Israel in Jewish Early Childhood Education
Dr. Ruth Pinkenson Feldman, Consultant on Early Childhood Education, Jewish
Community Center Association of North America, New York Shira Ackerman
Simchovitch, Director, Early Childhood Division, Department of Education and
Culture for the Diaspora: Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education, Jerusalem
Israel in Our Lives is a project sponsored by
The CRB Foundation,
The Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education
Department of Jewish Education and Culture in the Diaspora,
The Charles R. Bronfman Centre for the Israel Experience: Mifgashim.
In cooperation with
Jewish Education Service of North America and
Israel Experience, Inc.
Israel In Our Lives Online was funded in part through a generous grant from the Joint Program for Jewish
Education of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Education and Culture of the State of
The editors would like to thank all the authors, advisors, and consultants of the Israel In Our Lives
series— educational leaders who have brought their considerable insights and talents to bear on this
project. In addition to those already mentioned in these pages, we extend our appreciation to those who
helped in shaping the project concept: Dr. Zvi Bekerman, Gidon Elad, Dr. Cecile Jordan, Rachel Korazim,
Clive Lessem, Caren Levine, Dr. Zev Mankowitz, Dr. Eliezer Marcus, & Susan Rodenstein.
For thousands of years without the benefit of modern technology, Jews managed to create powerful
images and representations of Israel - a place that most Jews had never seen or experienced. A Jewish
child was born into a relationship with the "Israel of the imagination" that was fostered by linking that
place to everyday actions and rituals, to significant events in the flow of the year and of life, and to
communal myths and memories. Israel thus permeated the lives of Jews, visited and revisited in the
mind throughout the course of a lifetime. When such images of Israel were vivid in the hearts and minds
of parents, a connection to Israel could be transmitted at an early stage and in a natural way to young
children. Now, that such images have become less and less a part of most parents' reality, educators are
called upon to make up the difference at the crucial developmental stage of early childhood.
It is said of our most sacred text, the Torah, haphoch ba ve haphoch ba, de kuli alma ba - turn it and turn
it, for all the world is in it. The same can be said of Israel, the land, the people and the story. The
diversity and ever changing nature of the reality that is Israel, coupled with the multiplicity of
interpretation of that reality, make the task of determining what to teach young children about Israel
and in what manner to teach not only difficult, but tremendously challenging.
What does Israel mean today and what has it meant to different people at different times? What can it
mean to young children? What do we want it to mean? How can learning about Israel promote a child's
Jewish development? What role can Israel play in the Jewish identity formation of the young child? How
do we shape the young child's engagement with the topic of Israel so that meaning and relationship can
be constructed? What is the teacher's role in the child's construction of meaning about Israel? What is
the family's role?
In the framework of this guide we will discuss the reality of Israel education in pre- primary settings in
North America today and the influences that shape this reality; some of the problematic issues for
teachers in the construction of Israel experiences for young children; the child-family-teacher
interaction in Israel education; the transformative power of the Israel Experience (an educational visit to
Israel) for the early childhood educator; and our responses to these issues.
Early childhood education under Jewish auspices takes place mainly in synagogue preschools, Jewish
Community Centers, and sometimes in kindergarten and pre- kindergarten day school classrooms. In the
past decade, many programs have expanded from traditional half-day "nursery schools" to full day
options; age ranges now include children as young as six weeks. With schedules designed to meet the
needs of working parents, many of these programs now offer intensive educational experiences for
young children with more content hours than many day schools - the most intensive Jewish educational
program of any member of the family.
Jewish early childhood programs tend to be well-staffed, well-equipped, and of high quality. Most meet
state licensing requirements, and have been accredited by the National Association for the Education of
Young Children. Reflecting the trends in general early childhood education, many programs in the Jewish
community offer developmentally appropriate curricula, which are process-oriented, exploratory, and
thematic, integrating a multiplicity of disciplines. However, the approach to the Jewish component of
the curriculum frequently lags behind, largely because the teacher lacks the Jewish life experience
necessary to act as a guide for the children - to facilitate their sensory exploration of Jewish subject
matter in an integrated, experiential fashion. Nowhere is this more blatant than in attempts to teach the
meaning and experience of "Israel."
