auschwitz, before there was a thing called Auschwitz. This is what changed the Jewish world and the Zionist world and the world at large to be like, holy Lord, there needs to be a Jewish state. There needs to be Jewish self-determination. The second event we already mentioned is the Altalena. I think that to understand modern Israeli history, you need to understand the Altalena. We didn’t even talk about the Israeli Palestinian conflict yet. But one of the reasons that I think that the Palestinian leaders aren’t nearly as strong as Israeli leaders is because they haven’t had their Altalena moment yet.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s so interesting. Were the differing factions literally came to butt heads and they were forced to say, we need to stick together or we are going to fall apart? That is very interesting. I appreciate that point a lot. Number one is Kishinev. Number two is the Altalena. Give me your other three and your top five most significant events in Israeli history.

Noam Weissman: 
Number three is, without a doubt, the 1948 War of Independence. I don’t need to say more about that, but there’s so much that went into behind the scenes, the creation of this Jewish state, the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the lack of a Constitution, which 75 years later, we’re seeing the reverberations of that consequential indecision or lack of decision or decision. And that’s gigantic. Number four is the Yom Kippur War. The reason the Yom Kippur War stands out to me at such a critical moment, and we’re going to have 50 years since the Yom Kippur War coming up. It’s this moment where you and I probably learned about it in one way, which is Israel’s never lost a war, that whole thing.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Noam Weissman: 
But if you study the history of the Yom Kippur War, it totally changed Israeli society. It scared the heck out of everyone. For six years, Israel had what’s called the Hebrew, it’s not Hebrew, but it’s called in Hebrew, the konsepsiya, which means that they had this almost, I want to say, I hate to say this about my Jewish brothers and sisters, but a kochi vozem yadi asah li et hachayil hazeh moment, which means that it’s my strength and my might that brought me to this moment. They thought they were invincible. Well, they saw just how vincible, definitely not a word, that they were.

And that was a tremendously important moment. And the last one that I will say, there’s so many others, but a moment of just absolute exquisite celebration is the story of Operation Thunderbolt. It’s a story of Entebbe that many of us saw in summer camp with that incredible music.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Noam Weissman: 
That should be in my pre-game mix, without a doubt. But it’s this moment where what I was describing earlier, to change the existential condition of the Jew, to restore the dignity to the Jewish people. That moment, 1976, the bicentennial of the American Revolution, it happened on July 4th. And even more than the six-day war, more is too strong, Noam, relax, but the six-day war is tremendous, obviously. But what this did was it showed the world, the Jewish … It’s crazy.

The Jewish people, the Jewish state said, we’re going to take matters into our own hands and we’re going to fly thousands of miles and do this unbelievable event, which is to save Jewish people. And it happened and it worked with a few really important tragic moments along the way. America tried to do this with Iran a few years later, and it failed. Israel was, it’s this unbelievable romantic moment that I think every young Jewish person should know about.

David Bashevkin: 
I want to go through your top five again, just so people know it. It was fantastic. You put Kishinev, you put Altalena, you put War of Independence, you put Yom Kippur War, and you put Operation Thunderbolt. I have no doubt that there are people who are going to write, either me or you, letters that Operation Thunderbolt beat out ’67. Just be prepared for that. I might write you a letter after we hang up right now.

Noam Weissman: 
I might write myself a letter.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah. That image of Rabbi Goren blowing chauffeur at the hotel and being reunited with the Kotel. Obviously, it’s indicative of my relationship to Israel. And I think you are telling, not a less personal story, but a different story about Israel’s standing in the world and how that came to be and the stories that I think animate me most. That’s why I want to hear your list so badly. My stories are deeply personal, they’re deeply religious in a lot of ways. And that’s probably the only qualm that I have. I never even heard of Kishinev, and I will definitely look it up afterwards. But that is not the only top five that I wanted to hear.

Noam Weissman: 
No.

