What’s in a Name? In Pursuit of Israel Education

Jun. 27, 2015

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 81, Issue 2, pages 101-135


Naming a discipline is a key component in both the shaping and unpacking of its development. Still, little attention has been devoted to studying the ways in which this process has influenced Israel Education. Based on a long-term ethnographic study, this article presents Israel Education name choices and discusses the manner in which this naming unfolds and affects the development of this field. I claim that this process symbolizes a development beyond the classroom environment; reflects sociocultural and political changes in Israel-Diaspora relations; and exposes conceptual shifts in Israel pedagogy and transforms the place of Israel in Diaspora Jewish education.


As gathered in this study, the reciprocity of Israel Education naming and programming not only reflects sociopolitical climate changes, but also shape new orientation of Diaspora Jewish communities and education toward Israel and reframe their perception of Jewish identity. In this dynamic Israel Education becomes an active agent of change. While expressing Jewish educators’ reaction to complex sociopolitical issues, Israel Education name use and programs are simultaneously constructing a new Israel pedagogy independent from Jewish identity pedagogy. As a discursive process, during which “meanings change as we think about them; statements and events, significances and interpretations can mean different things to different people at different times” (Berthoff, 1981 p. 71), Israel Education programming and naming continue to develop and adjust according to local political needs and sociocultural values. Since my first encounter with the name in 2003 and subsequent research in Israel Education sites, this socially, culturally, and politically sensitive field has been constantly changing and in turn has been changed by policy makers, program developers, and practitioners.

This long-term ethnographic study in American and Australian Israel Education sites uncovers the evolution story of Israel Education, which in turn illuminates this new field as an educational movement of and for Diaspora Jewry in order to address and cope with its “Israel problem,” or as Abe calls it, “the Israel question.” The discourse and naming within this movement draw a line between Israel Education and Jewish education, Israel and Jewish identity, and therefore separate traditionally inseparable Jewish sociocultural elements. This dynamic raises questions regarding the role of Israel Education rhetoric and name use in creating substance, demarcating ideologies, framing Israel pedagogy, and defining the place of Israel in Jewish education and identity. Further study of Israel Education language use and naming is essential for conceptualizing this new discipline and understanding its link to the Israel-Diaspora relational dynamics, particularly for long-term policy making and educational planning.

Updated: Jun. 10, 2015