Bridging the Gap between Sight and Vision: Revitalizing Israel Education as a Field

by Zohar Raviv

I am an Israel educator based in Jerusalem, who belongs to a growing cadre of Jewish educators that actively pursue a shared language for the field, one based on shared theories and practices of Jewish education, and to which Israel education is integral.

Lisa Eisen and Chip Edelsberg examined this evolution, noting, “Today’s field of Israel education is embracing innovative approaches to experiential learning and emerging from its nascent stage to the possibility of becoming a fundamental element of Jewish education and Jewish identity formation.”

Their observation is based on both a broad understanding of the theoretical developments behind the field’s current shift, as well as a passion for its envisioned evolution in practice. Rightly so, for the field of Jewish education as a whole should be informed by these two interlacing properties: the theoretical and the practical.

One of the strategic steps needed to achieve this paradigm-shift is to bring together theorists and practitioners from diverse educational settings, as to assist the cultivation of passionate Jewish educators with strong theoretical aptitude, methodological skills and deep understanding of Israel’s indispensable place in our field. I am among those who believe that Israel education is a growing discipline, and witness its evolving potential to revitalize the Jewish educational arena as a whole, let alone attract a younger cadre of educators whose sophistication, creativity and commitment to Jewish life is crucial for the realization of this vision.

An additional step towards our goal is to see Israel as a ‘Homeland’, irrespective of the land which is one’s ‘home’. It allows us to gradually establish a relationship not only with the semi-mythical land-of-old, but – and more importantly – with the contemporary state of Israel through its myriad landscapes and narratives which interweave past, present and future.

Any significant relationship ultimately pushes one beyond his/her comfort-zone – and a relationship with Israel is no different. Our desire to promote deeper and broader dialogues with Israel must foster meaningful, if not authentic, encounters (mifgashim) with Israel’s multiple landscapes: sites, people, language, culture, values, politics, God, and many others which challenge the myopic lenses that often inform our view.

Such change also requires that we systematically forsake the rhetoric-of-crisis which has been governing the discourse surrounding Judaism, as well as Israel. Our field needs to adopt a revised language – the rhetoric-of-opportunity – to better introduce and contextualize Jewish experiences and meaningful encounters with Israel (in all of its complexity) in educational settings. Israel education doesn’t merely add one more variable to the multivariable calculus of Jewish education, learning and living. It should reaffirm Israel’s complex role in one’s Jewish identity formation (a statement true for Israelis just as for worldwide Jewry); it should inform every stage of our communities’ educational path; and it should enlist top community lay-leaders as advocates, for they are indispensable in turning this educational vision into an on-going and well-established communal reality.

Zohar Raviv serves as International VP of Education at Taglit-Birthright Israel