Lesson Plan: Israel’s Declaration of Independence
This lesson introduces students to Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Through an interactive session and discussion, students will gain insight into the delicate situation facing the Jewish people as Israel’s independence was about to be declared. This activity gives students the chance to “walk in the footsteps” of leaders, thus developing an understanding of the dilemmas and choices our leaders made that in turn shaped the course of history.
Target age group: Grade 9 – 12 (can be adjusted to other grades).
Connection to curriculum: Geography, social studies, world history, Jewish history, Jewish studies.
Time required: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials Required: Wording of the full Declaration of Independence (English translation), 5 sets of Declaration of Independence puzzle (10 index cards, each card featuring a different paragraph from the Declaration), 5 index cards with one challenge written on each, and a set for the teacher that includes the puzzle cards and the challenge cards.
Gain insight into the general atmosphere in Israel prior to signing the Declaration of Independence.
Discuss the content, purpose, and order of each section of the Declaration of Independence.
Determine the importance and necessity of the Declaration of Independence for the Jewish people in the past, present and future.
Opening - Begin by giving students background information of the atmosphere in Israel just before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Background Information - On May 14, 1948, corresponding to the 5th of Iyar, 5708. David Ben Gurion called together the Provisional Council of the emerging State in order to formally declare the establishment of the State of Israel. This act reflects, without a doubt, the most significant declaration in Jewish history in 2000 years.
For 2,000 years the Jewish people had dreamed of, and waited impatiently for this moment. Now the moment of truth was before us. The opportunity had finally come for us to achieve the dream of generations. However there were many problems. The question that stood out before the nation was whether or not to proceed, knowing all the risks. It is clear however, that had we not acted, we could have missed this amazing historical opportunity. As David Ben Gurion assembled the Provisional Council, these were the issues he had to deal with.
“Should we proceed ?”
1. Ask students to go back in time to 1947 and put themselves in the footsteps of leaders.
Present the following questions for class discussion:
- What would be the declared character of this State?
- Would this be a religious State or a secular State?
- How would we relate to the Arab population living in our midst?
- How could we appeal to the Arab states around us to stop the war and violence and insure them that we only want peace?
- What kind of democracy would we establish? What would be our relationship with the Jewish Diaspora?
2. Divide the class into five groups. Remind the groups that there are many questions, risks, difficulties and fears facing the Jewish people, yet the question remains – “should we proceed?”
Each group is asked to role play this dilemma.
Each group is given a challenge card and asked to read the question and discuss whether or not they feel this is the right time to act. Challenge card questions:
- The British mandate will be ending soon.
- The Arab populations in the surrounding States have called for war against us.
- The U.S. has become frightened that we will not be able to stand up to the challenge.
- Truman is urging us not to declare the State for fear of the consequences.
- We are a small and not strongly armed nation at this point.
In discussion of their challenge card, students should consider the following questions (to be written on the board) -
Should we wait for a better time? Should we postpone until we are ready to meet all the challenges? Is it now or never?
3. Each group presents their challenge and conclusions to the class.
Declaration of Independence puzzle
Each group receives a Declaration of Independence puzzle and asked to put the pieces of the puzzle together in an order that makes sense to them.
Students return to the large group and together with the group leader, assemble the Declaration on the board. As each piece is placed in its correct spot, students are asked whether they came up with the same order and why each piece belongs where it does.
Conclusion / Wrap Up
Ask students why they believe the Declaration of Independence was and is important for the Jewish people. Discuss whether all the segments of the Declaration still apply today and whether or not they believe changes should be made. Conclude by asking students what they learned in this lesson and what they will take home with them.
Reading and resources suggested
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs - http://www.youtube.com/user/IsraelMFA
Sachar, H. M., 2002 (second ed.). A history of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
Alon, A., 1971. The Israelis. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
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