Day school students offer clashing views on Mideast

Kids in secular school current events classes may be debating such issues as the media's O.J. Simpson obsession, but Bay Area Jewish school students are looking elsewhere this school year for inspiration.

In Jewish day schools, teachers frequently use current events classes to teach about the Middle East peace process, and students of all ages are forming opinions as strong and varied as those their parents hold.

In a series of recent interviews, many youngsters agreed with Shifra Zack, 7, a student this school year in Jennifer Erlich's first grade class at Oakland Hebrew Day School, a modern Orthodox school.

Her views about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process favored staying with the current negotiations."I think they could make peace by staying together," she said.

But as Naomi Kaye, 7, a second-grader at the school this year remarked, "What I read in the newspaper usually isn't peaceful."

Despite the negative headlines, many of these youngsters were optimistic about the possibility that peace will hold in the region.

Yael Lewin, 7, a second-grader at the Oakland school this year, said peace will happen, and it will hasten the coming of the Messiah and the building of the Third Temple.

When she grows up and goes to Israel, Lewin said, "The Beit HaMidrash [ThirdTemple] will be built again, and there will be more trees."

She would also intervene with world leaders to nudge the peace process along.

"I would call all the presidents of all the countries because they're supposed to be helping," she said.

Dina Rosenblatt, 10, a fifth-grader at the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School in Palo Alto this year, also suggested looking to world leaders for help.

"I want the Americans to make sure everything goes right so there can be peace in Israel," she said.

Dina's classmate this year, Avinoam Lozon, 10, took a more cynical stance about U.S. motives for getting involved in the Mideast peace process. "America is being extra nice to both the Arabs and the Jews just because they want oil," he said.

Nathan Alloy, 9, a fourth-grader at the Palo Alto school this year, took an even dimmer view of U.S. foreign policy. "The U.S. just wants to rule the world," he said.

Students at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco tended to be even more political and more hard-line.

Referring to the Arab nations, Ben Bien-Kahn, 12, a seventh-grader this year, said: "The more land they get, the more they're going to want. They're trying to get the Jews out and push Israel into the sea."

Added Jenny Lorch, also 12 , in the seventh grade this year at Brandeis Hillel: "We rightfully conquered the land. We did the same thing everyone else does."

Ben, Jenny and other Brandeis students are concerned about Israel giving up land before the Palestinians and Arabs prove peace is real.

"If Syria gets the Golan before they have peace, they'll just forget about peace," said Emma Schwartz, 13 , in the eighth grade this year.

Josh Lee, 14, also in the eighth grade this year, said that if Israel does give up much more land, "It's going to look like Swiss cheese!"

Instead, Lee said, Israel should focus on building trade ties with its current peace partners. "Israel should try to get Egypt to be more of a partner because Egypt has a long history of being understanding with Israel," he said. "If Egypt starts trading, maybe other nations will follow."

The Palestinians also should do more to attract foreign aid, Schwartz said. Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat "needs to give a good financial plan so the Palestinians can get more money."

Debbie Goldberg, 11, in the sixth grade at Eitz Chaim Academy in San Jose this year, thinks Mideast leaders should concentrate on convincing their public to support peace.

"I believe that the main players aren't Yitzhak Rabin or Yasser Arafat, but the people. If the people don't want peace, there won't be any," she said.