David Bashevkin: 
The real top five that I want to hear, especially from an Israel educator, especially for people who are trying to understand, where is all of the animus coming from? Why do they hate us so much? Or the famous meme that is so often used in relationship to Israel, I forgot what show it’s from, are we the baddies? There’s this famous show where you see two Nazis who are together in the bunker and they’re looking at their uniform, which has skulls and all of this evil, scary imagery. And they look at one another and they say, “Are we the baddies?”

Are we the bad ones? And very often, that’s used as a critique on Israel. We’re so convinced that Israel’s in the right. I am so convinced. I don’t think I could be persuaded otherwise. I’m obviously not the audience for this. But what are the five incidents that cause the most controversy or that are the most difficult to transmit? Because it does make people question or they are used in order to tear down Israel’s right to exist or Israel’s right to any sense of moral, not just superiority. That’s not what we’re aiming for, but moral decency.

Noam Weissman: 
You said you’re not interested in being persuaded, so maybe on this front, but maybe your listeners will be. I’ll tell you a quick story.

David Bashevkin: 
Are you going to give me the list or-

Noam Weissman: 
Oh, good.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay, I don’t want you to-

Noam Weissman: 
I’m going to give you a list.

David Bashevkin: 
… whistle out of this list.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, I’m going to give you a list. I’m going to give you a list.

David Bashevkin: 
But tell me a quick story first.

Noam Weissman: 
I’m going to tell you a quick story to get context to this. 50 years after the Munich massacre, which we just spoke about, Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA, Palestinian Authority, was in Munich, was in Germany or Berlin, wherever he was, in Germany. And he was on the soil. He was on the soil where these 11 Israelis were massacred. And he was asked to reflect on that moment 50 years later. And he says, “You want me to reflect on this, really? Do you know what Israel has done to us?” He says, “50 holocausts, they’ve committed, 50 holocausts.”

Now my heart’s thumping. Anyone who watches this is just getting angry, bloods boiling, I think. And then he starts to say, and I’ll tell you what I’m talking about, and he says, “Kafr Qasim, Kibuye, Deir Yassin.” I show this clip to everyone, and I did this in Australia, in Sydney. I said to everyone, all the students, hundreds of students, how’d you feel when you heard Mahmoud Abbas say this? Everyone screams, “Disgusting, awful, anti-Semitic, terrible.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I agree, by the way.” And so your listeners, I agree, terrible, awful.

Then I asked a different question, “Raise your hand now, 200 of you. Raise your hand now if you could tell me what happened at Deir Yassin. Raise your hand if you could tell me what happened at Kafr Qasim. Raise your hand if you could tell me what happened at Kibuye.” And the point is, nobody was able to. And what I struggle with and when I’m trying to engage with my education is there’s something called psychologically, the Dunning-Kruger effect. And the Dunning-Kruger effect is when people have overconfidence and under competence. They’re so confident about what they think and what they feel, but they’re not actually competent. And, David, you are such a proud, powerful, and brilliant Jew, really one of the smartest.

David Bashevkin: 
That means so much to me.

Noam Weissman: 
What I shared the podcast that you were on with me on happiness and I shared it with people, I was like, the only feedback I got was that guy is really smart, that guy is brilliant.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s very kind.

Noam Weissman: 
I’m like, I know, and it’s true. You have this connection to Yiddishkeit. You have this fluency that exists. You have that all. You don’t necessarily need to know what happened maybe. I could maybe argue against it, but maybe not. But most people who don’t have that, and they’re going to college campuses. They’re going to the workplace, put aside college campuses, and they are now in the role of the Jew. They now need to understand and talk about Israeli history as though they’re like some scholar, even though they’re not.

They didn’t ask for that role, but they are in that role. They got to know these moments. And these moments, like anything sophisticated, and if you’re in the broader Orthodox world, the Modern Orthodox world, very good at understanding multiple perspectives, we’re, you, we, whomever, the only community that even has heard of the word dialectic. We’re able to deal with contradictory and difficult and dichotomous ways of thinking about things. But we put that aside very often when learning about Israel. And I think that that is a problem. Because it’s not that you should be a critical thinker except about this one thing, that will never happen, so the moments that I have within that context.

