“When you came into Israel when you were a child, Israel accepted you. What if they hadn’t? That is what the asylum seekers are feeling. The asylum seekers are waiting to hear Israel’s answer. Imagine if you were in this state. I think it is both our responsibility to help these refugees and help the people in Israel. Is there a way Israel can help both Israel and the asylum seekers?”
These are some of the feelings and questions that 6th grader Abi H. felt Elizabeth Blackwell (America’s first female doctor) would pose to Israeli Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon, when discussing the 50,000 non-Jewish African asylum seekers who are currently being held in Israel.
Such are the discussions that take place as the Rashi 6th graders participate in the Jewish Court of All Time (JCAT) as part of their social studies curriculum. In this historical simulation, implemented by RAVSAK in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Education, the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew College, and the University of Cincinnati, students take on the role and perspective of famous historical figures to help decide a fictitious court case about a real world current problem.
This year the Rashi students, along with middle schoolers throughout the United States and Canada, are helping to decide what should be done and what is Israel’s responsibility to help over 50,000 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who are currently being held at the Holot Detention Center in the Negev Desert. As part of this simulation, students are exploring this complicated issue through the eyes of figures as diverse as Rosa Parks, Yitzhak Rabin, Simon Wiesenthal, Socrates, and Chief Justice John Roberts to name a few. After choosing their historical character, the students conducted research to find out, not only what made their subject famous or historically significant, but also what experiences influenced their thought process, their reaction to life’s events, and what “made them tick.” They then examined issues such as the role of government, Israel’s responsibilities as a Jewish state, immigration, and financial accountability, along with the research they conducted, to help in deciding how their character might feel about the best way to handle the immigration crisis that Israel is currently experiencing.
Having to think about this case, not only as 6th graders, but also through the perspective of their characters has been both enjoyable and eye opening for the students. As 6th grader Lexie S., who has played the role of Mother Teresa put it, “JCAT is a really good opportunity to learn about different characters from history because when you are really empathizing with someone and by stepping into their shoes, that is when you really get to learn in a deep way.”
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