JTA correspondent, Dina Kraft, writes about a new curriculum being introduced into Israeli high schools. Over the last 60 years, there has been scant study of contemporary Jewish life in America, even though the Jews of America may be the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora. Signaling the beginning of a shift in direction, 11th- and 12th-graders preparing for the national history matriculation exam this year for the first time were required to study a unit on American Jewry's contribution to the Jewish people after the Holocaust.
Research on the Israeli school curriculum shows that since the founding of the Israeli school system, Israeli students have been taught almost nothing about the large Jewish community in the US or other Diaspora Jewish communities. This is beginning to change as a unit on on American Jewry's contribution to the Jewish people after the Holocaust has been added to the material to be studied for this year's 11th and 12th grade national history matriculation exam. Plans are also under way to introduce a new unit on Israel and the Diaspora, with a focus on American Jewry, probably by the fall of 2012.
While Israeli students are beginning now to study more about American Jewry, the focus remains on American Jews' connection to Israeli history. In preparation for the history matriculation exam, Israeli students are taught about the aid American Jews provided at postwar DP camps, and the role American Jews played in helping lobby the White House to support Israel’s creation.
Other pilot programs are being explored by the Israeli Education Ministry, the TALI educational fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. In the new seventh grade curriculum, "Friends Across the Sea”, students learn about the various Jewish religious denominations, the challenges of Jewish continuity and Diaspora concerns over intermarriage.
The program’s backers want to bring the curriculum to public schools across Israel -- and to translate it into English for study in American Jewish schools and into other languages for other Diaspora communities.