IsraelNow Curriculum

IsraelNow provides 8th graders an immersive, emotional, and memorable taste of Israel through a week-long trip. Participants return from the program excited to be involved in their respective synagogues and communities, but IsraelNow believes that engagement and education should begin before departure. IsraelNow hopes to develop a curriculum that is experiential and learner centered in order to better engage students while in Israel. This curriculum is for 8th graders and will be flexible so that it can reach children who are already involved in formal, supplemental religious schools, students who only engage in social Jewish programs (youth groups, camps), and those who are not involved in synagogue or Jewish life at all.

IsraelNow’s program ethos centers around three core principles: Ahavat Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael, and Am Yisrael. In response to an open letter from rabbinic and cantorial students critiquing Israel, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld succinctly clarified the importance of Ahavat Yisrael. She said, “we are responsible to and for each other,” explaining that we can both view Israel with a critical lens and have a productive and positive relationship with it. Medinat Yisrael, the modern state of Israel, is a focus for IsraelNow, as it’s the place participants will experience. In the generations since 1948, Israel has evolved from a theoretical hope to a concrete homeland. Judaism is as much a peoplehood as well as a religion, and Israel is a connection point for all Jews, we are part of Am Yisrael, even if we are part of the Diaspora.

The goal of the IsraelNow curriculum is for learners to analyze Israel’s history and to recognize essential elements of Israel’s identity in order to form a foundation for personal connection prior to IsraelNow’s trip. The curriculum will be split into three units that are anchored to the trip itinerary: Contrast between Old and New, Modern Life and Coexistence, and Where do we Come From. The core competencies of the curriculum will be for learners to create personal definitions of Zionism, identify how they can be represented in Israel, understand Israel’s contributions to their lives in the US, and to recognize the evolution of the geographic modern state. These themes and enduring understandings will be taught through the lens of the three core tenets of IsraelNow.

Post b’nei-mitzvah engagement continues to be a confounding problem for the Jewish community. In a time when students and families are over programmed and pulled in many directions, it’s easy to set religious instruction on the back burner. IsraelNow provides an incentive for 8th grade participation- a trip to Israel. The trip is successful at creating the opportunity for connection but misses the chance to engage within community at home. The IsraelNow curriculum will fill that need. It will be a resource that can be used in various settings and will be flexible enough for communities across the US to implement in a way that fits respective needs. Specifically, the curriculum will include lessons for a traditional supplemental religious school. IsraelNow also hopes to develop resources so that families unaffiliated with synagogues can form cohorts and have private tutors or parents teach the lessons. In more informal spaces, IsraelNow hopes to create sessions that can be implemented over the course of a youth group convention or Shabbaton. And at the camp level, these lessons can be further adapted to shorter sessions, which can be completed during limmud periods.

Along with providing the resources for formal education, implementation of IsraelNow’s curriculum will help communities foster the soft skills of collaboration and relationship building. The long-term benefits of maintaining engaged students through high school also means that these students will have a foundation for productive and well researched conversations about Israel as they become young and emerging adults. It is not new information that antisemitism is on the rise on college campuses, so it’s of tantamount importance to equip students with the skills and knowledge to participate in dialogue about Israel.

In the 2020 Pew Research Center’s study on Jewish Americans, it was noted that rabbis interviewed for the project found it harder now to speak about Israel from their pulpits than ever before because of political implications with Israel in the US today. Because IsraelNow explicitly avoids advocacy work with its participants, congregational leadership will not have to worry about further dividing their congregants. The curriculum should do the exact opposite- it should unify the greater community through education without bias. 

Curricular Goals and Objectives:

  • Unit 1: Contrast Between Old and Less Old Israel (Jerusalem District)
    • Established Goals: 
      • Learners will be able to identify the reasons why Jerusalem  is the biblical capital of Israel.
      • Learners will be able to name  key Jewish leaders who helped create the modern state of Israel and their contributions to the founding of the modern state.
      • Learners will answer, “What does Israel/Zionism mean to me?” 
  • Unit 2: Modern Life and Coexistance (Tel Aviv District)
    • Established Goals:
      • Learners will be able to explain the different cultural groups within Israel.
      • Learners will be able to describe what day-to-day life is like in a modern city in Israel.
      • Learners will expand upon their answers to the question, “What does Israel/Zionism mean to me?”
  • Unit 3: How did we get here? (Southern District)
    • Established Goals
      • Learners will be able to identify stories from ancient Israel locate on a map where they took place in Israel. Learners will be able to outline the ‘morals’ of the stories.
      • Learners will expand upon their answers to the question, “What does Israel/Zionism mean to me?”
  • Unit 4: Post Trip
    • Established Goals: 
      • Learners will be able to construct an answer to the question: Why is Israel important to me and how has my time on IsraelNow informed who I am as a Jew?