What do we mean by high quality Israel education and engagement? Many thinkers have in recent years urged us to stop thinking about Israel through what Cohen and Liebman (“Israel and American Jewry in the Twenty-First Century”) call the “mobilization model,” in which Israel is primarily seen as in need of both financial support and political advocacy. In the past, this model may have worked: the “narrative” of Israel was that of a despised but heroic David surrounded by a series of genocidal Goliaths, a refuge for Jews ejected from the third world, and a country struggling with enormous economic problems, in need of every penny from abroad that it could muster.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Israel & Zionism Education
An attachment to the Jewish state, the main development in Jewish history over the last 2000 years, is central to the mission of Jewish day schools. Implementation, however, often proves challenging, as many schools lack a coherent curriculum or measures for success, or even a clear sense of goals. Authors here articulate visions, suggest ways to develop student knowledge, and describe portals for student connection to contemporary Israeli life and culture.
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In teaching history, the most difficult task remains creating context: catapulting students back into a different time frame and having them disregard their contemporary historical perspective. The goal is to “witness” history as it unfolded, not as it concluded.
In After Virtue, communitarian philosopher Alasdaire MacIntyre makes a case for a narrative understanding of who we are. Imagine a man standing in front of his house with a tool in his hand. To the question, “What is he doing?” one might respond: “Digging,” “Gardening,” “Taking Exercise,” “Preparing for winter,” or “Pleasing his wife.” In order to understand what the man is doing, we must understand where he comes from (origins), where he is going (telos), and the values and virtues which guide him. Likewise, a meaningful understanding of a school’s Israel education program requires an understanding of its guiding assumptions, its larger purposes, and its primary values and virtues.
Jewish day schools are very busily engaged in the work of Israel education. In fact, there may be no other area of day school education where there is so much activity, as the advertisements in this journal attest. There are new curriculum packages, many professional development opportunities for teachers, and no lack of short- and long-term experiences available in Israel for both students and teachers. We suspect that much of this activity is intended both to address the widely discussed disconnect between American Jewish youth and Israel, and to bolster elements in the students’ Jewish identities. We ask: how well conceived and how coherent is all of this work?
Israeli emigrants are now a significant part of every Diaspora community, in some places accounting for 25% or more of the local Jewish population. It has been extremely difficult to recruit them into the Jewish Day school system. Why?
Advocating for Israel is really important. Building up a strong support base at home is the only thing that can solidify support for Israel abroad. Now, especially after the crisis in the Gaza Strip, it is important to show others the truth behind the dark proceedings precipitated by Hamas’s relentless barrage of rocket fire into southern Israel.
You click on any news .com and notice a hot new development in the Mideast. How should you go about analyzing the news report? There are certain questions you can keep in mind that may reveal underlying bias. For example:
A great deal has happened in the short time that has elapsed since I first agreed to write this piece. Then again, not everything has changed. The big question—How should we deal with “Israel” in Jewish education?—remains as it was. However, it seems to me that the particular context that makes this question acute at this time is now suddenly redefined both by the ascendance of a new administration in Washington and by the “war” in Gaza.
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