In this article we analyze moviemaking as a unique pedagogy that is used in a preservice semester in Israel program for the preparation of Israel educators: Students create their own short films about an aspect of Israeli society and/or their relationship with it. We analyze the students’ movies, together with students’ reflective papers about the process of making them, and show how this pedagogy exhibits the major characteristics of progressive constructivist education. We also show how the pedagogy enables students to grapple with difficult aspects of Israel in a personally compelling fashion.
One of the most interesting components of the Program’s curriculum over the past three years has been an institutional collaboration with the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts. This film school, in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, was founded in 1989 with the express purpose of providing an outlet for religious filmmakers to create movies that deal with issues of Jewish identity, Israeli society, religious questions, and the dilemmas of contemporary Israeli life. The establishment and subsequent success of Ma’aleh has been an important milestone in the development of the relationship of religious Zionism to modernity in general and to secular majority culture in Israel in particular, and represented the first attempt to arrive at a synthesis between traditional Jewish values and the field of visually orientated media production. In a way the school was a response to Zionism’s assertion that it was possible to synthesize Israeli identity with the observance of Jewish tradition, and encouraged observant and religious artists to create and exercise their artistic freedom with themes that emerged from their own world (Jacobson, 2004). It was this aspect of Ma’aleh—its self-image not just as a technical film school, but as one that explicitly wanted its students to deal with questions of Jewish identity and contemporary Israel—that made it a very attractive partner for the Program.
Our students were trained by a Ma’aleh instructor, with the help of two Ma’aleh student interns, in the barebones skills of moviemaking. In this way we hoped to empower our students to make their own statement about Israel’s complexity and their relationship with it.
Israel is often seen and used educationally as a place where people go to explore their spirituality and personal growth. What we have found is that our students are, on a certain level, no different. Israel, for them, is an environment in which they embark on a journey of personal exploration. However, the pedagogy of moviemaking creates a different kind of personal experience. In conventional Israel education, American Jews go to a site, where their experience is often carefully mediated by a tour guide or educator (Kelner, 2010, pp. 92–96), and where they are expected to (and often indeed do) have powerful personal moments. Heilman (1999) has warned us to be cautious in ascribing these wow-moments to Israel itself, rather than the social aspects of the group experience; but regardless of the reason or origin of these wow-moments, the making of meaning happens through Israel “impacting” the students, or, in Kelner’s terms, Israel being consumed: “Diaspora Jewish tourists engage Israel primarily as consumers of a themed environment whose overarching motif is Jewish culture” (Kelner, 2010, p. 103; cf. Copeland, 2011).
The moviemaking pedagogy offers learners a very different kind of relationship with Israel. Rather than consumption of a mediated Israel, it gives learners the unmediated freedom to explore their relationship with Israel and be in empowered, constructivist dialogue with it. Israel does not wash over the students and pour its blessings over them—rather, the students are empowered to think about their personal growth and development; to validate their own feelings, thoughts, and ideas; and to develop their spiritual, personal, or political journey in dialogue with what they see around them in Israel. It also enables students to explore subjects that would otherwise never be explored. It’s a much more mature, informed, respectful way of enabling personal growth, learning, and meaning-making to happen through Israel. We would suggest that our students’ experience of this moviemaking pedagogy not only suggests the particular pedagogy itself as worthy of consideration in other contexts, but also highlights the importance of constructivist education in Israel education in general.