In Jewish early childhood classrooms throughout North America, Israel as a topic of study is featured in
the curriculum at some point during the year. In some classrooms Israel is present throughout the year,
while in others it appears for a brief time in the spring right before Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's
Independence Day). You can see anything from classrooms whose physical space has been transformed
into a living landscape of Israel and children use all of the expressive modes available to construct their
understandings, to classrooms where an inflated airplane hung over two rows of chairs simulates a trip
to Israel, and this is the sum total of the "Israel experience" for the children. What becomes clear when
looking at the variety of ways that Israel lives in early childhood settings is that the teacher's
understanding of and experience with Israel is what shapes the children's classroom experience.
In discussion after discussion with early childhood educators from all parts of North America, the
following portrait of Israel education as it is currently practiced emerges:
Israel is generally taught during the ten days preceding Yom Ha'atzmaut. The intensity of involvement
with the topic is often influenced by the religious or Zionist affiliation of the larger institution or by how
many Israelis are part of the teacher population or student body. In five morning a week programs,
anywhere from three to seven mornings a year are devoted to the topic. In part time programs, much
less time is spent. In some settings, Israel is mentioned in conjunction with some of the holidays or in
connection with Bible stories if this is a regular part of the program. Within these two contexts, Israel is
often presented as the faraway place where certain important events took place long ago. Only around
Yom Ha'atzmaut is any aspect of the contemporary state explored.
Some of the themes teachers attempt to address include: the geography of Israel, the seasons, foods,
and lifestyles that are different from the North American reality, music and dance, and holy sites.
Teachers want children to learn "that Israel is a special place to which we have a special connection,"
"Israel is part of our history," "Israel is our homeland." These themes and goals for understanding are
more often than not determined by the individual classroom teacher or by a few teachers together.
Rarely is the question of what Israel means and how it should be taught deliberated in a systematic
To a large extent, the preferred format for engaging children with Israel is that of a simulated trip to
Israel (including an airplane, a passport, tickets, Israeli money, and an Israeli identity card). Upon
"arrival," children may participate in a variety of centers or activity stations dedicated to particular
aspects of Israeli life (e.g., kibbutz, shuk, Jerusalem, an archaeological dig, what children do in Israel).
Often there is an "Israel Fair" or some institutional or city-wide celebration of Yom Ha'atzmaut in which
Teachers invest significant time and energy in planning and implementing these activities. Children have
a wonderful time and may even remember the experience many years later. By the end of the unit, the
children will probably have learned that Israel is far away because you get there on an airplane; that
Israel is somehow important to the adults in their setting - otherwise they would not have gone to so
much trouble; that things in Israel are "different" and that Israel's birthday is sometime in the spring.
Many children may even go home and report to their parents "today we went to Israel." However, when
you reflect on the achievements of these activities, it becomes evident that what was learned, however
positive, is a far cry from the often espoused goals regarding history, homeland, connectedness, and
belonging. As one teacher reflected, "it's not that different for the children than the idea of going to
Teachers who have been to Israel bring more of their own experiences and feelings to their teaching,
creating a more enriching experience for the children. Sadly, however, the number of early childhood
personnel who have been in Israel is small. Similarly, families who have visited Israel may encourage the
child's involvement with the topic. But, while more and more family activities are being designed around
Jewish subjects as a way of educating the entire family and empowering parents to compliment their
child's school learnings, little is done in this arena regarding the topic of Israel.
From this portrait, we can identify the leading difficulties of Israel education in our field:
* There is little systematic deliberation or reflection on the meanings of Israel for teachers and children,
and how these might be transmitted in the classroom.
* Activities that have been "successful" in the past, set the tradition for the future. The criteria for
success is often whether the children enjoy the activities and whether a beautiful product can be
created. Whether these activities will indeed result in certain desired understandings is rarely discussed.
* Israel is often detached from the larger Jewish curriculum and taught in isolation. For many teachers,
Israel is separate from their definition of Judiasm rather than central to it, and is therefore taught
* Many teachers are ignorant of the cultural wealth of the Jewish people that is embodied in Israel. They
often believe that "Israel couldn't possibly be as interesting as China," putting Israel into the category of
things that "have to be taught" rather than those that are worthy of being taught - not only because of
Israel's Jewishness, but because of its richness. Moreover, much of Israel's richness is reflected in its
cultural artifacts, music and foods, making it a particularly appropriate topic for exploration in the
sensory- oriented early childhood classroom.
