What is Israel in the minds and hearts of young American Jewish children? Through interviews and photo and music elicitation exercises, this research uncovers how day school kindergarten students conceive of Israel.
This study, part of an ongoing longitudinal project, shows how 5- and 6-year-old children are able to form a multilayered conception of Israel, viewing it as both a Jewish state and a place for those who live there, a dangerous place and a safe haven for Jews, and a place at once special and ordinary. Yet these children also have several misconceptions, conflating time, space, and languages in their reflections on Israel. By illuminating children’s understandings and misunderstandings about Israel, this research demonstrates how young Jewish children are building a multifaceted understanding of Israel even when they mix up particular facts and details.
As the kindergarteners spoke about Israel, they conflated time, space, and languages, often mixing up particular details. Yet in each of these instances, their reflections revealed an underlying set of beliefs and stories about Israel. These children framed Israel as a place inextricably linked with the Jewish past and with contemporary Jewish holidays. Their words suggest that they saw Israel as a homeland but not a home. And their stories reveal that they viewed Israel as a distant place, but not a foreign one. These children, as young as 5 and 6, had already begun to recount some of the meta-narratives that American Jews tell themselves about themselves. Even when the facts were wrong, and children confused particular details, their overall framing of Israel reflected larger stories about American Jewish ties to a distant land central to Jewish meaning.