Rabins assassination a springboard for Bay Area Jewish learning

In tragedy there is often a lesson.

Bay Area Jewish educators agree the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin provides a springboard into many difficult-to-teach subjects — among them, morality, ethics and Israel.

"Unfortunately, this is such a teachable moment. We have to take advantage of it to teach about both world events and personal behavior," said Lori Abramson, educational director at Oakland's Temple Sinai.

Temple Sinai held a prayer service and discussion for students last week. In the classrooms, some teachers attempted to dissect a map of the Middle East. Others jumped online to surf the Internet for Rabin-related information.

Abramson also downloaded all the Rabin eulogies from the Internet so they would be at her students' fingertips.

"That two Arab leaders were in Jerusalem eulogizing a Jew is quite powerful," Abramson said.

An area on the San Francisco Bureau of Jewish Education's World Wide Web site could help educators like Abramson find the information they're seeking.

At http://www/slip.net~bjesf are curriculum ideas, references to Jewish texts, history of Rabin and his speeches, and links to other web sites.

The information is gathered from a variety of sources, some online, such as the Pedagogic Center of the Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education, others via fax, including a newsletter from the Jewish Education Center in Cleveland. In addition, the BJE is including a list of videos and books about Rabin at its web site.

Brad Lakritz, technology coordinator for the BJE, said the area was created to provide continuing support and resources to Jewish schools.

"Most of the schools dealt with Rabin's death on an emotional level. There were commemorations and services that Sunday [the day after the assassination]. In a sense it was too late for us to respond. So we had to find other ways," he said.

Lakritz and others noticed all the activity on the Internet following Rabin's death — chatlines, condolence cards and memorial sites with computer-generated candles — and decided upon an ongoing listing of resources and activities.

Currently, the area offers speeches by Rabin, lesson plans, remarks on Rabin by world leaders and links to other related web sites.

Although Lakritz isn't certain how often people are logging onto the Rabin area of the BJE site, Bay Area educators are certainly making use of high-technology.

At Oakland Hebrew Day School, students used online services to quickly put together reports comparing Rabin and other assassinated heads of state. Students at Brandeis Hillel Day School in Marin and San Francisco are e-mailing letters of condolence to Rabin's family.

Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco is using its online services to create a news-bulletin board. Educator Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan downloads information about Rabin, Israel and the peace process, then reformats it in large type for a community bulletin board filling an entire wall.

"The kids don't want to stare at a screen. They want to talk to each other," Wolf-Prusan said. "The board is [in a corridor] on the way to their classes. It's communal."

Yet Wolf-Prusan and others say that while the Internet provides immediate information, it's only a secondary tool for the Jewish classroom. Providing a place for Jewish students to talk freely about these issues is key, they say.

For example, at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, a memorial service spawned discussions about the death penalty, tolerance, the value of human life and Israel.

"Teaching Israel is difficult. To some of the kids it's just a country where many Jews live. It's in our liturgy, spoken in the classrooms, but the kids just don't have a sense of connection to it that we did 20 years go," said Kol Shofar education director Beverly Pinto.

"Situations like this give us an opportunity to make connections that Israel isn't just another country in the world."

Rabbi Andy Straus, educator at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, agreed.

"I grew up with Israel of the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. These kids grew up with the intifada. To them Israel is no longer David but Goliath. But Rabin's death made Israel their own."