Diaspora Nationalism in Montreal Jewish Day Schools


Source: Diaspora Studies 2017

Despite the increasing recognition of the impact of Jewish education on communal Jewish diaspora identity, studies rarely explore how increased enrolment, and collective attachment to the State of Israel in Jewish day schools is influenced by location.

Drawing on recent concepts in sociology and diaspora studies, this article examines the specific pedagogical practices initiated by the Bronfman Jewish Education Council, and Montreal Jewish educators, to link students living in the diaspora to the State of Israel, and signals the importance of creating mechanism that teach attachment to the territory of Israel. It includes interviews with ex-pat Israelis employed to foster a strong diaspora national identity in Montreal Jewish day school students, and reveals the challenge of attempting to overcome inherent geographical and cultural barriers.

This article contains 10 interviews with Israeli teachers, curriculum developers and principals of Montreal Jewish day schools performed over course of the 2013 and 2014 school years. These interviews serve to give insights into the culture and nature of Jewish day schools. Experts in their respective fields were sought out in an attempt to elicit valuable conversation, precise information and relevant discussion. This strategy of selecting individuals with expertise on a given subject has been termed by Patton purposeful sampling (Patton 1990, 169).

The first three interviews took place with members of the Jewish Education Council and Israel education curriculum developers. The following seven interviews included Principals or Heads of School, Heads of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Language Departments, and teachers of Israel education. For these interviews, only educators from the schools that defined themselves as Zionist in their mission statements, and therefore fell under the category of non-ultra-Orthodox, were included.

While each of these schools differ in their religious orientation – as well as how they approach their approach to the teaching of Zionism – they are categorized here as ‘mainstream’ – a term which sets them apart from the Haredi, Chabad and other ultra-Orthodox schools. Notably, all Montreal Jewish day schools fall under the private sector of Quebec education. Equally, all accredited Jewish day schools offer both French and English sectors.

Interviews were conducted in English or French, depending on the interviewee’s comfort, and, if in French, it was translated into English. All interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed by the researcher. In order to grant interviewees anonymity, the names used in this study are pseudonyms…

This work demonstrates that the meaning of Israel in diaspora nationalism may be distinct from the meaning of the nation in Israeli nationalism. In spite of what has been reported as a lack of meaning, or direction, in Israel education programming in diaspora Jewish education, this research reveals that a common idea of nation continues to be taught in Montreal Jewish education through intensive Hebrew language acquisition and Jewish Studies, school twinning initiatives, visits to and exchanges with Israel, and the use of Israeli teachers in the classroom.

A normative idea of the nation, made possible through interconnecting Israel and other modes of Jewish identity, is a result of a centralized, highly institutional, system of Jewish education. This work has revealed how the absence of territorialization creates certain challenges when cultivating diaspora nationalism and highlighted how Montreal Jewish educators have systematically attempted to overcome those challenges.

Updated: Jul. 27, 2017