* The focus of current practice is largely on what is exotic and strange about Israel, rather than what is
similar to the life of a Diaspora child (Jewishly as well as generally). In addition, there is little cognizance
or use made of the fact that Israel is vibrantly present in many Diaspora communities through Israelis
who are living in or visiting the community, through members of the community who have been to Israel
and can share their knowledge and experience, and through Israel-related events that regularly occur in
* Teachers have little conceptual or concrete experience with Israel. Very few early childhood
professionals have actually visited Israel, and even fewer have engaged in any serious intellectual
application of the topic to their own professional contexts.
* Early childhood educators are faced with the tremendous task of teaching about Israel (and all other
topics), without the aid of the written word. Teaching in the early years depends minimally on what to
say and what to ask; rather, it is based on designing environments and experiences through art,
dramatic play, block building, music, and movement that will enable the children to make sense of the
same material that would be conveyed to older students through text and teacher. Under the best of
circumstances it is difficult to translate concepts into non-verbal modes. The difficulty is compounded
when teachers lack the necessary data base from which to create these contexts for learning.
* Parents and families are rarely included in the Israel education in their child's classroom despite the
current trends in Jewish family education.
* There is an inherent tension in teaching in depth about a place that is seemingly so far away from the
child's everyday experience. Developmental paradigms currently influencing the field of early childhood
education may often place this kind of teaching in the "developmentally IN-appropriate" column.
* There is a serious lack of quality teaching materials on Israel available to the early childhood educator.
While compendia of suggested activities do exist, almost none are grounded in a comprehensive
philosophy of Israel education or Israel as a category within a broader view of Jewish early childhood
Earlier it was pointed out that the teacher's own experience with Israel is the factor that most
influences what goes on in the classroom. It is therefore the teacher's "Israel experience" and Israel
education that must be of primary concern. Research on Jewish identity has shown us that there are a
number of entry points through which relatively estranged Jews can be brought closer to their people
and to their cultural and religious heritage. Israel is one of them and perhaps the most powerful. A
relationship with Israel does not require an inherent commitment to religious observance. It allows the
individual to maintain control over the intensity of the relationship and the way it may develop and vary
Israel has a number of dimensions or access routes: national/historical, cultural, universal/philosophical,
and theological. These provide avenues of expression for Jews of different personal bents and of
different developmental levels in terms of age, commitment, and Jewish learning. Individuals or groups
may choose the route through which they wish to approach Israel and around which to construct its
Israel, in the broadest sense, is a mixture of ritual, textual, textural, philosophical, and physical
relationships. Every Jew, from early childhood to old age, from head centered to body centered, can find
something compelling in or about Israel. Engaging teachers with Israel can change not only the way
Israel is thought about and taught; it can be the starting point of a reconceptualization of the practice of
Jewish early childhood education. Because of Israel's connectednes to Judiasm as a whole, and its links
with virtually every other area of the Jewish studies curriculum, it has the potential to change the way
one's own Jewish identity is defined, which will of necessity change the way one teaches Jewish subject
Our central task is to enable teachers to ask themselves (individually and in critical colleagueship) the
questions necessary to formulate a guide to their professional practice. It would be easier, perhaps, to
articulate a general guiding philosophy for the field, to create forums for teachers to learn about and
discuss Israel, to produce curricula and teaching materials, to design Israel family education programs,
and to send everyone for a visit to Israel. However, while all of these may enhance and minimally
change what goes on in the field, they will do little towards a real transformation, for they will have
been generated by a particular group of people in a particular setting whose understanding of Israel,
however true, will inevitably discount other equally true understandings and perspectives. For there to
be a true transformation, the following processes must occur:
Every community and each teacher must evolve their own way of thinking and teaching about
Israel. No single conceptualization, curriculum, or program can be consonant with every community or
every school's perceptions, understandings, and relationship with Israel or conceptions of sound early
childhood practice. The point to emphasize is that Israel must be curricularized for early childhood
settings, with learning modes and subject matter matching chosen goals. We offer three examples of
1. If the modern State of Israel were to be placed at the center of the curriculum, a case could be made
for intensive Hebrew language instruction. Second language acquisition is age-appropriate for young
children, and would significantly boost later learning in day school programs. This must not be confused
with presenting a few isolated Hebrew words and phrases in an attempt to "show" children that Hebrew
is spoken in a place called Israel.