David Bashevkin: 
Now we’re going to the top five.

Noam Weissman: 
Now the top five.

David Bashevkin: 
And I’m not pushing back, I don’t want to gauge. So much of our conversation has been struggling with whether or not I even agree with this, meaning is maybe the approach that I took. And very often, in my role in NCSY or my role more as a educator to teens, I struggle with this because it’s hard. The foundations and the donors want to hear robust Israel education, they’re desperate for it. And I’m always nervous, is this the right path? And you made a good case for why maybe it’s very specific to me. But I’ve really, really struggled with this, and I’m not sure. I’m not sure that I’m right. I’m not sure that the other approach is right. I know that you can’t feel connected to Eretz Yisrael just through a political lens, that much I know.

Noam Weissman: 
I couldn’t agree more.

David Bashevkin: 
And we’re in agreement with that.

Noam Weissman: 
I could not agree with you more on that.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah. But how to build that depth and the order with which to build that depth is something that I often struggle with. But I first want to hear this list because I really appreciate these lists, and you happen to be great at making lists. Let’s hear the top five most controversial events related to Israeli history.

Noam Weissman: 
Here’s what I got for you. Number one is Deir Yassin, April 1948. It’s one of the reasons that people why they don’t like this term frankly, but the pro-Palestinian world will turn to, and they will say, Israel was born in sin. That because of Deir Yassin, Israel is born in sin. Well, what happened there? Big question mark. I’m not going to go into the history of it. Listen to the podcast. Number two is I would say the six-day war.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow. I didn’t expect to see that on the list.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. I’ll tell you what I mean by it. Not the six-day war itself, but the consequence of the six-day war. For people who are in this sympathizing with Palestinian camp, there’s two different terms, there’s the nakba, which means the catastrophe that refers to the dispossession, as they see it, of the Palestinian people in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, the Jewish state. That’s called the nakba. And then there’s another word that people don’t know, but it’s called the naksa, which means the setback.

19 years after the formation of the Jewish state in 1948 was what they call the naksa, the setback. And the setback was when Israel tripled in size, it gained the Golan, it gained Judea and Samaria, which people call the West Bank. It gained the Sinai and it gained Gaza. It tremendously changed everything. Israel, all of a sudden, was not this little shepsula, this little nothing, this little runt. All of a sudden, Israel, especially with the development of Dimona over the years, meaning the nuclear plant and tripling in size, it just became strong.

And then it had to deal with this massive question. Because remember, not until ’67 did it have to deal with this question, how do you deal with millions of Palestinians living under your dominion, under your control? How do you deal with that question? That’s a really important question to deal with. And people have to think about how to deal with that question. Again, I’m not giving any answers to that, but that is a question that you have to think through. That five minutes away from Jerusalem is Ramla, right?

David Bashevkin: 
It changed the demographics of Israel. I mean, aside from growing, we were now the sovereign state. Israel was now the sovereign state over a much larger Palestinian population.

Noam Weissman: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
And this is where a lot of the green lines come in from this, right?

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, yeah, exactly.

David Bashevkin: 
And that’s from ’67.

Noam Weissman: 
When people talk about the word occupation, they mean three different things, typically. It could mean of the land that was gained in ’67, it could mean all of 1948. And if it means 1967-

David Bashevkin: 
Wait, you said three things, I only heard two things.

Noam Weissman: 
The third thing is that it’s not that the land is occupied, this is an idea from Yossi Klein Halevi, which was a total reframing of it. “The land is Jewish land,” says Yossi Klein Halevi. It’s Jewish ancestral, it’s land that’s the Jewish people’s land. To call any land occupied is inaccurate. But he says, well, the land isn’t occupied, and you can never say that, the people are occupied, the Palestinian people are occupied. Those are three different ways that people use the term occupation.

