Breaking Myths, Building Identity: Practitioner-Researcher Reflections on Running an Israel Seminar for Jewish Education Graduate Students

Mar. 03, 2010

Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research, 2010 (1), 49-74.


This paper explores how we as practitioner-researchers interpret our students’ responses to our deconstruction of their “myths” about Israel.The three authors of the paper are both researchers and practitioners of Jewish education, and have for the past several years envisaged, built, and run a three-week educational seminar in Israel for students in a North American MA program in Jewish education.


The educational philosophy of this three-week seminar is grounded in much recent research on and thinking about Israeli education and engagement, which suggests that we should seek outcomes in which our learners view Israel from a multi-dimensional, complex perspective, rather than thinking about the country in simplistic terms. As such, this three-week seminar is an experiential introduction to these new ways of thinking about Israel engagement and the themes of complexity, reality, multi-dimensionality, and nuance.


Student responses to this seminar over the past five years have often displayed considerable amounts of unease, frustration, and sometimes anger, as they move from their previous “mythic” relationship with Israel into a more complex, multi-dimensional, “reality”-based relationship. Foundational beliefs are subverted; deep-held convictions are questioned.


The authors explore here the similarities between their roles as Israel educators and Professor Neil Gillman’s role as a teacher of Jewish theology.

They interpret a range of data collected from their students, using a theoretical framework suggested by the psychologist Robert Kegan. As practitioner-enquirers, their interpretation of their students’ learning leads them to important insights about the work of Israel education today.


As the new discourse on Israel engagement becomes more and more prevalent in the field, it is important to consider the very real personal grappling that goes on in students’ minds and souls when their myths about Israel are broken. This paper’s exploration of these pre-service education students is therefore an important baseline study for those who wish to carry out reform in the field of Israel education.

Updated: Mar. 22, 2010