2. Another focus might be the Land of Israel. This would entail children following the changes of seasons
in Israel, relating them to their own home environments and to the Jewish holiday cycle. Depending on
the religious orientation of the sponsoring program, prayers for rain and dew would be brought in,
augmenting the children's growing understanding of prayer, and emphasizing the centrality of Israel as a
focus of prayers of Jews throughout the world.
3. Israel might be presented as the center of the "family" of world Jewry, setting the stage for study of
Jews from around the world. Such a multicultural approach to Jewish identity allows children and
parents to place themselves in historical and cultural contexts as well as within the parameters of
religious affiliations within North America. The idea that a place called Israel is the focal point for the
extended Jewish "family," of which they are a part, has the potential of becoming a key element in the
developing identity of the young child.
Processes of inquiry (rather than products) must be developed that will allow groups of teachers to
critically examine their current practice and the underlying assumptions about Israel as well as about
children's learning processes; properly assess their capabilities, limitations, and resources with regard to
Israel education; understand the significance of Israel to themselves as individuals and to the communal
context in which they live; and realize the importance of an actual experience in Israel for their personal
and professional growth.
Teachers must be helped to understand that the formulation of a philosophy of Israel education for
young children, as well as the implementation of that philosophy, is an ongoing process,rather than a
one-time effort resulting in "the program" that will then be used in school forever more.
At the heart of this process is the explicit acknowledgment that there is no one way to think, feel, or
teach about Israel, but rather a "multiculturalism" of thought and paradigm that can shape practice.
For the most part, discussions of Israel education have been concerned with what is to be taught and
with the associated question of how it can best be transmitted. It seems that long before we ask what or
how, we need to ask why these things are to be taught or what the educational implications of teaching
them may be. For us, there is no question that Israel should be an integral part of the curriculum in a
Jewish pre-school all year long. This is a product of our professional understanding of Israel as a topic of
study that is rich in the developmental raw materials necessary for growth, and an opportunity for
teachers to redefine their Jewish identity and for families to bond Jewishly. In doing so, all concerned
move closer to Judaism and Jewish life. Israel has the power and potential to be a gateway into a
relationship with Judaism for children and adults.
One of the difficulties in working with young children is that it is not always possible to assess whether
our educational aims and expectations have been met. They leave us before they can fully articulate
their undersandings to us. How can we test the validity of our claim that a carefully considered, ongoing,
and integrated engagement with Israel in the early years will impact the identity formation of the young
Jewish child in the ways we have described? We can't. We can, however, look to the growing body of
research on early learning to support our claim. Howard Gardner (1991) writes:
"In the years that follow infancy, the child will come to exhibit many new forms of knowledge, some
arising in the course of ordinary interactions in the culture, others as a result of the explicit programs
provided by educational institutions. These packets of information, concepts and practices, increasingly
susceptible to concious examination, will constitute the overt knowledge and memory of the growing
individual. By virtue of the fact that the infant cannot capture his knowledge in symbolic forms or reflect
upon his categorizations, the experiences of infancy become unavailable to him . . . It would be a serious
miscalculation, however, to assume that because these experiences cannot be remembered, they cease
to be important. In all probability these experiences and understandings make all subsequent knowing
possible. And . . . they continue to underlie our apprehension of the world."
To our colleagues we offer a model of Israel education for consideration, as well as suggestions of: the
kinds of questions that need to be asked about what Israel might mean and what children might be
capable of understanding; the relationship between Israel and the rest of the Judaic studies curriculum;
the types of learning experiences that will support and facilitate the children's construction of meaning;
the institutional infrastructure necessary to support this kind of inquiry; and our feelings about the
potential of an actual Israel Experience to profoundly influence the way a teacher thinks not only about
Israel, but about Judaism and about the role of the Jewish educator.
Our own philosophy of Israel education is based on the following premises and embodies our views of
Israel and the learning process:
1. More than teaching about Israel, we seek to help children and teachers enter into a sustained
relationship with Israel. To accomplish this, Israel must be felt in the classroom throughout the school
year, not only around Yom Ha'atzmaut. Children, together with their teachers, need to be able to "visit"
and "revisit" Israel throughout the school year, bringing to each encounter new capabilities and frames
of reference with which to interpret and represent Israel. In this way the young child can be helped to
understand that the contemporary state which they meet at Yom Ha'atzmaut, is also the ancient land
described in the stories of the holidays, the Bible, and Jewish values.
