June 22, 2006 Full Text theory and practice in reform zionist education

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Dr. Michael Livni,

Address to the Reform Zionist Youth Task Force,

June 22, 2006

Full Text
I apologize in advance that our time limit precludes nuanced statements.
“There is nothing as practical as a good theory” stated Kurt Lewin, the founder of Group Dynamics .
Please note: Theory is crucial and the refusal and or inability of activists and professionals to utilize it in furthering Zionist youth work has been a major impediment to the progress of this work for the last fifty years. The members of the Youth Task Force should constantly be asking themselves if they are part of the solution or part of the problem.


We will limit ouselves to two theoretical postualtes and their educational implications. The first postulate is from group dynamics - Zionist education means growing into a Zionist group. The second postulate - the Zionist idea is rooted in the modern rather than the post-modern world.
1. Growing Into A Zionist Group
The late Simon Herman, a student of Kurt Lewin, studied the dynamics of education towards Zionism 50 years ago. In his essay, “Educating to Zionism”, published in 1962
He wrote:

“The general rule is that Zionist education requires Zionist groups. Becoming a Zionist is in fact a process of growing

into a group which is Zionist.” Hence we are talking about an educational progression.
In practice, Herman was talking about Zionist Youth movements and camps that constituted then and constitute now a significant framework, a dynamic field, for crystallizing a Zionist commitment.
The properly structured long term Israel program constitutes the lynch pin in such a progression of Jewish Zionist education, of growing into a Zionist group. The process ideally begins in childhood and early adolescence. However, most essentially, it must continue after the long term Israel experience both on the cognitive and the experiential level. Such a continuum is a precondition for Jewish-Zionist education.
The progression of Jewish Zionist education is in principle different from the process of normative Jewish education. All Jewish Zionist education is perforce also Jewish education. However, not all Jewish education is Zionist education. Why?
All normative educational systems seek to inculcate norms of behaviour and expectations that are necessary for a given society to ensure its continuity - i.e. to ensure existing patterns of values and principles.
On the other hand, Jewish Zionist education is based on inculcating values and norms which lead to another society. These values and norms must be tolerable to the community but they are NOT normative . However, using the priest-prophet paradigm of Achad Ha’am, the assumption is that that the Jewish-Zionist alternative projected is in ever present constructive tension with

normative pro-Israel Jewish diaspora society. By the way, the same holds for Israel where Zionist movements with a vision see themselves in this kind of relationship to their surrounding Israeli society.

“Growing into a Zionist group” means adopting its outlook and its particular commitments to Tikkun Adam, Am V’Olam.

Most crucial of all, “growing into a group” meant then and means now that that the togetherness could be harnessed politically in order to fulfill a particular vision of what the Jewish state should be.
Therefore, Herman also pointed out that the process of Zionist identification and commitment is mediated by role models embodying a particular Zionist outlook. These role models could themselves be at various formative stages in contending with such a Zionist outlook - for our purposes a Reform Zionist outlook.
For example: The role models could be older madrichim themselves Israel program graduates, or suitable shlichim (preferably movement graduates).
In their personal lives these role models should project a particular Jewish Zionist “torat chaim” reflecting norms and values of their Jewish-Zionist vision. In this context, professional Jews are questionable role models in any Zionist youth movement unless their personal lives reflect Zionist commitment.
Bottom line:

The social psychological need for adolescents and young adults to crystallize their ego identity in a way which expresses Zionist commitment means identifying with and being committed to Israel by means of a particular path. That path is projected and inculcated, cognitively and experientially, by personally committed role models .

Group dynamics sees society as a magnetic field with competing centers of attraction.
The values and norms of different Zionist paths, must be based on a cognitive rationale. Personal and group behavior is expected to impart credibility to that particular path. Of course the different Zionist (or even Reform Zionist) paths may compete with each other but in the main they constitute magnets of counter-attraction to the powerful magnet of normative society’s values and norms.
Ultimately, in order for centers of counter attraction to maintain their viability vis a vis the force of normative society this has meant autonomous youth movements. The youth movements lead to intentional communities of individuals sharing their day to day lives for the purpose of pursuing their particular action program of Tikkun.
The magnet of counter attraction means youth autonomy, above all for the college age. Clearly it would be a contradiction in terms to have the professionals of normative pro-Israel organization dictate guidelines, directly or indirectly to the leadership of Reform Zionist movement. It would (and does) coopt and dissipate the internal force of those centers of counter attraction. Of course, if you do not empower college age youth with autonomy, in any case you are not going to get their commitment to responsibility.
The most interesting confirmation of this theory of group dynamics as applied to Zionist youth movements that I know of in recent years has been the modest flowering of intentional young adult communities here in Israel - arising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of traditional youth movements which had turned into children’s organizations.
2. Ideology and Post-Modernism