David Bashevkin: 
For our listeners, what you just heard was a list within a list. This is like when I was in elementary school, it was always exciting when the rabbi would tell a story and then in the middle of the story, some Hasidic rabbi would tell another story. The whole class would be, oh my gosh, story in a story, story in a story. It’s very exciting. We are in the middle of a list of top five most controversial events related to Israeli history. We did Deir Yassin, we did ’67, we took a brief detour of three versions of occupation, whether it is the occupation of ’48, of 67, or the Yossi Klein Halevi, this occupation refer to occupation of the people. Let’s hear the rest of the list, three, four, and five.

Noam Weissman: 
Okay. Number three is Zionism is racism, which was, I know, obviously, I don’t think it’s racism. But this was a UN resolution 3379. And that was so important to understanding, again, how the Jewish community in Israel really felt just incredibly sidelined and disrespected and delegitimized and demonized. You have to understand what went into that, and then subsequently, what the Israeli government did in order to respond to it. And it’s a fascinating story.

David Bashevkin: 
This is where a lot of the apartheid accusations-

Noam Weissman: 
Exactly.

David Bashevkin: 
… come in response to this.

Noam Weissman: 
Exactly.

David Bashevkin: 
That the uniquely Jewish character of the state of Israel, by definition, must be racist. It’s a racial policy, which obviously doesn’t sit well among Jews or non-Jews and understanding the context of UN resolution 3379. That’s number three on the list.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. And it was repealed in the early ’90s. But number four, I would say, is a totally different way to view this, not the Palestinian Israeli conflict issues, but Jew versus Jew. And that’s the story of the Israeli Black Panthers. People don’t know the story of the HaPanterim HaShkhorim, the Israeli Black Panthers, that modeled themselves after the American Black Panthers. And that’s just a story that no one knows about. I actually just got a Haggadah called the Israeli Black Panther Haggadah, because I’m that much of a nerd, that such a concept exists.

I had to get it and read it. But they’re a group of Mizrahim of North African Jewry that felt that they did not have a place in Ashkenazi elite secular Zionism. And the person, by the way, that became their hero was none other than Menachem Begin, who really viewed his job as restoring the unity to the Jewish people. But the story of the Israeli Black Panther is a story that so few people know about, but I think it’s so, so, so interesting. And then the last one is just a tragic story.

It’s the story of Rabin’s assassination, of Yigal Amir killing Rabin, assassinating Rabin, and the implications of that. The question marks that emerge from that from people like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Yehuda Amital, who really just wonder whether or not we could say that just one bad seed or whether or not the community is responsible for what took place here. And that’s an existential question that educators need to think about, how to incorporate empathy, how to incorporate understanding people with whom you have strong disagreements with and dealing with war and dealing with governments that you have a strong problem with.

David Bashevkin: 
I think that’s really an excellent list. Again, Deir Yassin was one, the ’67 war and, really, the implications afterwards, UN resolution 3379, Jew versus Jew, Israeli Black Panthers, that probably signify something larger than that, and finally, Rabin’s assassination. I really love your list and I love how organized you are in the way that you conceptualize and tell the history of Israel. I mean that really sincerely. And it happens to be one of my real blind spots, it’s pitch black is the ins and outs of Israeli history, Israeli political history. I am woefully undereducated.

And I really think I’m going to dedicate more time. I have listened to you before, but I need to listen to a lot more, which really allows me to segue into how we normally wrap up our interviews. I usually call these rapid fire questions. I would like you to spend a drop more time on my first question because it’s really coming from a personal place. I would like to know if you were to recommend books, plural, deliberately, because I don’t think there’s any one book, but the starting point to begin to understand the story of Israeli history, Zionist philosophy.

Where did this begin? How do I understand the conflicting side? Something that really presents to you that Mikraos Gedolos, the commentaries by them side and processes the most. What are the books that you would recommend somebody who really wants to understand what the state of Israel is all about and continues to grapple with?