2. Israel should be viewed in the larger context of Jewish religious education and the study of Jewish
communities around the world. Israel should not be presented as a separate entity but rather within the
framework of klal yisrael (the Jewish collective) and the way Jewish life has been lived across space and
time. Teaching about Israel is also part of teaching children about the double endowment with which
they have been blessed - their two heritages, North American and Jewish.
3. Israel can be viewed through many dimensions or prisms. The prisms of land, people, language, and
spirituality encompass the networks of relationship that comprise the connection between the Jewish
people and the land of Israel. These prisms, individually or together, can serve as curricular organizers
for teachers in their own learning and in their teaching of Israel to young children.
4. "Israel is real" - not only in the sense that it is in many respects, just like any other almost-21st-
century place, but in that it gives truth and "realness" to many things which have been taught through
the frame of myth, collective memory, or "once upon a time and far away," and therefore are not
perceived by children as real or relevant. Israel allows for the possibility of belief in our own history and
our potential to rebuild: if there is a Western Wall, there might have been a Temple, and if there was a
Temple . . . some of the rest might have been true as well. It is the reality of Israel's present that allows
us to believe in the reality of our past as well as the promise of our future.
5. Throughout Jewish history there have been different paradigms of relationships to be translated into
the language of the early childhood classroom. For example, two of the ways in which diaspora Jews
have maintained a relationship with Israel are through a representation of Israel in their homes, such as
a mizrach (a wall-hanging showing the traditional direction Jews face during prayer, which is towards
Jerusalem), and through recalling Israel/Jerusalem during the performance of daily activities like praying
and eating. Do we have a visual reminder of Israel constantly present in our classrooms, and is Israel
somehow mentioned in the course of daily activities (not necessarily limited to prayer)? The
contemporary Israel education endeavor must acknowledge the ways in which Jews have "connected"
to Israel throughout our history, the various forms our culture has employed to represent Israel, and the
many ways in which we have developed the meanings of Israel.
6. The key to a successful Israel education experience lies in understanding the significance of the
temporal, human, and physical context in which this educational experience takes place. Meaning is
constructed by children in social settings, and that process embraces the people and social interactions
as well as the objects and materials in the setting. Early childhood educators must be concerned not
only with what they tell children about Israel but also, and perhaps more importantly, with the kind of
environment that needs to be constructed in order for children to create their understandings of Israel.
7. If children are to develop Jewishly, we need to help them reflect upon their Jewish experiences (in
school and out of school), to use their imaginations in relation to them, and to create a mental picture of
them. Therefore, we must engage children in the kind of practical activities which promote, encourage,
even demand, representation - activities such as symbolic play or drawing or conversations about
practical experiences. In the case of Israel, that means repeated opportunities to experience aspects of
Israel, to represent those experiences, and to reflect upon them. The young child has the gift of being
able to make the leap from imaginary to real - to sense that he or she really is in Israel when playing
inside a walled city constructed from wooden blocks. The challenge lies in replicating experiences of
Israel in the North American classroom which will lend themselves to constructing an understanding of
the connection between the child and Israel, and his/her ability to eventually move from concrete
context-based thinking to concrete context-free thinking.
8. For the young child, oral story and anecdote constitute the main ways of entering the "possible
worlds" of abstract thought and language disengaged from here and now; they are sense-making
devices. The story of Israel, which is the story of the Jewish people, is the primary tool available to the
teacher in educating towards a relationship with Israel. It is this story which is usually missing from the
teaching of Israel. Isolated activities, as engaging as they may be, will result in a very limited
understanding of Israel without this narrative glue to hold them together.
9. We believe children need to hear about and have the opportunity to interact with some traditional
Jewish topics in the framework of their Israel education. The fact that teachers may not be familiar with
the concepts that follow is both our starting point and our challenge. It should not in any way deter us
from their use. Likewise, the fact that some of these themes can be construed as "too religious" or "too
Jewish" should not keep us from introducing them into the lives of children who are enrolled in
institutions that are denominationally unaffiliated. It is part of our task to educate teachers to the idea
that hearing and knowing the master stories of our people is not the same as being ritually observant.
