Jewish Historical Understandings

Signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948

In a society that prizes individualism over group consciousness, some in the Jewish community have latched onto Jewish peoplehood as a unifier, as educators and communal leaders search for the "glue" that will hold the Jewish people together. Providing Jews with a sense of continuity, a connection with the past and a connection to other Jews the world over (i.e., across space and time) is seen as fundamental to fostering a sense of Jewish unity and collective belonging. But little is known about how Jewish learners make sense of and internalize Jewish history, and how this contributes to their sense of Jewish belonging, Jewish responsibility and identification with the Jewish people.

This project is an attempt to fill this gap. Eleven researchers exploring a variety of settings and interventions, ranging from an adult education class to an online simulation game, and from a day school class to a Jewish dramatics workshop, have investigated how learners learn and understand Jewish history, how they narrate the Jewish past and locate themselves within these narratives.

At a May 2016 conference, researchers presented short papers on their visions for Jewish history education — its rationales, purposes and uses, considering what "Jewish historical understanding" means in their particular contexts. Participants took "deep dives" into the learning process itself, via artifacts of learning such as videos, transcripts, and student work. Selected papers have been expanded and collected for a special issue of Journal of Jewish Education, Vol. 84, Issue 2 (2018).