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Study Shows Israeli Students Received Unbalanced, Skimpy View of Accomplishments of U.S. Jewry

Israeli students receive a skimpy and unbalanced view of the history and accomplishments of American Jewry in their high school studies, due primarily to the inadequate material on the subject found in Israel history texts. This finding was reported by the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee, which today released a two-year study on “Teaching About American Jewry in Israeli High Schools.” The study, which was financed by a grant from the AJ Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, was conducted by Reuven Surkis, director of the Historical Society of Israel.

In an introduction to the study. Dr. M. Bernard Resnikoff, director of the AJ Committee’s Israel office, pointed out that the poor information that Israeli students have about Jews in the United States, as revealed in the study, adversely affects the understanding of the Jewish community in the U.S. by Israeli Jews and therefore makes their compatibility more difficult. He expressed the hope that the study “will sensitize teachers, curriculum planners and others to the need for concerted improvement in this crucial area of education.”

In his study, which included an examination of textbooks and teaching materials, and interviews with 212 teachers in high schools in various regions of Israel, Surkis found that most high schools teach about American Jewry in only one course on “Jewish History in the Modern Era,” in which only a minimal amount of time is devoted to U.S. Jewish history.

SPECIFIC DEFICIENCIES OUTLINED

Analyzing the textbook materials used, Surkis found specific deficiencies. These included: key concerns of American Jews, including American pluralism, the pervasiveness of the general culture, and church-state separation are inadequately discussed, some texts relate the history of American Jewry completely separate from the life of other Jewish communities, and make no comparisons; the relationships between American Jews and other ethnic groups in the U.S. are neglected; the texts generally question the viability of pluralism in the U.S. and question whether it is possible to cultivate Jewish life in America; and an undue emphasis is given to anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Also: domestic programs of American Jewish organizations are largely ignored; the texts fail to appreciate the role of the Jew as a purveyor of culture in America; although religion in the U.S. is treated at length, not much attention is paid to trends which may determine Jewish survival in the U.S., including the position of the synagogue and the rabbi, the secular function of religion in American life, and the decline in personal observance; and events in American Jewish life since World War II are inadequately covered.

INADEQUATE TRAINING OF TEACHERS

In his interviews with the 212 Israeli high school history teachers, about 10 percent of the total number in the country, Surkis found that only two teachers had taken a course on American Jewry in university studies. Further, he found that more than 30 percent of his sample were pessimistic about the future of the American Jewish community. “Assimilation, intermarriage, diminishing religious practice and inadequate Jewish education were the most frequently expressed concerns,” he reported.

Most teachers reported that in preparing lesson plans, they relied mainly on the information contained in textbooks. Further, few indicated that they read American publications or books on the history or sociology of American Jewry. In their analysis of topics covered in their classes that dealt with American Jewish history, most teachers reported an emphasis on Jewish immigration to the U.S. and American Jewish support to world Jewry. Few indicated that much time was spent on the beginnings of American Jewish history, the economic life of American Jewry, or Jewish education in the U.S.

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