We cannot afford to allow our teachers' limitations to limit our children's understandings. Choices need
to be made about the scope and sequence of these concepts. The constraints posed by the age of the
children and the amount of time spent in school must be considered as we explore the ways and means
necessary for teaching the following concepts through all of the expressive modes:
The Torah - the Biblical narrative which conveys the promise of the land and shapes the relationship of
the people to the land. Through Bible stories children can begin to gain a sense of why Jews have a
connection to Israel. Through the interaction and interpretation of these stories children become
familiar with the concept of holiness and the holiness of the land, as well as the historical significance of
The Hebrew language and the Jewish people's relationship to it throughout history and in the
contemporary state. Hebrew, like Israel, is special to the Jewish people. The shapes and rhythms of the
language and the story of its rebirth should be a part of the environment of the Jewish early years
classroom, providing the children with the opportunity to experience a dimension of daily life in Israel.
The story of Diaspora and the ingathering of Jews from different places in the contemporary state as
well as the contemporary state's connection to world Jewry. A Jewish child in New York can only feel
connected to a child in Israel or any other Diaspora community if he/she has been exposed to their
shared history and the similarities of the journeys of their respective families.
The persuasiveness of Judaism in Israeli life - the Jewish landscape that was not designed or painted for
the visitor to Israel but exists because of the nature of the Jewish state.
The connection between the rhythms of Jewish life past and present, and the rhythms of Eretz
Yisrael (the Land of Israel) . Being aware that Tu b'Shvat, the holiday of the trees, occurs at the beginning
of spring in the land of Israel enables young children to understand the holiday even when it is snowing
in their own city.
10. Parents need to be brought into the Israel education experience of their children. Family activities
are a possibility, but we believe that parent education programs - adult learning about Israel - have
more potential to bring families closer to Israel. For it is parents, not young children, who make families
Jewish and it is parents who decide whether a family or a child will take a trip to Israel.
11. The actual trip to Israel plays an important role in early Israel education not so much as an event that
will take place (although family trips should be encouraged) but rather as something that happens to
people the child knows and is close to - teachers, older siblings, parents, and friends of the family - and
something that will one day happen to him/her. The child who has "made sense of Israel" can share in
the anticipation of the trip to Israel, can relate to and share the stories and pictures that will later be
shared about the trip, and add his/her own understandings to those storytellings. In this way, he or she
has a part in the actual experience. The child who has participated in these discussions, who has
repeatedly heard the phrase "when you go to Israel," can easily imagine and eagerly anticipate that time
when he/she too will take a trip to Israel. Preparing children for an eventual trip to Israel is part and
parcel of our teaching about Israel.
Before we can choose an "access route" to Israel for young children, we must explore a context for their
teachers. Many models of in-service training exist, each with its own set of constraints. However, all the
successful models acknowledge the fact that productive in-service training is more than a one-session
affair. If change is to be effected:
* A serious commitment of time is necessary. The early childhood administrators and staffs who commit
themselves to a reexamination of Israel education in their institution need to choose the time frame
most appropriate to their setting. The chosen time frame will, of course, dictate the scope of
engagement with the topic.
* A possible place to begin is with a critical assessment of current practice. What in fact takes place with
regard to Israel education? How was the particular program conceived and what body of knowledge
(theoretical as well as practical) informed its conception? Who was involved in the effort? Did parents
have a role? What did the children learn about Israel and how did those learnings reflect what teachers
hoped the children would learn or what the teachers believe to be important about Israel? If there is a
gap between theory and practice, what needs to be done to close that gap - to make theory and practice
more consonant with one another? Reflecting on practice can help individual staffs and teachers
articulate their difficulties with the teaching of Israel. This in turn can set the agenda for the teachers'
inquiry into Israel.
* In this process of assessment and reconceptualization, it is also helpful to turn outwards, to look at the
particular context in which the work is being done in terms of its affordances. The people and
institutions that constitute the "Israel resources" in a particular community play an important role in
shaping the Israel education experience for teachers, children, and families. Educators must explore
what these resources may offer to the early childhood setting, and how they can be used most
effectively. It is our feeling that a long term teacher education program could change the way Israel is
presently taught in early childhood settings throughout North America. Such a program should:
* Involve the participants in determining the program's content
* balance adult learning about Israel with relevant issues in early childhood philosophy and practice
* include discussion of classroom implementation and the relationship of Israel to the rest of the
* feature a visit to Israel as a centerpiece of the program. Of all the above-mentioned components, it is
the actual Israel Experience for teachers which has the most potential to influence and change the way
teachers think. Visiting Israel is not a substitute for classroom learning, but a valuable addition to the in-
service program, making the qualitative difference.