The preceding point means that

Growing up into a Zionist group is, in fact, growing up into

an ideologically aware and committed group , non-normative to the surrounding society. That certainly suits Reform Zionism. As Gidon Shimoni stated in his book “The Zionist Ideology”, the concept of ideology means “a coherent, action orientated set of ideals that provide those who subscribe to them with a comprehensive cognitive map of their positions and purposes.”

We like to fool ourselves that we live in the post-modern, post-ideological age of globalization. As Eliezer Schweid has pointed out post-modernism rejects ideology. It demands theory which reflects actual practice. Hence, no Zionism can ever be post-modern. A Reform Zionist vision for Israel is in the category of the Herzlian dictum, “if you will, it is no fairy tale”. The will and the vision have to be there.
Post-modernism is basically deterministic - it determines ‘a priori’ parameters of possible action.
All democratic ideological movements including Zionism are based on the supposition that “everything is foreseen (based on expectations of normative society) but free will is given.” (in order to transform - “L’Taken” - normative society.
I limit myself to the most important points , organizational and educational, which necessitate intervention in order to upgrade what is largely Reform pro-Israel education to a Reform Zionist educational progression world-wide !
Our theoretical model suggests that the long-term programs in Israel are a central focus for intervention.
The long-term programs should equip participants, emotionally and cognitively, with the ability to constitute a powerful center of counter attraction within their normative social field. We do not yet have a program with can generate a magnetic social field for Reform Zionist youth world wide.
An international Gap year is the key. It means an international Shnat Netzer.
Such a Gap year has to be properly utilised by all branches of Netzer. NFTY is now married to Netzer . Time for Prince Netzer to go to bed with Princess NFTY. Time to consummate the Kiddushin. Time for one international Shnat Netzer including North American NFTY, as well as a joint Reform Zionist mishlachat to the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz L’Aretz. Time to utilize an international Shnat Netzer in order to create that Reform Zionist magnet of attraction among Reform youth world-wide - and particularly in North America. The Youth Division success in recruiting for summer programs and the EIE makes this “mission possible.”
The interaction of Reform Zionist Youth from different countries with each other will strengthen the internal cohesion in relation to normative Reform Jewish community everywhere.
An international Shnat Netzer will also make the existing shnat Netzer more dynamic. In addition, the purpose of a Netzer (including NFTY) leadership contingent to the Machon is to hone its Reform Zionist identity in ongoping interaction with other Zionist movements .
The infrastructure for realizing the idea is there. All that is missing is the political and organizational will to put the question on the table and to overcome current turf interests. These considerations have to be neutralized. An emerging Reform Zionist movement cannot have the tail wagging the dog.
I have been told that a third of the Young Judea course and half of the Habonim workshop are from Reform families. That too reflects lost potential.
In no way should an international Shnat Netzer detract from specialized college frameworks such as Carmel or the Lotan Jewish Environmental Studies program. On the contrary, down the line it should stimulate recruitment to these programs. But such programs can never be a real substitute for an international Shnat Netzer.
A few words regarding the particular educational parameters :

that require attention in order to apply theory to practice.

