Pluralistic Approaches to Israel Education

Published: 
Jan. 03, 2011

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 77, Issue 1 , pages 4 - 21

 

Teaching Israel is a complex endeavor in today's world where the founding myths of Israel no longer appear to capture the hearts and minds of American Jews as they did a generation ago. As a result, a new way of speaking about and conceptualizing Israel education is evolving among researchers, program providers, policy makers, and many teachers. Through an in-depth case study, this paper explores whether and how this new way of thinking and speaking about Israel actually plays out in a community Jewish day high school that espouses a commitment to critical thinking and pluralistic education. The analysis is informed by a conceptual framework that argues that a meaningful and holistic approach to Israel education demands critical engagement with both the sacred vision and complex realities of Israel, past, present, and future as well as the literature on pluralism in Jewish educational settings. The key question threaded throughout the article is: How does a pluralistic Jewish curriculum navigate between fostering open inquiry and supporting a commitment to Israel and the Jewish people?

 

Methods

 

"In the fall of 2008, I had the opportunity to engage in a series of classroom observations and conversations with teachers at Kehilah, a community day high school, about their approach to Israel education and how it fits with their overall educational philosophy. Over approximately 6 weeks, I conducted interviews with teachers of two different Israel courses offered in the 12th grade—Beth Davis, Head of the Social Studies Department at Kehilah, and Aryeh Freed. I also spoke with Rabbi Marc Levy, 12th Grade Dean and leader of the Senior Israel Seminar. During this time, I observed each of the two Israel classes four times. Mr. Freed shared with me several samples of student work from the prior year as well. Both Ms. Davis and Mr. Freed were invited to comment and on a draft of this article and their feedback was incorporated into the revisions.

 

Subsequently, in Spring 2009, I administered a brief survey to all students enrolled in a semester-long Senior Seminar. Forty-seven students representing 70% of the senior class responded. The survey provides basic demographic data about Kehilah's students' experiences of and in Israel and their attitudes about the place of Israel in their lives.

 

These experiences at Kehila provided me with a context for exploring how this new way of thinking and speaking about Israel actually plays out in a Jewish educational setting that espouses a commitment to critical thinking and pluralistic education. The present analysis is informed by a conceptual framework that argues that a meaningful and holistic approach to Israel education demands critical engagement with both the sacred vision and the complex realities of Israel, past, present, and future as well as the literature on pluralism in Jewish educational settings. The key question threaded throughout the article is: How does a pluralistic Jewish curriculum navigate between fostering open inquiry and supporting a commitment to Israel and the Jewish people?"

 

Implications:

"The insights drawn from my observations and conversations at Kehilah suggests that pluralistic methodologies and dispositions can invite critical inquiry, challenge the students to question prior assumptions, deepen their knowledge of issues, and articulate their commitments (as shown in the student papers). Even from the small selection of student papers, it is clear that students do not hold uniform points of view of Israel, but that is not the intent as expressed by Ms. Davis. That some of the students express uncertainty seems fine with these educators. Indeed, from a developmental perspective, that irritant of uncertainty can lead to critical self-reflection where learners are provided the opportunity and context for integrating knowledge and making meaning for themselves…"

"While my time at Kehilah was limited, it appears sufficient to demonstrate that the faculty at least one Jewish day school are grappling with my research question about navigating between critical inquiry and Israel engagement in their daily practice. Indeed, When I asked Beth Davis, the head of the Social Studies department at Kehilah if there were limits to their pluralist stance when it came to Israel, she replied, “the only thing out of bounds is a refusal to engage with Israel.” I also asked her if this was the same with other aspects of Jewish study and the answer was “yes.” She elaborated further: “Our school is comfortable in all fields to look at messes and leave kids with questions. We don't shy away from uncomfortable questions and complications.”

 

 

 
Updated: Mar. 30, 2011
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