Israel…It’s Complicated Resonates with Day School Educators
Each spring, the eighth graders at Levine Academy in Dallas visit Israel for almost three weeks. For the 40 or so students, it’s a trip they anticipate with excitement for years, beginning in kindergarten when their day school begins weaving Israel throughout the curriculum and programming.
The trip marks the culmination of their day school experience, and educators at Levine Academy want to ensure the students are prepared. This year they will be using the new Israel…It’s Complicated course in eighth grade.
“We’re very excited. We want to prepare our students to be open and to know more, to ask questions. But first students need the information. The new curriculum brings it all – it’s a great source to open the discussion,” says Anna Katzman, the dean of Hebrew language and programs at Levine Academy.
Israel…It’s Complicated was developed in collaboration with the Center for Israel Education and provides both an overview of the Jewish historical connection to the land and a portrait of today’s modern Israeli culture. At the same time, Israel…It’s Complicated refuses to shy away from the nuance and complexities that Israel navigates.
The course uses primary documents, real quotes from real people, vivid contemporary photos, and activities relevant to students lives to give them an understanding of the multifaceted place that is Israel today. A companion Teacher Resource Guide contains a curated collection of tools to create a rich curriculum for students. Some of the activities in the course include videos and other digital elements, which can be found at the Israel...It's Complicated web page.
Katzman plans to use lessons from the course weekly, and will experiment with having class discussions in Hebrew. “Our staff is mostly Israeli and they bring their own excitement and experience to class,” she says. “What we have realized, though, is that while we teach the basics of Israel and what the conflicts are, we haven’t done a good enough job yet of giving our students a full education, so they know why people talk about Israel and why it’s on the news.”
Similar conversations have been happening at the Portland Jewish Academy in Oregon. For the past two years, Director of Jewish Life Amy Katz says educators have done some self-examination about how they teach Israel. “Are we giving them a holistic view or a fairy tale?”
What they came away with is that they had been afraid to give nuanced material to students. “We let kids grapple with other things. Why not trust the children to grapple with Israel?” Katz says.
Such thinking is line with the work of Sivan Zakai, a professor at Hebrew Union College who directs the Children’s Learning About Israel Project. Her research suggests that it’s vital to establish a healthy dialogue about difficult subjects in order to promote a feeling of security for our kids. (Read more here)
Katz plans to use Israel…It’s Complicated with the school’s fourth graders, because “that’s when kids start developing critical thinking skills and they’re ready to wrestle with tougher issues.”
The Portland Jewish Academy also sends its eighth graders to Israel and prepares students for that visit with a class about Israeli culture and politics. Previously taught as a weekly class for one trimester, they are now expanding to four days a week for a full trimester, and will also draw from some of the resources in Israel…It’s Complicated.
“Being a day school, we can build a base for connection to Israel right from the start, kindergarten,” says Katz. “It’s crucial to ensure our students learn to ask questions and explore the complicated nature of Israel. We are thrilled to have materials that help us do that.”
See a sample chapter from the student book here
See a sample chapter from the teacher resource guide here
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