September 1st is the beginning of the school year in Israel. Beginning this year, Jewish Israeli students will not learn about the history of the Jewish people during the period of the Second Temple, its destruction, the Great Revolt of Judaea, the Cyrus Declaration, the Hasmonean Revolt, and other key events in the history of our people. To give you some perspective, it is as if American children were not taught about the Civil War, what the war was about and how it ended. How would they understand what is happening in America today without learning about the Civil War? What kind of American citizens would they be?
History lessons have been given less and less time in students’ curricula for decades. In the early 2000s, Israeli students still had nine hours of history lessons weekly. Beginning September, they will have five.
A person without a past, without a history, is not a person, just as a nation without a history is not a nation. Our history is an essential part of who we are. It defines our principles and our personality; it is everything! I cannot understand how we can determine who we are if we do not know about the history of our people.
History is not only my family tree, or the history of my nation, or creed. It begins with the creation of the universe, the emergence of our solar system and Planet Earth within it, the beginning of life on Earth, the evolution of the species, the emergence of humans, and the evolution of human civilization to this day. How can we determine our direction for the future if we do not know our past? It seems to me that whoever wishes to cancel our history must be planning some sort of revolution. I see no other motivation.
The history of the ancient world, including what happened during the period of the Second Temple, the Roman Empire, Greek Empire, and other key processes and events in the history of humanity and the history of the Jews, is the foundation of our civilization, and the foundation of our people. I know that I learned it because I wanted to know about man on Earth, and it taught me a great deal. For example, how will we correct past mistakes if we do not know about them? In order to know our place in the world, we have to know where we came from, why, and what is expected of us in the future.
Besides general history, which begins, as I said, with the creation of the universe, and ends with today’s civilization, we must also know the history of our own people. If teaching about the destruction of the Second Temple and that entire period has already been eliminated, tomorrow, teaching about the exodus from Egypt might also be eliminated. And if these are erased, then what is left of our legacy?
I think this is a terrible mistake. If you erase one’s past, you have erased one’s present, and you have denied one the ability to plan the future correctly. Without continuity, without a historic perspective, it is impossible to build a future. I do not see any developed country doing this.
Perhaps the teaching methods should change; perhaps they should be more engaging, modernized, but one way or the other, without our past, we cannot understand our present or know how to proceed toward the future.