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High school students learn hard lessons about the trauma of war

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A scene from the new documentary, When the Smoke Clears, which is being released in conjunction with Yom ha-Zikaron. (Jerusalem U)

Before they celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, students from Hebrew Academy in Montreal will be getting a lesson in the sacrifice and suffering that enables Jews around the world to feel that joy.

Hebrew Academy is the sole Canadian participant among more than 40 Jewish high schools in the Diaspora that are taking part in an educational project that focuses on the price Israelis have paid for their country’s existence: the trauma of war and violence.

The centrepiece is the hard-hitting new film, When the Smoke Clears: A Story of Brotherhood, Resilience and Hope, which was produced by Jerusalem U, a non-profit that develops pro-Israel educational programming for Jewish students and adults. The film will be screened at all the schools on Yom ha-Zikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, on April 18.

At Hebrew Academy, it will be seen by students in grades 9 through 11.

The film tells the true stories of three young veterans whose injuries left them struggling both physically and emotionally.

“When we were contacted by Jerusalem U about their Yom ha-Zikaron program, it seemed to us that they were right on target with that educational philosophy and therefore a good fit to enhance our Yom ha-Zikaron educational goals,” said Rabbi Eddie Shostak, head of Judaic studies at Hebrew Academy, a Zionist modern Orthodox school.

READ: YOM HAZIKARON – THERE WILL BE NO BAPTISM

“The program is meaningful and thought-provoking, innovative and creative – tailored to the language of teenagers.”

In the film, Gil, an officer, and privates Ofer and Elad speak about their experiences in war and how it changed their lives when they returned to civil society.

“When you read in the paper about a soldier that got injured, you say ‘phew, at least he is not dead.’ You don’t even think about what it means,” says Ofer, who was wounded in the second Lebanon War. “I don’t think going to war is heroic. I think what is heroic is when I see people who choose to live after what they’ve gone through.”

The project includes an Instagram campaign that will serve as a space where students around the world can connect over this shared learning experience.

The film’s producers, Rebecca Shore and Raphael Shore, say they want to expose a side of the Israeli narrative that is often overlooked, while doing it in a way that’s suitable for audiences of all ages.

“We know that death and loss have always been accepted as part of what our nation has experienced since independence,” said Rebecca Shore. “But the sad reality is that we know much less about the traumas of those who were injured and how those experiences impact on the rest of their lives and those around them.”

This is a big part of the story of the nation’s heroism and victory.
– Rebecca Shore

The focus on individual soldiers and their families is intended to encourage discussion in the classroom about the difficult personal issues they raise. Imagination Productions, the Shores’ company, produced a special cut of the film that’s designed for students, as well as an accompanying curriculum, discussion guide and instructor training program.

“This is a big part of the story of the nation’s heroism and victory,” said Rebecca Shore. “We welcome the chance to share this perspective, while also employing social media to promote engagement in ways we know best conform to the interests of younger students.”

Rabbi Shore added that, “As committed educators, we are well aware media and culture play a most critical and influential role in our students’ lives. We believe we have an obligation to do our best to be up-to-date and speak their rapidly evolving language in delivering our timeless messages.”

Israel education is part of Hebrew Academy’s core mission.

“Yom ha-Zikaron, Yom ha-Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim are not commemorated in a vacuum,” he said. “Students learn and experience these days in meaningful and relevant ways.”

For this Yom ha-Zikaron, in addition to the Jerusalem U program, students will learn about the relevance of the day in their Israel studies course and participate in a memorial ceremony organized by Kollel Torah MiTzion. The school will also be filled with creative information boards put together by girls in Sheirut Leumi, a national service option for religious girls who do not serve in the Israel Defence Forces.

The Shores are also the producers of the documentary, Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference.