A New Look at Israel Education: Mapping the Field and Charting the Future

by Anne Lanski

Yesterday, in partnership with the Schusterman Family Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Marcus Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation, the iCenter hosted iThink: A New Look at Israel Education. For a full day, more than 80 organizational leaders, Jewish and Israel educators, funder representatives and scholars reflected on the emergence of the field of Israel Education and envisioned what the future could look like.

The basis for this conversation was Mapping the Field, a new report commissioned by the iCenter that documents the growth of the field of pre-collegiate Israel Education over the last 10 years and offers recommendations and goals for building on our progress.

Mapping the Field follows a report commissioned by the Gilo Foundation 10 years ago, which found that Israel Education did not exist as a field. It lacked a common language, a central address, capacity-building organizations, standards and practices of professional development, funding champions and many of the other markers of a strong field.

A decade later, we have made real progress in many of these areas. The Aleph-Bet of Israel Education provides a powerful language for Israel educators. Masters degree concentrations and certification programs have been established. Foundations like the ones that sponsored iThink have committed significant resources to developing the field. And the iCenter exists as a North American agency.

Still, a great deal more work remains to be done. Mapping the Field presented four major areas of recommendations, including: promulgating standards of practice for the field; increasing the availability of and access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate resources; investing in intensifiers – strategic interventions with a multiplying effect – that can be deployed across settings; and encouraging experimentation, risk-taking and expanded offerings by practitioners and organizations in the field. (The full report is available here.)

The conversations at iThink were fueled by excitement and creativity about how the future could unfold.

  • Could we double the number of teens traveling to Israel in the next few years?
  • Could mifgash become a normative part of the lives of Israeli and North American Jewish youth?
  • Could we develop a cadre of 1,000 skilled, certified and employed Israel educators?
  • Could we significantly increase the number of North American Jewish high school students graduating with proficiency in Modern Hebrew?
  • Could we develop content-rich approaches to learner-centered education that nurture strong, resilient Jewish identities?
  • Could organizations from various sectors – camps, supplementary schools, day schools, youth groups and beyond – collaborate on new initiatives?

This was a unique moment. Rarely, if ever, has such a wide range of committed and influential people gathered to dream and plan for the future of Israel Education. And iThink marks one of the only times that a communal conversation about Israel Education emerged out of a North American organization. Partnerships will be formed, collaborations will be developed and the field will be advanced.

Now is a moment of great promise for Israel Education. The relationship between Israeli and North American Jews has evolved to one of mutuality, as we both realize how much we have to learn from and with one another. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish young adults, both Israeli and North American, have participated in mifgashim through Birthright Israel. And, as our report demonstrates, Israel Education has begun to establish itself as a field, with a language, professional training programs and capacity-building organizations.

It is also a moment of great urgency. Now is a time to act, to capitalize on the gains we have made over the last decade. It is a time to grow Israel educators and the field of Israel Education. If the energy, excitement, vision and relationships we saw at iThink are any indication, the next 10 years will be ones of even greater growth and transformation.

Anne Lanski is Executive Director of the iCenter, a national organization working to advance high-quality, meaningful and innovative Israel education by serving as the national hub and catalyst for building, shaping and supporting the field.