Everything has changed, and nothing has changed, all at the same time 

In Short

While the world looks very different since the events of October 7, the foundations of the field of Israel education endure and guide us into the future.

For nearly two decades, my work in the field of Israel education with The iCenter has focused on promoting an approach that places the learners’ relationship with Israel at the center of the educational experience. Our core work has been to elevate and empower Jewish educators as Israel educators, providing them with the tools, skills, content and context needed to meaningfully engage learners with Israel and its complexities.

In the days, weeks and months since war broke out on Oct. 7, we’ve been asked countless times, “How has your work been affected by the war?” My answer has always been our work has changed both in every way and in no way at all. While current events may shape and influence educational priorities and many of our content choices, the outbreak of war underscored the importance of being adaptive to meet the needs of educators as they navigate increasingly complex realities. Now more than ever, it is essential to help practitioners engage with authentic, nuanced and dynamic Israel education so its foundation is strong and its impact is long-lasting.

This conviction is supported by researcher Shelley Billig’s new report, “Israel Education in North America, 2023: A Landscape Analysis of the Field.” In the report, Billig outlines areas of convergence in beliefs about Israel education within the field. In the wake of Oct. 7, she finds that the core beliefs of the field remain unwavering and foundational: 

  • Israel education must be learner-centered, use narratives and storytelling, be immersive and experiential, and engage with nuance and complexity. 
  • Israel education must be addressed as part of any Jewish educational endeavor. 
  • Israel education must be expressed in the context of Jewish identity formation. 
  • Israel education must employ good educational strategies and practices. 
  • Israel education must include experiences in Israel and with Israelis.

While unity around these core values persists, there is still room for diversity in approach. Indeed, the field of Israel education is strengthened when the many individual organizations that make up the field view their differences as complementary. Only when we understand that the unique elements of our approaches play a part in the development of a larger and unified whole will we be able to strive for long-term sustainability and effectiveness in Israel education.

In August 2023, The iCenter launched the pilot cohort of our newest learning initiative, Conflicts of Interest, after considerable time spent in the R&D phase. In designing the experience, we aimed to elevate multiple narratives and perspectives on the enduring challenges presented by the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and strike an appropriate balance between content, context and pedagogy to make the learning practical for our participants. Of course, we could not have predicted the even greater need now of educators for tools to navigate these complex and contentious issues. Indeed, with the changing realities of Israel and its implications for Israel education in the broader Jewish community, the foundational principles upon which both The iCenter and this program were built are timeless and more important than ever. 

Drawing on insights from Billig’s report, as well as compelling data from our Conflicts of Interest evaluation reports, The iCenter will continue to develop and offer learning and practice modules that provide deep and meaningful professional development for educators in the field. Conflicts of Interest will grow from its exclusive focus on the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to include nuanced explorations of many different complexities of Israel. In doing this, we aim to meet the growing demand and expressed need of educators for this type of engagement that deepens their knowledge base, expands the context of their understanding and utilizes pedagogies they can easily incorporate into their practice.

Additionally, we will double down on our efforts to support the field in all areas where Israelis and North Americans come together. This includes supporting communities, camps, campuses, schools, and more to build relationships with shlichim, shinshinim, and other Israelis, and growing the number of opportunities for educators to experience the Israel of today — firsthand and together. Through these opportunities and more, we aim to nurture meaningful and lasting relationships, which become the connections that sustain and enrich us.

Furthermore, The iCenter will take a leading role in galvanizing champions and thought leaders in Israel education. In the coming months, we will convene as a field to chart our path moving forward and to discuss our shifting priorities in the wake of Oct. 7. In this critical moment, we must view our individual work with an abundance mindset, recognizing and appreciating our unique individual contributions as part of a greater whole. Our goal in coming together must be to collaborate, to think strategically about infrastructure growth, to streamline the quality of teaching and learning and to expand our collective reach. 

At a time when it feels like our world has turned upside down, the field of Israel education must remain united, drawing strength from our collective understanding of the importance of our work and the place of Israel within Jewish education and identity formation. We must strive to uplift Jewish educators with the guidance, support, training, and resources they need now more than ever. Together as organizations collaborating on a shared vision, we can ensure the long-term sustainability of the field of Israel education.

Aliza Goodman leads the design and implementation of The iCenter’s professional development initiatives for Jewish educators across North America.