Graphic Novels as Tools for Teaching Complexity About Israel


Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 85:3, 312-333


The following paper seeks to build on the widespread belief that a complex portrait of Israel should be taught in classes that teach Israeli history (Zakai, 2014) and the empirical data (Hassenfeld, 2018; Reingold, 2017, 2018b; Zakai, 2015, 2018) which shows that it can successfully be done without sacrificing student commitment and love of Israel. At the same time, even if an educator is interested in presenting a more complex portrait of Israel and has the institutional support to do so, actually implementing a curriculum that tries to present a balanced narrative is easier said than done. In the following essay, I will explore how integrating the literary genre of graphic novels and comics into Israel curricula has the potential to help educators introduce a more complex way of thinking about Israel with adolescents based on recent research about the impact of graphic novels on student learning in world history and social studies classrooms.


As is evident in the literature on teaching Israel, there is a clear desire amongst academics and educators to introduce greater sophistication into Israel education to allow students to relate to Israel differently, and yet the goal of challenging students to build this new type of relationship with Israel is not being adequately addressed. The research-based literature on teaching graphic novels presents a compelling argument that the texts, though possessing limitations, have also been effectively used to develop a greater consciousness towards understanding historical nuance and for appreciating the complexity of history (Frey & Noys, 2002).

In this paper, I have sought to begin a conversation that introduces a genre of text that has not previously been explored in The Journal of Jewish Education. Although I am not providing the reader with evidence-based quantitative or qualitative data about the usefulness of graphic novels and comics in the teaching of Israeli history and society, the absence of a single article in the journal about graphic novels and comics whatsoever speaks to how they are an underrepresented genre in the field of academic inquiry into Jewish education and prior to being able to assess their actual efficacy, like other pedagogical tools, they need to be first introduced into the classroom. In this paper, I have tried to provide an evidence-based assessment of why graphic novels and comics about Israel have the potential to be important texts that add layers of complexity to Israel education while also providing students with personal and relatable narratives.

In my own teaching experience, I have found that graphic novels and comics have been an effective tool in Israel education. I recognize that they can be used in a number of ways, but I believe that they are best utilized not as introductory texts but instead as texts that are integrated into the middle or end of a topic or unit. This is for two primary reasons. First, I want my students to encounter a more objective and distanced understanding of the topic before becoming enmeshed in accepting or rejecting the single story that exists in most graphic novels. Second, texts from works like Hanuka’s (2017) The Realist can be very useful to trigger emotions and achieve shock value, but I want to do more with comics than get a rise out of my high school students. By layering the comic into the unit, students will be better prepared to understand the content and context of the text and begin to analyze it as one voice in the panoply of perspectives and viewpoints that should be part of an Israel curriculum. This type of pedagogical model reinforces the importance of devising Israel curricula that challenge students to think about Israel in new ways and to actively wrestle with texts, concepts, ideas, and even their own connection to Israel. By integrating graphic novels as tools that introduce alternative ways of thinking, students can see the complexity of Israeli society while ensuring that their love of Israel is retained, even if it looks different from where it began.


Frey, H., & Noys, B. (2002). Editorial: History in the graphic novel. Rethinking History, 6(3), 255–260. doi:10.1080/13642520210164481

Hanuka, A. (2017). The realist: Plug and play. Los Angeles, CA: Archaia.

Hassenfeld, J. (2018). Landscapes of collective belonging: Jewish Americans narrate the history of Israel after an organized tour. Journal of Jewish Education, 84(2), 131–160. doi:10.1080/15244113.2018.1449482

Reingold, M. (2017). Not the Israel of my elementary school: An exploration of JewishCanadian secondary students’ attempts to process morally complex Israeli narratives. The Social Studies, 108(3), 87–98. doi:10.1080/00377996.2017.1324392

Reingold, M. (2018b). Broadening perspectives on immigrant experiences: Secondary students study the absorption difficulties faced by Mizrachi immigrants in Israel. Journal of Jewish Education, 84(3), 312–329. doi:10.1080/15244113.2018.1478531

Zakai, S. (2014). My heart is in the east and I am in the west: Enduring questions of Israel education in North America. Journal of Jewish Education, 80(3), 287–318. doi:10.1080/ 15244113.2014.937192

Zakai, S. (2015). “Israel is meant for me”: Kindergarteners’ conceptions of Israel. Journal of Jewish Education, 81(1), 4–34. doi:10.1080/15244113.2015.1007019

Zakai, S. (2018). History that matters: How students make sense of historical texts. Journal of Jewish Education, 84(2), 161–195. doi:10.1080/15244113.2018.1449484

Updated: Oct. 02, 2019