Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
June 2014
Guest Introduction by Barry Chazan 

Barry Chazan, Professor of Education and Founding Director of The Masters Program in Jewish Professional Studies at Spertus College, is Professor Emeritus in Education at The Hebrew University. He is the Founding International Director of Education and Senior Educational Consultant of Taglit Birthright Israel, as well as an educational consultant to the iCenter.

This BJPA Readers Guide on Israel Education is a valuable resource for students, scholars, researchers, and educators. Moreover, it is a document that may well constitute a significant barometer of an important change concerning the place of Israel in American Jewish education. 

The subject of 'Israel education" in American Jewish education began in the 1920's and has traversed a well-intentioned but complex roller coaster of approaches, names, and emphases. In the period up to Statehood, the subject was described as "Teaching about Palestine" or "Teaching about Zionism." It focused on the heroic effort to build a Jewish homeland. During the 1950s-1970s, "The Teaching of Israel" was characterized by the creation of some "core narratives," in which Leon Uris's Exodus would seem to be a defining text: the bold halutz; the brave male soldier; the tough female; the pioneering kibbutz; "turning the desert into blooming fields"; "Never Again Shall Masada Fall!" An equally powerful trend of this period was the "spiritualizing" of Israel, in which the other "Exodus" and connected Bible sources were core texts: the Biblical Promise; the Covenant; "A Light unto Nations"; "Israel: An Echo of Eternity".

In a period roughly beginning in the mid-70's, the euphoria, the pastoral, and the heavenly became nuanced and complicated by the immediacy of the political, the military, the moral, and the ultra- religious. These were the days of "Zionism is Racism"; the Yom Kippur War; Occupation, and Intifadas, paralleled by the emergence of a dynamic multi-ethnic contemporary secular society. This period has often been described as the era of "Teaching Israel" (the removal of the words 'The" and "of" in the phrase 'The Teaching of Israel" seems to be insignificant but it in fact represented a very conscious effort to emphasize that the subject should focus more on the contemporary state).

As we entered the twenty-first century a new perspective began to emerge (as implicit in several references in the Guide) in which there was an attempt to present a multi-dimensional picture focusing on the relationship between contemporary young Jews in their diversity and a contemporary Jewish State in its diversities. This attempt proposes to be authentic, nuanced and committed and at the same time open, reflective, and honest. It seeks to help young Jews make meaning of a traditional value, a dynamic modern society and difficult realities. This is the age of "Israel education".

It would seem that this long road of diverse perspectives and changing emphases reflects both a deeply-felt awareness of a monumental Jewish event, accompanied by ambivalence, questioning, and lack of
conceptual and educational clarity. Something has been happening in the recent years - and this is so well captured by the BJPA Guide. This paradigm shift might be what Nassim Nicholas Taleb called "a black swan event" (a black swan event lies outside the realm of regular expectation, carries extreme impact, and human nature makes us concoct explanations afterwards that explain its predictability - or unpredictability):
  • The field of Israel travel has been revolutionized by the creation of Taglit-Birthright Israel. Since the year 2000 close to 400,000 North American Jews between the ages of 18-26 have visited Israel. If this pattern continues, within a short time more than 50% of American Jews will have been to Israel - the largest number of Jews ever to have been to Israel since the destruction of the Second Temple.
  • Two vibrant new education organizations - one in Israel, one in North America - exclusively devoted to Israel education and led and staffed by creative and energetic educators were created
  • A host of articles, essays, studies, and books on Israel education have been written by thoughtful academics dealing with diverse and tough educational questions, provoking serious discussion, controversy and debate - all signs of a healthy field
  • A new generation of the best and the brightest in Jewish education has begun to see this subject as integral to the larger issues of Jewish education
  • A new generation of Israel-connected young professionals is emerging (many of whom are being trained in a multi-university program in Israel education) and new professional positions in this area are being created
  • Major foundations began to invest rigorous planning and resources in the Israel education topic (and not only to the advocacy components of it) and they seem to be demonstrating admirable "stick-to-it- ness" to the topic.
  • The seeds of research and evaluation - and not simply hagiographic studies - are beginning to blossom
  • A new generation of Israelis is becoming interested and engaged in this subject as a component of the larger issues of Jewish education, and not simply as part of the Zionist agenda.

Moreover, the discussion has shifted from some of the controversial ideological issues (Aliyah; "What is Zionism?" Women of the Wall; Occupation; Haredim; Reform and Conservative in Israel) toward a new educational preoccupation that might be emerging. Though there still are powerful and painful political, religious and humanitarian red-flag issues, they do not seem to be totally thwarting the educational discussion.


Thus, this Guide is so timely and refreshing. It is an accurate scan of the issues, topics, discussions, and trends in the field and reflects what I believe is a new blossoming, a new maturity, and new hope for a subject held so dearly.


People in the hall lighted so it hurts

Spoke about religion

 In the life of contemporary people
And about the place of God
I opened an iron door with the sign
"Emergency" and entered
A great calm: questions and answers


Several core issues are both reflected in this Guide and constitute the agenda for the field in the coming years:


1.  What is "Israel education"? This question, already the subject of several of the recent books, is closely related to the field of analytic educational philosophy, in that it seeks to clarify words, phrases, concepts and their diverse meanings. Is it ...'political education' ... 'religious education' ... 'education in critical thinking' ... 'character education' ... or 'education for knowledge or skills or attitudes'? Is it some of these, none of these, or all of these? The discussion of Israel education cannot proceed without addressing these questions.


