Dr. Nurit Reshef’s Hebrew Funland
“Video games” are only a small part of the game suite known as the Hebrew Funland. Created by the consultant of district technology of the Edmonton public schools (Korte), Dr. Nurit Reshef, “Hebrew Funland” is targeted primarily at children with ties to the Jewish faith. Linked to the Jewish National Fund of Canada, the site encourages the idea that “kids learn through playing” (Reshef), and so aims to link entertainment to increasing one’s knowledge of Jewish and Israeli culture and history. As the “Hebrew” in “Hebrew Funland” might suggest, many of the games include bilingual elements: For example, one can choose to play the “Hebrew Word Match” game in either English or Hebrew (Reshef). Other games, such as the “Hangman: Jewish Concepts” game only include Hebrew words, though are not written in Hebrew script.
Almost immediately upon entering the Funland site one can see that it very much ties “Jewish identity” in a religious sense to “Israeli identity”, and makes no attempts to mask its affiliation with religious Zionism. In fact, the third link on the left-hand side of the home page is titled “Zionism”, and takes one to a page developed for “The Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education in Canada” (Reshef). Dr. Nurit Reshef’s site is also listed under the “Zionist Education” heading on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Jewish History Resource Center archive (“The State of Israel”).
In contemporary politics, the issue of Zionism is one that stirs much controversy. One could potentially argue that the issue of a Jewish state is as controversial now as it was when it first emerged and began to gather heat in the early 1900’s. Initiated by Theodor Herzl, the modern political Zionist movement advocated a historical state to which Jews could establish in order to escape anti-Semitism (Isseroff). This is contrasted with (though not completely distinct from) religious Zionism. Many Orthodox religious groups took issue with the establishment of a secular Israel- even once the state of Israel was created there continued (and still continue to be) those who speak out against Zionism as “anti-Judaism” (Neuburger).
Though it began as a political state, Israel certainly welcomes “religious” Jews. In fact, there are those who promote study of Israeli history and advocate visiting or even moving to the state. Dr. Nurit Reshef is one such individual. On Dr. Reshef’s site there is not only promotion of learning about Judaism and religious Jewish custom, but also avocations for children to learn history, geography, and culture of Israel. On the page celebrating Israel’s 50th anniversary/100 years of Zionism, there are explanations of the Israeli flag, national anthem, and even a short biography of Theodor Herzl. In this section, Herzl is described as “knowing how to pray, and knowing all the Jewish holidays” even though he was not an observant Jew in his youth (Reshef). The page goes on to offer praise and thank the “great man” for his work in establishing a Jewish homeland. There is an attempt made to link religious practices and learning in Judaism to Israel- Dr. Reshef concedes that Herzl was not incredibly religious, and yet makes the assumption that he knew the customs of his family. By this logic, Jewish children should also learn prayers and holidays if they value Israel as a part of their history and heritage.
Talal Asad discusses religion and religious symbols as they relate to political power. Asad mainly discusses Christianity/Christian rulers as making up the vast majority of those in power in the west (Asad), but the emergence of a blatantly “Jewish” state makes Asad’s discussion of religious symbols used for political means additionally significant. Israel is clearly linked with a particular “conventional” religion, though it is a secular state. If one looks at Dr. Nurit Reshef’s as promoting religious understanding of Israel, it can be inferred that she is making a clear statement about Jewish identity and Judaism: To a Jew is to consider Israel the homeland, and to be Jewish is to long to return there.
As previously mentioned, many of the games (and additionally, many of the links on the site) are in a mix of Hebrew and English (Reshef). The Torah was originally written in (what is now referred to as) ancient Hebrew, though it has been revived in a modernized form and is widely spoken by people in Israel. Widely considered the “holy tongue” by many Jews, religious services (especially orthodox services) were, and still often are, conducted mostly in Hebrew. Therefore, secularizing the religious tongue and making it the national language makes a rather political statement. The language itself as it existed in the past was a symbol of the Jews: Modernizing it and applying it to the “Jewish state” could be an attempt to reaffirm this link. However, Hebrew as it is used in the “Funland” involves words and concepts children would need to learn for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah and other traditional customs, as well as basic Israeli cities and geography. By interspersing and intermingling the two Dr. Reshef blends the “Jewish” and “Israeli” identities, causing one to relate the religious customs within Judaism to a link to Israel.
A final, obvious use of religious symbol within Israeli history that Dr. Reshef incorporates in her site appears, once again on the 100 Years of Zionism page. Here she gives an explanation of the Israeli flag- blue and white with a “Star of David” in the center. Reshef describes the “Star of David” as the “traditional symbol of Judaism”. The colors of the flag represent the colors on the prayer shawl (or “Tallit”) traditionally worn by “Jews when they pray”. Reshef wants her audience to understand the relationship between Israel and Judaism as having strong religious connotations.
Though her primary audience is children, many of the links on Reshef’s site are clearly intended for an older, more educated audience. Games and puzzles teach basic concepts about Judaism and Israel, and seem to emphasize the idea that the two are irrevocably linked. Dr. Nurit Reshef has a clear support of Zionism, yet does not attempt to hide this, and if one wishes one can follow her to the Jewish National Fund’s page to get more information or make a donation (“Jewish National Fund of Canada”). So though the ideas offered to the younger audience are simplistic, Dr. Reshef’s aims are clear, and one can educate oneself more fully, if the desire arises.
- · Reshef, Nurit. "Nurit’s Homepage." Dr. Nurit Reshef’s Hebrew Funland, 1997. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <http://www.ualberta.ca/~yreshef/nurit.htm>.
- · Reshef, Nurit. "100 Years of Zionism." Joint Authority for Jewish-Zionist Education in Canada. Dr. Nurit Reshef and the Joint Authority for Jewish-Zionist Education in Canada, 1997. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <http://apps.business.ualberta.ca/yreshef/zionism/zionism.html>.
- · Korte, Terry. "TIPS Team About Us." Technology Integration Planning Services, EPSB. 2010. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <https://sites.google.com/a/share.epsb.ca/tips-resources/Home/TIPS-Team>.
- · "Jewish National Fund of Canada." Jewish National Fund. 2010. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <http://www.jnf.ca/>.
- · "The State of Israel." The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History. 2004. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <http://jewishhistory.huji.ac.il/Internetresources/Zionism2.htm>.
- · Isseroff, Amy. "Political Zionism." Zionism and Israel. Zionism and Israel Information Center, 2005. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Political_Zionism.htm>.
- · Neuburger, G. "The Difference Between Judaism and Zionism." Jews Not Zionists. Web. 6 Dec 2010. <http://www.jewsnotzionists.org/>.
- · Asad, Talal. Religion as an Anthropological Category. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Print.
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