AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Hearts and Minds on Yom Ha’atzmaut

Posted by: Deborah Fishman

April 22, 2015

Hearts and Minds - Israel EducationToday we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, the fulfillment of the Zionist dream of an independent Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. In Jewish day schools across the country, children are experiencing this special day on the Jewish calendar in a variety of modalities — eating Israeli food, participating in school-wide ceremonies, creating arts and crafts projects, singing and dancing to Israeli songs — all the result of careful planning and forethought on the part of their teachers and administrators. How do Jewish day schools teachers think about this work to influence the next generation’s hearts and minds — and how do their students think about Israel?
Fortunately, one can draw upon AVI CHAI’s report, “Hearts and Minds: Israel in North American Jewish Day Schools” (2014) for research that sheds light on some of these questions. Researchers Alex Pomson, Jack Wertheimer, and Hagit Hacohen Wolf in cooperation with Rosov Consulting surveyed 95 North American Jewish day schools, visited over a dozen of the schools, and observed school trips to Israel. Additionally, 350 teachers identified by their schools as involved with Israel education and 4030 middle and upper day school students were surveyed.
Here are five key findings from this report:

  1. Not only is Israel education rarely contested in day schools, Israel actually serves as glue holding school communities together. Particularly in schools outside of the Orthodox sector, Israel is the single most important Jewish common denominator binding school families together.
  2. Israel educators fall into two categories: slightly over two thirds see their role as what we describe as Exemplars: they believe Israel education is best done by sharing something of themselves with students. Slightly under one-third of teachers, by contrast, encourage their students to learn about Israel through inquiry and study; we call these teachers Explorers. Both types of teachers are found in every day school sector, regardless of denominational affiliation. This last finding constitutes both an opportunity and a challenge: it suggests that there is great potential for professional development across denominational lines; it suggests also that all schools should be alert to how diverse the experience of Israel education is in their classrooms.
  3. Students’ connection to Israel grows from their relationship to the Jewish people. Nurturing connections between students and Jews around the world contributes to their connection to Israel. Put differently, the road toward engagement with Israel runs through students’ relationships to other Jewish collectives, wherever they are found.
  4. When parents model engagement with Jewish communal life, even when they are not specifically active in pro-Israel work, students are more likely to feel strongly connected to Israel. The involvement of parents with Jewish communal life is a stronger predictor of student connection to Israel than whether a student has been on a trip to Israel.
  5. Day school students are not all the same. In schools of every sector, a significant minority – between a quarter and a half – are relatively detached from Jewish life and especially from Israel. Schools can have their greatest impact on Israel engagement if they build connections with these detached students. While the more engaged students benefit from the school’s reinforcement of commitments absorbed in the home, the less engaged students can have their negative perceptions of Israel converted into positive ones if the school creates a culture that is connected to contemporary Israel.

This Yom Ha’atzmaut, we encourage you to reflect: What role does Israel education play in your school? What different types of Israel educators, parents and students make up your community — and how do you properly work with and support each type? How are you fostering your students’ relationships to the Jewish people — through an Israel education that affects both their hearts, and their minds as well?
Chag Sameach, and wishing you much strength and success in your continued efforts on behalf of inculcating young Jews in a commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.

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