Family & Education

Teachers must recognise Israel’s complexity

Students should learn about the differing ideologies of Israel's founding fathers


Moving from the matzah of Pesach to the pitta of Yom Ha’atzmaut, we might take some of the messages of the Seder to help inform how we engage with Israel education.

The different responses to the four sons prescribed by the authors of the Haggadah have long taught us the importance of understanding our children and ensuring we answer them in the way most suited to their individual needs. However, what about those who are just not inspired by listening to an answer?

Perhaps it is through the other symbols of the Seder that the authors were giving us the message that in order to fully engage every student we should appeal to as many of their senses as possible.

We have the taste of the matzah, the texture of the charoset, the smell of the maror, the sight of the shankbone and the melodies of the songs.

Maybe this is the reason that even among the least affiliated, the Seder is one of the most performed rituals in Jewish life. The authors of the Haggadah writing over a thousand years ago could have delivered the first lecture of any current teacher training course where the importance of multi-sensory and differentiated learning is such an area of focus.

The notion of differentiated learning is no better demonstrated than in the realm of Israel education. One only has to look at some of the motions passed at recent UJS conferences to understand the complicated relationships that our youth have with Israel and thus the complexities that surround building an Israel curriculum.

The Israel educator must acknowledge that students are not coming to Israel education with a clean slate and their Israel journey will be formed by the diverse experiences they have already encountered. Understanding these intricacies is the foundation for the pedagogy of Israel education and allows for a curriculum to be developed that inspires and respects the identity of each student.

Knowledge about Israel such as key dates and important figures, plus exposure to the sights, music, food and culture of the country, are of course the fundamental building blocks that must be taught but the curriculum will only become meaningful when this knowledge is built on and key issues are addressed.

As the British-born Israeli educator Robbie Gringras explains, “If in the first few decades of its existence Israel needed to be hugged, now we need to enable our students to both hug and wrestle with Israel sometimes both at the same time.”

Students who are trying to make sense of their relationship with Israel will, for example, feel reassured when they learn about the differing ideologies of Israel’s founding fathers, including Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, who themselves struggled with the same issues of how to develop a democratic state that is Jewish but also protective of the rights and identities of its Muslim, Christian and citizens of other faiths.

Students will feel encouraged in that their questions and differing viewpoints are not new but have been grappled with for well over a century.

The challenges that Israel faces today are the educational opportunity of our time. The issues are complex and nuanced. To fully support each student along their personal journey of connecting to Israel requires thoughtful programming that empowers educators to deliver their best.

Sharon Radley is director of PaJeS JTracks Secondary Curriculum Project


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