Noam Weissman: 
I’ll share three books that are incredibly different from one another. One is called The Arc of a Covenant by Walter Russell Mead. It is incredibly granular in the details that it incorporates in the storytelling of why America supports Israel, the history of the Israeli-American relations, what it’s all about, where Zionism comes from. It’s brilliant. It’s called The Arc of a Covenant. Number two is by Micah Goodman. It’s in Hebrew. It has an English translation as well. But the Hebrew is called Chazara Bli Teshuva.

David Bashevkin: 
What is it in English?

Noam Weissman: 
The Wondering Jew.

David Bashevkin: 
And what’s that book about?

Noam Weissman: 
That book is about the different strains of Zionism and how it impacts our thinking today, the different types of secular Zionism, which so much more to say about that, and religious Zionism and how it therefore influences today. And then the third, it’s definitely more of a leftwing book, so I want to just clarify that to make sure that everyone knows that. But it’s called Side by Side Parallel Histories of Israel Palestine. It shows the same exact event, but from what’s described as an Israeli perspective and a Palestinian perspective.

I have some issues with the book, without a doubt, but it gives me a lot of information. That’s an example of something that I would not give this book to a 14-year-old. Certainly, it’s not my young Israel Bar Mitzvah book, but it’s a book that might be-

David Bashevkin: 
Presents, really, the conflicting narratives related to the founding of the state of Israel. I want to push you because a lot of these books are advanced. Is there a classic book on the history of the state of Israel, just an absolute classic, almost like the 101, the introductory course, just the basics? Take me from the founding to at least, I don’t know, ’67-

Noam Weissman: 
I got you. I got you. I’ll give you three options. Option number one is Anita Shapira. Her book is called Israel. Number two is Danny Gordis’ book, Israel: A Concise History. And number three, and it’s a bit of a tome, is also, it is called Israel History by Martin Gilbert. But the fourth, I would say, this is just one that makes me happy and I love it and I use it all the time.

David Bashevkin: 
Let me just say, we need way more creativity-

Noam Weissman: 
I know.

David Bashevkin: 
… in our Israel history book titles. My god. Who are the publishers here? We got to mix it up a little bit, okay? But what’s number four?

Noam Weissman: 
Number four is just the one that brings me joy and smiles and stories, also not in the most creatively named book, but such a great one, The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner. I’m sure you’ve read that.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh yeah. That was like a staple. I feel like all Jewish dads were sent a copy at the same time. I saw it in every shul around the world. That’s an absolute classic. I very much appreciate that. You already have a PhD in Israel education and its relationship to Jewish identity formation. If somebody gave you a great deal of money and allowed you to take a sabbatical to go back to school and write either a book or another PhD, what do you think the subject and title of that book would be?

Noam Weissman: 
The topic would be something to do with polarization and partisanship and democracy and conversation. I don’t know exactly what it would look like, but that is one of the areas that I am obsessed with trying to work through and figure out that political polarization, religious polarization, I find so damaging. And it’s so hard for me because I don’t identify with it. And it’s just hard. And I know that it’s not passionate about issues. I’m incredibly passionate about issues.

One of the issues of being moderate is that a lot of people who are moderates don’t have a moderate amount of energy. But I think that moderates can really add things to moderates religiously, moderates politically, and whatever it looks like. And so it’s very hard for me because I don’t identify with partisan politics, I don’t identify with polarization. And I want to increase a lot more empathy in the world. I would study just polarization amongst different groups and amongst different areas. That’s what I would do.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s fantastic. It reminds me of the work that I think you may have even been one of the first to introduce him to me. And he is a former guest on 18Forty, the Incredible Jonathan Haidt. I hope I’m pronouncing his last name correctly.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah, I did.

David Bashevkin: 
But he’s done a lot of research on partisanship. My last question, I’m always curious about people’s sleep schedules. What time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Noam Weissman: 
When I lived in LA, I went to sleep much earlier, at like 9:30, 10:00 p.m. because I had to wake up, because half of our team lives in Israel. I’d have these meetings starting at 4:30 a.m. And now I wake up a bit later. I wake up, I have same alarm all the time at 5:45. One of my friends who saw how ridiculous I am sees me set up everything with my coffee beforehand. One of my worst qualities, I have many, but one of my worst qualities is that I drink low level coffee. It’s really unacceptable, frankly.

