Teaching About Israel after Election Day… and Every Other Day

March 18, 2015

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


The polls in Israel have closed. The election results are pouring in. Politicians and pundits are scrambling to make sense of the will of the Israeli people. And those who work on the front lines of teaching American Jews about Israel are scrambling to make sense of how to teach and talk about the elections.


The recent elections – and other headlines from Israel – can seem daunting if we approach them as stand-alone events. Instead, they must become part of a larger framework of teaching and talking about Israel. Such an approach makes room for issues of immediate relevance by approaching them as part of an overall framework that includes:


Multiple Voices

If American Jewish youth are to truly understand what happened in this election cycle – indeed, if they are to really grasp what happens daily in Israel – they need to be introduced to multiple voices in Israel. This means deliberately providing opportunities for students to hear voices from the political right and voices from the political left; voices of Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews along with voices of Ashkenazi Jews; voices of Palestinians and immigrants to Israel from Africa and Southeast Asia along with voices of Israeli sabras and Russian immigrants; and voices of Christians and Muslims along with voices of Jews.


Multiple Visions

Students must also learn about multiple visions Jews and Israelis have had for Israel. When Israelis went to the polls, they each voted in support of their particular vision of what Israel is, and what it should be. It is important to contextualize these competing visions of Israel within the millennia of conversations about the Israel shel maalah of dreams and prayers, and the Israel shel matah of the realpolitik. It means exploring with students different iterations of Israel over time and different manifestations of Israel today, most importantly Israel as a Jewish country and Israel as a home to all of its citizens.


Multiple Venues

While many American Jews were riveted by the Israeli elections, not everyone is interested in politics. Even if we engage students in multi-vocal, “multi-visioned” conversations about the elections, not all students will be drawn into meaningful engagement with Israel. Therefore, it is incumbent upon educators to offer multiple venues for learners to enter into relationship with Israel. This means that Israel education must involve teaching about Israel from multiple disciplinary perspectives including history, literature, music and art, Hebrew language, Zionist philosophy, and political science, both in the classroom and beyond.


While the recent election is undeniably important, and may be the current focus of educators’ planning, deliberations about how to teach and talk about Israel must stretch long past the weeks of coalition-building that lie ahead. We can respond best to the need for immediate conversations only when we approach them deliberately and through a thoughtful, ongoing framework.


Sivan Zakai is Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Israel Education Initiatives at American Jewish University. Lauren Applebaum is Director of Clinical Education and Professional Development at AJU, and a doctoral candidate in education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Together, they direct the AJU Teaching Israel Fellowship, a year-long professional development program for Jewish educators who teach about Israel.


Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Apr. 02, 2015