Teaching Israel isn’t easy.
In fact, it’s getting a lot harder.
Regardless of where you sit on the ideological spectrum, it’s becoming clear that there’s definitely not a one-size-fits all approach to teaching Israel. In an age when big-tent Judaism makes is nigh impossible to have a unified strategy or pedagogy about Israel education, one thing that has proven effective are school-to-school partnerships between American and Israeli schools. While they have been very successful in developing relationships between people and institutions over the past fifteen years, even those partnerships have been getting a little… stuck. While it’s refreshing to hear Israeli kids being wowed by progressive American Judaism, or American kids talking about Israeli secularism, it’s easy to stop there and really not learn anything else about each other.
We are still in a place where most American Jews think of Israel as a complex web of wars, terrorism, and politics. Similarly, when many Israelis think of American Jews, they imagine material abundance, a carefree lifestyle, and New York City.
But beyond the stereotypes there is a more complex reality. Although sharing a similar heritage, beliefs and history, Israeli and American Jews are shaped by unique experiences which define who they are, how they live and what they think. We need to share that with our students.
We are about to enter the second the year of Prozdor’s Pirke Dorot program with the Reali School in Haifa. Last year we began our transformation of Israel education by writing a new ninth grade curriculum which dealt with both the history of Israel and Zionism and Jewish identity. By beginning to explore both history and identity through a common lens, the two schools began to understand each other a little better.
This year we are continuing the innovation by introducing an entirely revamped 10th grade core curriculum entitled “One People: Two Paths- The Jews of Israel and the United States.” Being developed concurrently at Prozdor by Norm Finkelstein, a historian, award-winning author, and long-time Prozdor instructor, and in Haifa by at teachers at Reali, the curriculum focuses on the evolution of American and Israeli societies over six decades from 1950-2010. In each decade, students explore overarching areas whose themes are common both to America and Israel, with the readings and presentations being representative of the experiences of typical American Jews and Israelis in those times. Focusing on key figures in all areas of society, including politics, business, literature and the arts, our students will learn about the people and events that shaped the histories of both nations.
It’s one thing to meet each other. It’s another to learn about each other’s history. But to truly understand someone you need to learn about where they came from, their history, their culture, and the development of their identities- personal, national, cultural, and religious. By moving beyond the stereotypes and the banalities which have been all too present in Israel education, we are redefining what it means to teach Americans and Israelis about each other.