All of my children are graduates of the Mamlachti Dati educational system. Recently I asked them the following question: who is better: someone who is Shomer Shabbos and living in Flatbush New York or a Chiloni (mechalel Shabbat) soldier.
It is obvious to me that the answer should be the Shomer Shabbos person. Even if they are not deep or do everything with terrific understanding or kavanah, they are still doing what hakadosh Baruch hu commanded us to do. True, they are missing the Kiyum of one important mitzvah, but compared to someone who violates multiple Issurim of Sekila and Karet, there is no comparison.
Unfortunately, the answer that I got of the children was along the lines of "how do you judge a person", "perhaps the Chiloni does more Chesed", etc. - not what I expected to hear from them.
My question to you is where did our educational system go wrong??? It is one thing to teach the children to be ?? ??? ????, but the priorities should be that Yirat Shamayim comes first.
I asked friends of mine who also have adult children who went to good schools, and they said that they agree with me, but can see that most probably their children would answer the same as my children.
On the one hand, what seems to be clear is that you are upset with your children's response to your question. But I'm not sure if you are upset with your children or the education given in Mamlachti Dati or both. On the other hand there are many values which were touched upon in what you wrote which need to be clarified.
However, I must say it is difficult, to relate to your particular situation without knowing you and your children's background and their level of commitment to keeping Torah and Mitzvot. I also do not know in what context things were said and what they meant. This is more of an issue to discuss than to write, therefore I can only comment along general lines, trying to explain values and trying not to take sides.
As an educator in the Mamlachti Dati system for close to 30 years ,Bli Ayin Hara, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no preference in the Mamlachti Dati system for Jewish Nationalism over Torah or Yirat Shamayim. The reason is simply because we don't see one component of Jewish life taking precedence over another, rather Torah, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are seen as one entity. Jewish life is not complete without all the components.
Being on the crossroads now between Yom Ha'atzmaut, Yom Yerushalyim and Shavuot ,Chag Matan torah, I'll put it as I once heard from an important Torah scholar. There are Jews who count three thousand years from Matan Torah, however they see the years of the State of Israel as negligible. On the other hand, there are Jews who count the years of the State of Israel but see three thousand years from Matan Torah as negligible. However, in the Mamlachti Dati system, the years of the State of Israel are interwoven within the years since Matan Torah. It is one entity and part of a redemption process.
To somewhat defuse the situation. Let's say you had made a comparison to a religious Jew from Flatbush studying in a Kolel to a religious Jew serving in the Army. What would you have chosen ? What would your children have chosen?
On a superficial level, we can say with no disrespect "Well it's a lot "more cool" to see a Jewish soldier in uniform with an Israeli weapon defending his country, that to see a young fellow in a dark suit with a hat." [And I should add, there are many Charedim in America who take pride in Israeli soldiers and it's a big thing to see Charedi children dressed up as Israeli paratroopers and Golani on Purim.]
However, there is a deeper level to take things. Though, I am sure your children have an appreciation of Torah learning, I think you children see in a soldier in Israel someone who is serving the entire nation of Israel and putting his life on the line. If the soldier is religious it is even a greater Kiddush Hashem. A religious soldier emulates his torah teachings in serving his country while not forfeiting an iota of the Torah. He practices in real life what living the Torah is all about. Torah was given to a nation not to pious individuals. This outlook is also enables your children who live here in Eretz Yisrael to contain a non -religious person and see him as part of the nation. On the other hand, when we look at an individual Jew in Chutz la'aretz, with all his piety, though in an indirect way he is contributing to the spirituality of the nation, his torah learning is for his own personal spiritual development. (To read more on these concepts, read an article in English written by Rav Moshe Kaplan shlit"a in a periodical called מרחבים , volume ה , 1991 תשנ"א)
So to some up, Torah learning does not reach its fruition through individuals but through a nation. These are ideals, which as an Oleh from New York (formerly from Boro Park and Flatbush ) I had to study and internalize over years while our children growing here, grew up with these things as if it were nurtured in their milk. Therefore, though I am sure your children know and see the importance of living religious life and torah study, but it may be that the lacking components of Jewish life which are so manifest in Chutz la'aretz place a damper on how they now view religious life there.
All the best