The Purpose of Israel Education

By Eva Wyner

Today we had the opportunity to hear from Shalom Orzach who presented on his conception of Jewish and Israel education through his work with the Foundation of Jewish Camps, Cornerstone and the Avi Chai Foundation.

After hearing from Avraham Infield, the previous president of Hillel International, Orzach presented a contrasting position. Whereas Infield pitched his distinct approach towards Judaism, firmly asserting his characterization of the Jewish nation as strictly a people, not a religion, Orzach presented an antithetical lens of understanding the unique nature of the Jewish peoplehood.

While the traditional approach to Israel education has succeeded in many ways, Orzach would argue that changes must be made as a way of reevaluating the purpose of Israel education. Through teaching this pedagogy, Orzach had each of us choose an association that comes into mind when we hear Israel. Among the three options, we were to decide if we resonated with the people, the state, or the land of Israel. After Orzach facilitated this exercise of self-identification, he led us into a fruitful discussion about the purpose of Israel education. He asserted, “the purpose of Israel education is to allow the participant to tell their Israel story”, opposed to the Israel Story. By understanding that each of us possesses our own Israel story, we must find ways to translate our stories into a form of education that both acknowledges the need to lift up the underrepresented stories, while simultaneously understanding when each story is desired, or even tolerated, based on space and audience.

Looking specifically at our cohort, we were able to see the immense diversity of positions and associations that we have regarding our relationships with Israel. Despite this diversity, we all share a similar love for Israel. Just as our cohort is both homogenous in our pursuit to become Jewish leaders, yet distinct in our personal ideologies and experiences, we were able to see how our pluralist community is representative of the Jewish people at large. As each of us narrated our personal Israel stories, we were able to see the diverse fabric that makes up the complexity of the Israel narratives.

After the founding of the modern state of Israel, there was a sense of urgency that crafted the Israel narrative to paint a flowery picture to Diaspora Jews. This was necessary to instill a collective love for Israel in each and every one of us. I would, however, argue that as politics surrounding Israel intensifies, there is a similar urgency. Just as Orzach explained how the allowance of each Israel narrative crafted the Israel story, it is our mission to confront the complexities and nuances of what makes up the Israel in order to enrich Israel education. Each of us left the day feeling inspired to confront these issues in order to strengthen the future of Israel education. Through this confrontation, I believe that our love for Israel can grow in the process and will hopefully allow for a more united nation of Israel, by confronting rather than avoiding the complexities of Judaism and Israel.


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