The Challenge of Israel Education in the Twenty-First Century

In the shadow the recent “summer of discontent” in Israel during “Operation Protective Edge” I was conducting a review of literature on Israel education for my doctoral dissertation. One of the big surprises was the comparative dearth of literature on Israel education outside of Israel for the initial decades of Israel’s existence. This is in contrast with the voluminous output in the last couple of decades. The majority of the literature indicated that the view of Israel education until the end of twentieth century was very two-dimensional and focused almost exclusively on “survivalism and pride,” alternating with periods of “paternalism.”

This would seem to be a fundamentally flawed system. If Israel education is defined solely through crises, it is “reactive” and of course exceedingly difficult to educate succeeding generations about the complex evolving realities of Israel. It is important to acknowledge that with all of Israel’s incredible successes in many fields since its creation, there are issues that Israel is grappling with as it continues to stride into the 21st century. The problems that the Jewish State faces include topics as far ranging as: security, religion, society, environment, water, education and how to harmoniously co-exist with a minority population.

The challenge of Israel education in the twenty-first century is to move beyond the old metaphors of the “mythical/romantic Israel,” or the “poor immigrant cousin.” The need to re-engage with Israel education in new ways is clearly apparent.

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Photo: (c) T. Book, 2014

My research highlighted that most Jewish day school students in the diaspora lacked a basic knowledge of the subject and that without this core knowledge foundation; all of the fancy theories of education and advocacy are worthless.

Similarly, According to Steven M. Cohen (2002) in his study “Relationships of American Jews with Israel: What We Know and What We Need to Know,” the vast majority of American Jewish high school students have not visited the Jewish State. There is a growing sense of “disconnect” with the subject matter being taught and the lack of awareness of the place that is being taught about. Placing an Israel trip in the school curriculum may be the most policy relevant action schools can undertake to stem the erosion in Israel attachment and awareness among students.

This leads me to the conclusion that it is imperative for each Jewish Day school to develop for itself a clear statement of its commitment to Israel, a comprehensive ideology that places today’s Israel firmly in the center of the institutional core and curriculum, and most importantly act on its mission statement.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He is the author (and illustrator) of the internationally acclaimed Zionism curriculum; “For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Education” (fifth edition, 2017, Koren) and is at present working on his next book, a history of the Jewish people. Tuvia has a doctorate in Israel education. His dissertation title is: “Through the Soldiers’ Eyes: Exploring the Influence of a Birthright Mifgash on the Israeli Soldier Participants.”
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