Teaching Israel and the Pandemic - Symposium on Israel Education

Spring 2021

Source: Sources 


To emerge from the current pandemic is to face an environment in which engaging with and traveling to Israel has become more complicated—and more fraught—than ever before. In what ways has the pandemic transformed the ways Israel is being taught in our schools? Which elements have gone into temporary eclipse, and which will permanently disappear? Which new resources and digital tools can educators and students turn to for succor and support? And which vulnerabilities has the pandemic usefully exposed? To mark the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the pandemic, Sources invited six leading experts to reflect on how Israel education has changed — and on what lies ahead.

David Bryfman - Why Israel Matters

This week I am meeting with nineteen youth organizations to determine the feasibility of bringing over five-thousand Jewish teens to Israel this summer. Suffice to say that the conclusion to the story of the transformation of Israel education during the pandemic (or lack thereof) has yet to be written. Debates between the primacy of the learner versus that of the transmission of knowledge will continue. One thing, however, remains constant: the need to articulate and convey a compelling vision for why Israel and Israel education still matters.

Sara Yael Hirschhorn - Whither Israel Education Without Israel?

There is little doubt that when the borders reopen and it is once again safe to travel, Diaspora Jews will eagerly return after a year apart. But the experiences in our separate national bubbles over the past year have also transformed us; we will encounter each other if not as strangers then as distant relatives with somewhat nostalgic recollections of one another from a world before COVID. Such gaps offer a new opportunity to reorient Israel education toward a broader set of vocabulary, values, and vision that will allow all learners to gain deeper knowledge until Israel is more than merely a vicarious experience.

Anne Lanski - Anything but Isolated

One image sticks in my mind: I tuned into a Zoom session of The iCenter’s Graduate Program in Israel Education at George Washington University, listening to a master Israel educator describe the great ideas, narratives, and words of great Israeli poets from the comfort of his home office as his dog barked in the background. Thirty North America- and Israel-based educators in the program, smiling in Zoom boxes across my screen, learned about the exceptional shaping narratives of the State of Israel while also connecting intimately to the professor in his mundane setting. Despite being stuck in our homes, we were anything but isolated. We were engaged in building the field of Israel education stronger and better together.

Alex Sinclair - Pressing Pause

Israel must sort out its own deepseated problems. Its need for progress on issues of shared society and social infrastructures is no longer a liberal luxury but an existential necessity. Diaspora Jewish communities need to focus renewed energy on educating their members to be self-sufficient Jews who can create meaningful and rich Jewish lives for themselves without centralized scaffolding. Israel education simply will not meet either of these needs; in fact, it will likely only distract us from these tasks and possibly even impede our ability to succeed at them.

This is the time to press pause. If Israel and the Diaspora succeed in overcoming their respective challenges, the connection between them will be strengthened as a by-product; or at least, the ground will again be fertile enough for us to cultivate it. Then — and only then — can we celebrate pulling back from the brink and once again talk about the complexities of Israel education.

Gil Troy - An Ark and a Covenant

On the one hand, we all need homes, borders, nations, even fences, both to shelter and to nest — to protect our bodies and soothe our souls, especially when threatened. On the other hand, we’ve learned that we are one global mass of humanity, sometimes facing common threats that require international cooperation to overcome. That duality lies at the heart of all healthy expressions of liberal-nationalism, and that inherent juggling act between universalism and particularism is characteristically Zionist. David Ben-Gurion called Israel an ark for refuge, and a covenant for hope. A sophisticated, multi-layered conversation about how Israel embodies both an ark and a covenant can advance the reclamation project so urgently needed to recover from the Trump era’s false choices.

Sivan Zakai - The Local, the Digital, and the Political

Today more than ever, those of us committed to robust Israel education for Jewish youth must elevate local context, design new digital content, and situate political questions at the heart of education. As 13-year-old Asher explains, “it’s not easy to adjust, but a lot of things are changing so there’s no alternative.”

See the entire symposium at Sources



Updated: Apr. 22, 2021