Negotiating Critical Analysis and Collective Belonging: Jewish American Students Write the History of Israel

March 26, 2016

Source: Contemporary Jewry 


American Jews, particularly those who are highly engaged in Jewish communal life, learn many stories about Israel’s past. They learn the story of Israel as the culmination of a heroic two thousand year struggle and about the waves of immigrants who came to the Holy Land with nothing and made the desert bloom. But when these stories are subjected to critical scrutiny, they may fail to hold up. This study analyzed 438 short narratives of the history of Israel written by Jewish American high school students attending Jewish day schools.

Their responses suggested that many students are aware of the tensions between various historical accounts and adopt different strategies to negotiate between critical historical analysis and Jewish collective belonging. Although there were no differences in the content of the accounts by students’ religious denomination or prior study of Israel’s history, students adopted different approaches to negotiating critical analysis and collective belonging. Some students told stories of Jewish heritage without taking into account other possible perspectives. Some students engaged with challenges to their inherited stories but only to dispute them. Finally, some students managed to synthesize multiple narratives together while still using a Jewish perspective to frame their account. This last strategy suggests that students can be historically sophisticated without abandoning a commitment to their heritage.

Updated: Mar. 30, 2016