Israel Education Coming of Age

by Alan Hoffmann

I was very pleased to read the article by Lisa Eisen and Chip Edelsberg entitled “To Everything There is A Season: The Metamorphosis of Israel Education.”

I strongly endorse their central claim that Israel education should be about relationship forming with Israel rather than imparting knowledge about Israel. In fact, this insight – that Israel education is essentially Israel engagement – led the lead Federations in North America to partner with the Jewish Agency, more than a decade ago, to create what was originally called NACIE – the North American Coalition for Israel Engagement. A half decade later, NACIE evolved into MAKOM – the Israel engagement network – again a shared enterprise of the communities of North America and the Jewish Agency. At the core of both of these initiatives were many of the lead principles highlighted in the “Mapping the Landscape” study: the understanding of Israel engagement as a key component in Jewish identity, the importance of direct experience of Israel through travel, the need for high level educators who can deal with Israel’s nuanced complexity in engaging ways and the powerful impact of interaction between young Israelis (at camps, on campus and in communities) and their North American peers.

Over a decade later, it is reassuring to see that the realities described by last year’s report, as well as the goals for future growth, reflect consensus around these key vehicles of Israel engagement in North America today. Through our close work with partners in North America these directions are being furthered: Israel Fellows, outstanding young Israelis filling critical roles on the most influential campuses through their Hillels, more than one thousand young Israelis in summer camps – many of them working in close cooperation with the Goodman initiative cited, and new energies devoted to reviving the field of teen travel, giving additional youth that crucial personal experience of Israel before they reach the college campus. Much has been accomplished in these directions – much still remains to be done to make a personal and vibrant sense of engagement with Israel a core component of the identity of every young Jew in North America.

There was another fundamental principle at play here, one that continues to inform our work right up to the present day: Israel engagement in North America is a shared enterprise between the North American Jewish community and Israel. The early examples of partnership and mutual commitment noted above have evolved into a strong and resounding statement of North American investment in and ownership of Israel engagement. The establishment of the ICenter, and its accomplishments in the few short years since it was founded, along with the solid and growing investment by two of our most outstanding philanthropists, highlight the critical importance for sustainable North American involvement in the key issue of Israel’s role in fostering Jewish identity in the future.

Israel has an equally central role to play in this cardinal issue facing the Jewish future, and over the last decade, the Israeli Government has increased its interest and involvement in Israel engagement throughout the Jewish world. There is growing commitment in Israel to a new paradigm of involvement with Jewish communities, one in which Israeli taxpayers and Jewish Federations and Foundations advance a common agenda of securing the Jewish future through stronger Jewish identity and deeper mutual connections. The Jewish Agency is dedicated to further strengthening this strategic partnership between North America and Israel and to aligning our collective resources for maximum impact.

I certainly agree – now is the season for us all to achieve our shared collective goals.

Alan Hoffmann is the Director-General of the Jewish Agency for Israel.