Revamping Israel Education
“We need a major reconceptualization of what it means to teach Israel and Zionism for our times… Wide groups of leadership in Israel and North America believe that education about Israel has failed as reflected in the fact that so many American Jews, adults and young, in high school and particularly on college campuses, cannot respond to Palestinian political arguments… In developing one’s own perspectives, in debating them with those who hold decidedly different views, commitment and attachment to the State will deepen and they will find their own way of participating in the struggles of the contemporary State.”
–John Ruskay, CEO, UJA-Federation New York
Encounter alumni return to North America eager to translate their transformative experiences into education for their classrooms, congregations and other constituencies. They are faced, however, with a lacuna of relevant, current and compelling Israel education curricula, which can largely be characterized as out-of-date and ideologically loaded. They share the growing consensus among Jewish leadership that Israel education is failing in many respects, as evidenced in the sharp decline among Israel engagement and attachment of those under the age of 35, and documentation that the Israel to which younger adults do connect is the complex Israel of the evening news rather than the ‘mythic’ Israel of much existing curricula. [1. See for example:
- “Israel in the Age of Eminem” Luntz, Frank, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ABCP), 2003.
- “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel‚” Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman, ABCP, 2008.
- “Shifting Social Networks: Studying the Jewish Growth of Adults in their Twenties and Thirties,” Beth Cousens, unpublished dissertation, Brandeis University, 2008.
The ultimate impact of Birthright on this phenomenon remains unpredictable, as some initial evaluations conclude that Birthright seems to strengthen Jewish identities, but not attachment to Israel.]
Younger adults are anxious to engage with the hard questions they face in their public schools or on their college campuses. They crave educational settings in which they can openly explore, listen and learn about multiple perspectives without committing to a certain political solidarity in advance. They don’t find these settings in their synagogues, day schools and Hillels, and so they often choose the path of disengagement from the Jewish community as well as from Israel. This disengagement will have severe repercussions without creative and rigorous educational intervention.
Meeting the Need: The Israel Education Initiative
Talented, in influential positions throughout North America, and inspired by their powerful experiences on Encounter, our alumni are perfectly positioned to reshape Israel Education in North America into settings of vibrant conversation, creative problem-solving, and passionate, authentic engagement with Israel’s peace and security dilemmas. This type of engagement is critical to sustaining North American Jewish relationships with the Jewish State in the 21st century.
Encounter’s Israel Education Initiative includes:
- Community of Practice (CoP)
- Since January 2010, a select group of Encounter alumni educators meet regularly to discuss new ways of educating about the history and current events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both formal and informal settings; and
- Resource Book and Online Materials
- Encounter will harvest the talent and collaborative work of our CoP to produce a resource book for use in high schools, campuses, and young adult settings, with stand-alone units and lessons.
For information about how you can join the Israel Education Initiative or to learn more, contact Rebecca Polivy.