But even that, I open up the VIA first beforehand, before I go to sleep at night, there’s the packet. I have my mug ready to go. But now that I live on the East Coast, I live in Florida, I love sports and specifically I love NBA and college basketball. And the West Coast times are impossible. I, at like 10:30, 11:00, start watching for 40 minutes, and then I fall asleep. And then my alarm is at 5:45 and I have my coffee. I have water, and then coffee.

David Bashevkin: 
Indulge me for one second. I don’t usually do this, but it’s one question that I forgot to ask you, and I usually ending on the sleep question. I am just curious for this series, where do you get your current event Israeli news from? Are there specific writers, outlets that you recommend for people who want to understand what’s going on in Israel?

Noam Weissman: 
I just read everything. And of course, Twitter, I’m actually not great on Twitter. There’s someone named Amit Segal, it’s in Hebrew, but it’s an important place to get your news. But what I do, and this is my style, what I’m trying to bring to the world is to read Arutz Sheva, Times of Israel, JPost, and to see those wide contours of the dispute that exist within Israeli society and within the media, and then to come up with your own perspectives as a result of that interaction. And so that’s what I do. I just binge all of that.

And specifically, there’s one really intelligent thinker out there. His name is Michael Koplow. He’s the Chief Policy Officer at IPF, Israel Policy Forum, which is a center left, I would say, organization. Actually, I think he went to MTA, by the way. But he’s brilliant. And if you want to just see an understanding of what’s going on, that’s very political. He’s very political. That’s his orientation. He’s an educator. He’s in that NGO space. But that’s a really interesting and important place to turn to.

David Bashevkin: 
My dearest friend, Noam Weissman, Dr. Noam Weissman, thank you so much for speaking today with 18Forty.

Noam Weissman: 
David, I am so happy to be here and really, really love the work you do. I want to say one last note if that’s allowed. Listening to your podcast with Rabbi Kamenetsky, he quoted Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, who said, “If you give people just enough Gemara, they’re going to hate it or something,” right?

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, you give just enough to hate it.

Noam Weissman: 
Yeah. I think that that could happen with Israel as well. And if we’re going to be engaging in Zionism in Israel education, let’s do it right.

David Bashevkin: 
I really appreciate that analogy. I appreciate you and all the work you do, and just continue success in everything that you are involved in.

Noam Weissman: 
Thank you. Thank you so much, David.

David Bashevkin: 
What fascinated me so much is that the very questions of Israel education and how do we provide an Israel education, to me, and you heard it in the conversation, were so many of the negotiations that we have on 18Forty. What is the best way, not just for Israel education, but Yiddishkeit education? Do we just tell over the sanitized story? Maybe begin with the sanitized story. If you heard my voice throughout, what I was almost advocating for is you need that foundation of a relationship, whether it’s with Eretz Yisrael or with Yiddishkeit that is almost beyond reproach.

It is that emunah peshuta, that simple faith that we have in our identity and our commitments and who we are as a people. And it’s only upon that faith that we’re able to build with confidence, the nuance and the differences and the questions that emerge, not just with the state of Israel, not just with Jewish history, but with Yiddishkeit, with Judaism, with our lives. And it’s so interesting that so many of the political questions that emerge about the way that we transmit the story of Israel are really just a microcosm of the larger questions of how we transmit Jewish identity in the modern age, a question that continues to animate all of the work that we do on 18Forty.

Thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episodes, was edited by our dearest friend, Denah Emerson. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of Jewish guilt. So if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, review, tell your friends about it. You could also donate at 18forty.org/donate. And thank you, again, to our friends at OpenDor Media. You could check out more of their incredible work at opendormedia.org, where their incredible podcasts, Unpacking Jewish History, Unpacking the Israel Story can be found on any podcast player and of course, at opendormedia.org.

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