Young children learn with all of their senses, with a natural integration of mind, heart, and hand. For an
early childhood educator to engage children in the reality and the vision of Israel, she herself must have
the opportunity to construct her own understandings of its complexities and its potential, its holiness, its
history, its reality, and its meaning in her own life. To a certain extent, some of these understandings
can be achieved in a classroom in Milwaukee, through encounters with Israelis and people who have
visited or lived in Israel, through the media, and through participation in Israel-related events. However,
only the experience of actually being in Israel has the power to truly integrate "heart, hand, and mind."
The power of the Israel Experience provides the teacher with the opportunity to learn through her
senses, to become immersed in a culture which is in a daily process of creation and to recognize that her
own identity as a Jew is in formation as she allows herself to be a part of the Israel she is experiencing.
The human eye can see in a glance what can never adequately be communicated by words. In one
moment, a teacher visiting Israel can see the living reality of an ancient world thriving in a modern era.
She can see the contrasts she will someday try to convey.
When you see the walls of Jerusalem in pictures - even in a hundred pictures - you see only the stones
flat against the horizon. When you stand in Jerusalem, it is as if you are in a hologram - to be surrounded
by the hills, able to turn and turn within the city and to see again the walled city from every angle. This is
the kind of transformative experience a teacher may have that she can then recreate in the classroom.
The block corner in her pre-school classroom will show evidence of a teacher who has seen it herself and
who can help children envision a "walled" city.
The Israel Experience, like any other educational intervention, must be carefully thought out. It is not
enough to just visit Israel, even though something will be gained from merely "visiting." The same
principles which underlie our recommendations for long term teacher education programs on the
preceeding page, come into play in the planning and execution of the Israel experience for teachers.
The trip and program in Israel need to be the product of a true collaboration between the institution in
North America sending it's teachers and the organization in Israel responsible for implementing the
program. Programs need to be tailored to the specific needs of the particular community. For the
teacher to be transformed through the Israel visit, she must experience and then process aspects of
Israel that are relevant to her personal and professional contexts. The Israel experience is not only about
how to teach young children about the places that were visited or the topics discussed. It is also about
the teacher's exploration of her own Jewish identity and relationship to Israel. Both aspects must be
addressed when planning the program.
Because of the brevity and intensity of the Israel experience, there is often not enough time to process
and make sense of the experience while it is happening. It is therefore crucial to provide a
context/structure in which teachers can reflect upon the trip and plan for it's translation into practice
once they have returned to their community.
The education of the youngest members of our people should be a community concern. None of our
recommendations can be successful without the support and commitment of both professional and lay
leadership. Helping leadership understand the positive impact of a quality Jewish education in the early
years, the role that Israel can play in improving Jewish early childhood education, and the necessity of
providing the best possible inservice education for our early childhood professionals is perhaps the most
important part of the entire process. This is our investment in the future.
Blenkin, Geva M. and Kelly, A.V. Early Childhood Education, A Developmental Curriculum. London: Paul
Chapman Publishers, Ltd.
Bredenkamp, Sue. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children
From Birth To Age Eight. Washington, DC: NAEYC, 1987.
Bruner, Jerome. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education. CIJE Best Practices Project: Early Childhood Education.
Cleveland: CIJE, 1993.
Gardner, Howard. The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach. New York:
Basic Books, 1991.
Jim Hanson Productions, Inc. Shalom Sesame (video series). New York Board of Jewish Education (dist.):
Lifshitz, D., Reisman, O., and Snapir, M. Children and Places in Israel. Jerusalem: Early Childhood Division
of the Department of Jewish Education and Culture in the Diaspora of the World Zionist Organization,
Lifshitz, D., Reisman, O., and Snapir, M. Jewish Legends and Stories for Parents and Children. Jerusalem:
Early Childhood Division of the Department of Jewish Education and Culture in the Diaspora of the
World Zionist Organization, 1992.
The authors also wish to refer readers to the CAJE Curriculum Bank and to the numerous curricular
initiatives accessible through their local Central Agencies for Jewish Education.