This essay analyzes the place of Israel in American Jewish schooling from the beginning of the 20th century until the early years of the 21st century. It utilizes curricula, textbooks, and instructional units, as well as other primary and secondary sources to delineate four distinct periods of Israel education. The subject of Teaching Israel is contextualized in the larger frameworks of both general developments in education as well as the dynamics of Israel in contemporary American Jewish life. The article concludes by delineating emergent 21st century patterns of Israel education that represent new directions.
In this essay I shall employ the tools of analytic philosophy of education to study diverse formulations of the meaning of Israel in Jewish schooling that were proposed in the past century and in the opening decades of the new century. My goals are: (a) to explicate how language has been used by educators to frame the activity of Israel in American schooling in the 20th/early 21st century, and (b) to demonstrate the contribution of the analytic approach to explication and clarification in the overall enterprise of Jewish educational theory and practice.
The included table schematically summarizes the nuanced meanings implicit and explicit in the language of Israel and Jewish schooling of the last century. The analysis indicates that the topic of Israel (in varied iterations) was dealt with by policy makers and practitioners of American Jewish schooling throughout the 20th century. It also shows that there were several diverse formulations of what, why, and how to teach the subject. These diverse formulations resulted in alternative approaches to translating educational theory into educational practice. Some of these formulations were to be constant throughout the century. Others were to be affected by changing dynamics in the State of Israel, leading to reservations about the overemphasis on an idealized as opposed to a more nuanced picture of Israel. This dilemma was to become intensified in the 21st century in which debates about Israel’s policies and realities were to become increasingly intense and heated. This emergent situation sometimes led to a confusion of two related but totally different topics. Some of those preoccupied with problems of Israel translated this dilemma into “The problem of teaching Israel.” There were and are genuine theological, political, and social complexities related to the contemporary state and these issues should be discussed. However, these complexities do not imply an inherent problem with the very act of teaching Israel in Jewish schooling. The new realities constitute an educational challenge for those charged with educating the young about Israel. Israel continues to be an important and organic component of Jewish schooling and education, and the analytic technique can be a useful tool in facilitating clear educational discourse and thoughtful educational practice.