Declaration of Independence - Sharing our Values

Campers use Israel's Declaration of Independence as a jumping off point for discussing the kinds of values that they want in their communities, including their cabins, tents, and units.

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Israel became independent with a Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948.
Israel was founded as a Jewish State and as a homeland for all Jews.
Israel's Declaration of Independence addresses core values, including: Israel as a safe place for Jews, the right to self determination, Israel's relationship to its neighbors, the rights of non-Jewish citizens, and the values of the Hebrew Prophets.


Part One: Setting the stage

The length of this opening activity -- a short text study of the Declaration of Independence -- will depend on the age and ability of the campers. Since this activity is designed for the beginning of the camp session, there is no assumption of knowledge or attempt to draw on previously learned material.

  • In this activity, we will learn about the founding of the State of Israel and its Declaration of Independence. Using the values within Israel's Declaration of Independence, we will create a cabin/tent "covenant" or "brit."
    • This could be a good opportunity to introduce the Hebrew word "brit" (meaning covenant). Most campers are familiar with the word (although they may know it by the Ashkenazi pronunciation "bris") from the circumcision ceremony. You can further explain the meaning of covenant, and point out that the Hebrew word for United States - "Artzot Habrit" - is a reference to a group of states that is bound or united together by a covenant (the Constitution).
    • You could also introduce the word "megillah" (scroll) as the Declaration of Independence is called the "Megillat Ha'atzmaut" (the Scroll of Independence). Campers may be familiar with the word "megillah" from Purim: "Megillat Esther." You can refer to the covenant that you are creating as a "Megillat HaTzrif" (Scroll of the Cabin) or "Megillat HaOhel" (Scroll of the Tent).
  • An effective hook for this activity might be to begin by asking campers if they know the beginning of the American Declaration of Independence:
    • "When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands..."
  • This is how the Israeli Declaration begins:
    • "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious, and political identity was shaped."

Part Two: The Birthplace of Values

  • To begin the activity, pass around a replica of Israel's Declaration of Independence (Hebrew version), copies of the English text (if you plan on doing a short text study), and the photo of the signers of the Declaration.
  • Open with a discussion of what it means that Israel was the "birthplace of the Jewish People." What did the signers (these people in the photo) mean by that?
  • Possible suggestions:
    • It was the Land promised to Jews in the Torah.
    • It is a Land that Jews have lived in for thousands of years.
    • The Jews/Israelites became a free people in the Land of Israel.
    • It's where many of the important stories in the Torah/Bible happened.
    • It's a place where a Jewish language was spoken.
  • How does it "shape our spiritual, religious, and political identity"? Possible further questions:
    • Is Israel or Jerusalem mentioned in our prayers?
    • Do people from our camp go on trips to Israel?
    • Have you or anyone in your family been to Israel?
    • Do we have family or friends who live in Israel?
  • Is camp a place that has shaped our identity? How? Do we do things differently here? Do we feel differently? Do you think these signers may have had similar feelings about Israel?

Part Three: Deriving Values From the Declaration, and Determining Our Own Values

  • After discussing the first paragraph, we will examine the text of the Declaration of Independence and look for the values expressed.
  • Using the values below as guides, we will try to determine our own values for our "Megillat HaTzrif."
  • This part can be longer or shorter depending on the age or ability of the group and how much actual text study that you want to do. Please note that using all of the material in this section would make for a program longer than the proscribed time - pick and choose the issues/values you would like to highlight.

Value One: Israel as a Safe Place for Jews

"The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State..."

  • Why did the Holocaust create an "urgency" for a Jewish State? Does that urgency still exist?
  • Do you think Israel is a safe place for Jews?

Value Two: The Right of a People to Have its Own Country

"This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State."

  • Should all people have their own state?
  • What are the responsibilities of a people who have their own state?

Value Three: The Values Taught by the Hebrew Prophets

"THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

  • What are the things that you value? Are they found in this document?
  • Are these values Jewish values? Are they important in the modern world?

Value Four: The Rights of Arab Inhabitants of Israel

"In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions - provisional or permanent."

  • Are you surprised to learn that Israel offers citizenship to all Arab residents of the Land?
  • What responsibility does this give to Israel? What does it give to the Arab Residents?

Value Five: Peace to Israel's Neighbors

"We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all."

  • What does it mean that Israel offered peace to its neighbors in its first public statement? What should that mean about Israel's relationship with its neighbors today?

Value Six: Uniting Israel & Jews Around the World

"Our call goes out the the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations - the redemption of Israel."

  • Israel asked the Jews of the world to rally by its side. Do you feel the need to rally by Israel's side?
  • The paragraph suggests that the "redemption of Israel" is ongoing and is not complete? What do you think this means? Do you feel a part of this?

Part Four: Framing Our Values

  • After the discussion, campers and staff will determine the values that they want on their "Megillat HaTzrif."
    • Using the provided sheet (with the original Declaration of Independence on one side), the campers will write their values on the other side.
    • If you want, you can be creative (and maybe a little bit funny) and try to copy the format of the original Declaration. For example, "Camp Yisrael is the birthplace of Cabin Three. It is here that our values and identity have been formed."
    • When finished, each of the campers will sign the Megillah at the bottom like the original signers.
  • When completed, the counselor should take a photo of the campers (you can try to mock the photo of the signers of the Declaration).
  • Later, print out that photo and place it in the space below the text, alongside the photo of the original signers.

Wrap Up

  • The leader should close this activity by making the connection between the values in the Declaration and the values that we all want to share as we build a community together.
  • The completed sheet should be placed in an area of the cabin/tent where everyone can see it daily. It can be used as the basis for conflict resolution or for a follow-up activity partway through the session.


Variations in format

  1. Alternative Hook #1 into the program:
  • Hold the program as a bunk campout.
  • Ask the campers to gather sticks and build a hut/home. After they have built this structure, explain, "You have built a house but it's not yet a home."
  • Ask, what is the difference between a house and a home? (Values: people connecting, memories, rules).
  • Ask, what do you think of when you hear "homeland"?
  • At this point, transition into thinking about the creation of the Declaration of Independence: leaving the comfort of your cabin for this campout is like leaving your "homeland."  
  • Enter into the rest of the above activity by exploring what values had to be established to make Israel a "home" for those already there and for all the new immigrants who arrived around the time the state was established.
  • What values for your "home" would be similar/different to those in Israel's Declaration of Independence?
  1. Alternative Hook #2 into the program:
  • Give each camper a values statement (i.e. everyone should have the right to vote; every restaurant in Israel should be kosher; buses should run on Shabbat, other funny additions, etc.)
  • Campers walk around with their value statements. Their goal is to get as close to people holding values they agree with and as far away from people holding values they disagree with. (Tip: they may want to pick ONE person on each end of this spectrum.)
  • After a few minutes, stop the activity and see where people are standing in relation to one another. Ask how they ended up next to certain values -- what they wanted to be close to and/or far from.
  • Discuss values, including some of the topics below:
    • Imposing values on others 
    • Differing opinions
    • Feeling strongly about some vs. others
  • Lead into the discussion on values, brit, and the Declaration of Independence.
  • Which values in the Declaration of Independence resonate most with us? Which may be controversial? What would our own brit include?


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