The theoretical model shows that Role models and Intentional Communities are of critical importance

Therefore Shnat Netzer and other programs (even short term programs if possible) should include the following:

1. Greater contact, adoptions, hosting by the IMPJ both in congregations and by means of Noar Telem.
2. Greater Integration of Reform Zionist role models embodying a way of life in intentional community.
Ironically, the original motivation of the then UAHC Youth Division for the initiative of Reform kibbutzim as intentional community was to create a Reform Zionist focus of identification for Reform youth coming on Israel trips of the Division.
It is questionable whether the kibbutzim are being properly utilized for this purpose and it is also questionable whether the kibbutzim always relate within the framework of what might be educational Reform Zionist expectations.
3. Contact with the Humanist Zionist intentional communities which have begun to flourish. This includes city kibbutzim as well as post-army social justice communes in needy areas.
Participants must experience various options of intentional community because the ultimate strategic aim is to impact as a movement on Israeli society with purposive Aliya - an Aliya motivated by life-long Reform Zionist commitment. Here again lies the difference in pro-Israel programming and Zionist planning.
The lesson of Zionist history has been that impact flowed from educational progressions oriented to intentional community even if only a small minority self-realized in that intentional community framework.
The training of role models to work with Reform youth groups (even for short term programs) leaves much to be desired if we want them to be at least in part Reform Zionist role models. The average Jewish Agency trained summer shaliach or tour leader is not equipped to play a role in this area. Of course the fundamental solution is to choose people from our movement. It is clear that we probably do not have enough of a potential for providing young Israeli Reform Zionist youth leaders for Reform Zionist programs in Israel. Certainly in the case of the long term programs, we have to give serious consideration both to the role models and the environment in which participants spend time.
These above remarks apply even to short term programs - summer youth tourism - but I am fully aware that they constitute a much greater planning challenge in that context.


There are also Cognitive Issues

At present, none of our programs succeed in adequately imparting cognitive understanding of value issues which in my opinion are central to a Reform Zionist outlook.

This is a possible subject for the next Youth Task Force meeting.

These value issues are:

a. The nature of the human. Nature and nurture. The human in the Divine Image. Free will (modernism) Determinism (post-modernism).
b. Life as purposive. Life in the here and now - with faith, or without faith. Life energy - on life of the hour ( finite and material) and/or life energy with personal and group commitment to Tikkun - “Chayei Olam”)
c. Community as distinct from mass society The meaning of holy community. Individual in holy community. Community of ritualq theological community/ community of life. Community of shlichut.
d. Social responsibility in the here and now and/or commitment to transformation (Tikkun). G’milut Chassadim AND Tikkun Olam or Gmilut Chassadim as a substitute for Tikkun Olam.
e. Relating to Creation and sustainability of the Divine Creation. Holy community for utilization in tandem with intelligent stewardship.
e. Particularism and/or universalism. The meaning of peoplehood. “You have chosen us FROM all the peoples/ You have chosen us WITH all the Peoples. The land Israel and our identity.
These are universal value questions and contending with how we realise those values (norms or principles of behavior) are questions to be dealt with through a Reform Zionist prism utilizing classical Jewish sources which include classic Zionist sources as well relevant contemporary sources from within and from without the Jewish world.

At the outset I have said that most essentially the process of Reform Zionist education must contine after the long term Israel experience . The college age framework must be autonomous. Aliya frameworks have to be an integral element in it.

If the foregoing is not the case, the carefully structured Zionist Israel experience is retroactively reduced to a pro-Israel gap year as norm in maturation within existing pro-Israel society. Indeed, the present Shnat Netzer must always examine itself in this context.
Our model dictates planned utilization of suitable long term program graduates, as madrichim in all the camps and in the youth groups and on the short-term Israel trips. This projects the graduates as credible Reform Zionist role models and makes the progression of Reform Zionst education tangible.
Ideally the college age branch of the youth movement will also make specific programmatic suggestions. Generally, if its fun and interesting for the kids the pro-Israel administrative staff will go for it.
In addition, in order to maintain cohesive college age frameworks, an organized cognitive program- usually in seminar form is necessary. Clearly such seminars serve mutual social support functions as well.
Final point - Evaluation. Agreed. Short term evaluation and feedback are important. We want happy trippers to be the marketers for nexts years trippers. But - within the context of an educational progression, Zionist evaluation necessitates long-term follow-up. I assure you that follow-up interviews after three years and/or five years and more particularly evaluating track records of participants will provide valuable insights.

Finally, a word in support of our sponsor - ARZENU world-wide. Political action in the Jewish and Zionist political world is part of the educational process. Integration into regional and international activities of ARZENU in a much more significant way is an essential part of college age activity. It is also central to our political future.

Thank you for your attention. B’Hatzlacha L’Kulanu.

Michael Livni

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