Pro-Israel professor leads children’s crusade

Melissa Landa specialized in children’s literacy at the University of Maryland. Photo courtesy of Oberlin University.

Melissa Landa, the University of Maryland professor whose departure from the school caused controversy last fall is taking her pro-Israel message to a younger audience.

“‘I’ is for Israel” is the title of her new children’s book, a response of sorts to Pace University professor Golbarg Bashi’s “P is for Palestine,” which some critics view as portraying the Palestinian intifadas in a positive light. For Landa, the self-published book is a natural next step after her contract wasn’t renewed by the College of Education, where she’d taught for 10 years.
Landa claimed the non-renewal was because of her pro-Israel politics. The university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct dismissed her Title IX complaint in November.

But she’s now unfettered in combining her expertise in early childhood education — much of her work at Maryland related to childhood literacy — and support for Israel.

“[I want] to present the complexity and beauty of Israel for young children,” she said.

“To instill children with a sense of pride in Israel … and to communicate the multiculturalism of Israeli society and to promote respect for all people.”

For sale on Amazon through the self-publishing tool Createspace, “‘I’ is for Israel” shares the structure of Bashi’s book, ostensibly teaching young children the alphabet. “C is for camels who walk across the sand,” Landa writes. “D is for defending this beloved land.”

When she first saw “P is for Palestine” — B is for Bethlehem, F is for falafel, J is for Jesus — Landa sat down to write a rhyming alphabet about Israel. She finished the book in November. When she posted the results, friends encouraged her to publish it.
(Amazon lists two other books titled “I Is for Israel.”)

“Children’s literature is an excellent conduit to present complex and sometimes frightening concepts in gentle and age-appropriate ways,” she said. “In the current climate of anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism, many Jewish children are being intimidated. Many are bullied into silence.”

According to Naomi Mayor, ADL’s director of campus and community education programs, children are encountering anti-Semitic bullying at younger ages.

Often, the students doing the bullying don’t understand the derogatory names they’re using, said Mayor.
“Our sense is that we’re seeing it much earlier than even a decade ago,” she said. “We’re seeing kids grow up faster today. They’re exposed to a lot more, they have more access to information and with that information they’re also exposed to prejudicial thinking.”

Landa said that since her departure from the university, she’s been doing a lot of writing and working through the abrupt change in her career. She’s continuing to work on papers with former colleagues and doctoral students at the university based on her research, as well as a collaborative project with the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv, she said.

Landa said she had a number of goals with the book, but in large part she’s hoping to show children the dynamism of Israel.
She first visited Israel when she was 10 years old, on her way to the United States from South Africa with her family.
In Israel, Landa said, she feels freer to be herself, unafraid of the stigmas she sees as following Jews elsewhere.

“Israel for me represents hope, optimism and defiance in the face of adversity.”


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