2.  What is the relationship between Israel education and Jewish education? This question ultimately is about the connection between Israel and Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism. Is Israel education related to, distinct from, and/or equivalent to Jewish education? Is Israel education religious in its essence, or is it about the Jewish people, or is it about personal Jewishness and meaning making? These questions have great importance for curriculum, professional development, and the general practice of Israel education.  


3.  Can Israel education develop a commitment and love of Israel while also developing a critical and reflective approach (sometimes called the "complexity" issue)? Sometimes the Israel education discussion has fallen into the precarious "either-or" syndrome: (either) should one teach the "idealized" Israel or should one teach the "real" Israel? The actual question is whether one can teach for commitment (what Paul Tillich called "ultimate faith) and also for critical questioning and critique (what Tillich called 'ultimate doubt')? Are these two qualities - love and criticality - mutually inclusive or exclusive? How do we deal with the various options in practice in a developmentally sound way?  


4.  What is the 'subject-matter' of Israel education? Educators have been trained to think about the role of subject-matter (contents) in their work. One knows what texts and topics are the "subject-matter" of Bible education, teaching Jewish history, teaching Hebrew, or teaching about holidays. It has been less clear to Israel educators what are the "texts", topics, and subject matter of their work. Is it history, politics, culture, theology, current events, or maybe none of these or all of these? Maybe even the real subject is the child!  


5.  How do new developments in the neurosciences, epistemology, and education affect the practice of Israel education? The study of thinking, feeling, knowing, and educating is in the midst of a great revolution. Scholars in laboratories and writers like Daniel Kahaneman, Dan Ariely, David Brooks, Nissim Nicholas Taleb, and Martin Seligsman are revamping our notions of mind. Prior paradigms (Charles Dickens' satire of education as "filling an empty tank; Bloom's taxonomy of The Cognitive, the Affective, the Psycho-Motor; SAT categories of mathematical and linguistic skillsets) are being challenged by more integrative, holistic, and systemic paradigms which imply new and potentially much more sophisticated outcome measurements.  


6.  What is the role of the Israel experience (the trip) in Israel education? From 1948-1999 the trip to Israel  (re-branded in the 1980's as the Israel experience) played a powerful but peripheral role in non-Orthodox Israel education (in contrast, it became an important component of Orthodox Jewish education). Indeed, these were generally two separate domains with the trip usually linked to youth organizations and movements, or to creative independent educators. Today an increasing number of day schools have made the trip part of their school curriculum. What does the unprecedented fact of a live dynamic country mean for any conception of Israel education? Can the notion of Israel (or Jewish) education in any way be conceptualized without the Israel trip integrated as an inherent dimension of that education? Or might the reality be, as Birthright might claim, that the Israel experience (particularly between ages 18-26) is a new alternative Jewish educational system?


7.  Is there a connection between Hebrew and Israel education? The emergence of a new seriousness toward Israel education might re-open the question of a new approach to Hebrew in Jewish education. The long-trodden path of Hebrew language instruction, like Israel education, is paved with good intentions -- but it has so many potholes. Can what we know about language, culture, and peoplehood lead to a dramatic reformation and re-orientation in our theory and practice of teaching Hebrew? Can we take heed of Solomon Schechter's 1904 reflection that the existence of a Diaspora that is not bi-lingual, encompassing the lingua franca of Hebrew, is precarious?   


8.  How do we evaluate? The era of doing Jewish education without evaluating is hopefully over. The task in this instance has to do with methodologies, desired outcomes, validity, and reliability when measuring in the realm of Israel education. Is our outcome goal Israel Knowledge? Israel Advocacy? Financial Support? Can one measure Israel outcomes without a sophisticated developmental pedagogic Israel schemata? Can Israel education be measured with the same tools that we do (or don't) use to measure general education or other aspects of Jewish education? 


Perhaps it never was so...
Were you there or did I only dream? (ii) 


As my colleague Lee Shulman commented in his wonderful introduction to the previous BJPA Reader's Guide in this fine series, this topic "engulfs me in waves of nostalgia". It brings back memories of the smell of jasmine on Paul Emile Botta Street in the gardens of the French Consulate in Jerusalem, and the cacophony of sounds in Machaneh Yehuda on a Friday morning. It brings back the greyness of the skies and the chills of the winds in the Fall-Winter of 1973. It brings me back to morning, afternoon and middle-of-the night trips from Hadassah Hospital Maternity Ward to The Western Wall to place notes of gratitude.


Yes I remember too "what a complicated mess in this little country" (iii) and "a Mediterranean city sprawled over the water/ her head between her knees her body infected with fumes and debris/a polluted Mediterranean city". (iv) But "how has my soul been bound up in hers/because of a lifetime/ because of a life time". (v) 



(i) Yehuda Amichai
(ii) Rachel Blaustein 

(iii) Yehuda Amichai  

(iv) Dahlia Ravikovitch  

(v) Dahlia Ravikovitch



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