By Sasha Kopp, MAJNM/MAJE ‘17
“Israel is a country where everyone is Jewish!” This statement, which I have heard in Jewish early childhood centers across the country, made me acutely aware of the lack of Israel education that is provided to pre-school teachers who teach about Israel in Jewish early-childhood settings. As a Joint Masters student in Jewish Nonprofit Management and Jewish Education, I sought to understand teachers in a Jewish early-childhood program. I studied how their exposure and connection to Israel affects how they teach Israel in their classroom, as well as their ability to discuss Israel in their personal lives.
This case study is based on interviews with 21 employees at a typical synagogue-based early-childhood program in Los Angeles. The educators represent a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, including over a third non-Jews. Interviewees were asked about their initial exposure to Israel, how they teach Israel in their classroom, their uses of Hebrew and Arabic, and their comfort level discussing Israeli culture and politics.
I found that teachers who have been to Israel tended to teach Israel as a home and as a place of belonging, while non-Jewish teachers who had not traveled to Israel frequently discussed Israel as a holy and religious place. Additionally, in this early-childhood center Israel was primarily taught leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut. Their curriculum focuses on Israel as if it were a holiday, rather than a country with a diverse and multi-faceted society.
The interviews highlight the importance of meaningful Israel educational experiences for teachers, such as an Israel trip or formal education. Implementing more robust Israel education for early-childhood educators has the potential to inspire in-depth Israel exploration that can be woven through emergent curriculum throughout the year, fostering a sense of connection, wonder, and curiosity about Israel in the next generation.