From the Mouths of Children: Widening the Scope and Shifting the Focus of Understanding the Relationships Between American Jews and Israel

  • Sivan ZakaiEmail author


Scholars have spent considerable effort to uncover and explain the unique ways that contemporary American Jews think and feel about Israel, yet the voices of American Jewish children have been conspicuously absent from most research. American Jewish children—like the adults in their lives—have beliefs, opinions, and thoughts about Israel and its role in American Jewish life. This article makes two distinct yet interrelated arguments about the role of children in research on contemporary American Jews. The first is that children ought to be included in research about American Judaism. Second, the inclusion of children in research both widens the scope and shifts the focus of understanding American Jewish relationships to Israel. Children’s participation in research demonstrates how American Jews develop relationships with Israel over the course of a lifetime. In addition, the methodological approaches that allow for the inclusion of children in research shift the focus of understanding away from a “deficit model” that measures participants’ knowledge and connection against an existing ledger, and towards an “inventory model” that takes stock of participants’ cognitive and emotional warehouses. This shift is essential for understanding what Israel means in the lives of American Jews of all ages.


Israel Children Research methods 



The Children’s Learning About Israel Project is a project of the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. The author would like to thank Lauren Applebaum, Laura Novak Winer, Igor Zakai, the participants of the 2018 Inside Jewish Day Schools Conference, and the anonymous reviewers of this article for their invaluable feedback.


  1. Alderson, Priscilla, and Virginia Morrow. 2011. The ethics of research with children and young people: A practical handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  2. Allett, Nicola. 2010. Sounding out: Using music elicitation in qualitative research. NCRM working paper, realities/ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. Morgan Centre, University of Manchester.Google Scholar
  3. Ari, Lilach Lev, Yoel Mansfeld, and David Mittelberg. 2003. Globalization and the role of educational travel to Israel in the ethnification of American Jews. Tourism Recreation Research 28(3): 15–24.Google Scholar
  4. Banks, Marcus. 2001. Visual methods in social research. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.Google Scholar
  5. Barton, Keith C., and Linda S. Levstik. 1996. “Back when God was around and everything”: Elementary children’s understanding of historical time. American Educational Research Journal 33(2): 419–454.Google Scholar
  6. Barton, Keith C., and Alan W. McCully. 2012. Trying to “see things differently”: Northern Ireland students’ struggle to understand alternative historical perspectives. Theory & Research in Social Education 40(4): 371–408.Google Scholar
  7. Cappello, Marva. 2005. Photo interviews: Eliciting data through conversations with children. Field Methods 17(2): 170–182.Google Scholar
  8. Clark, Alison, and June Statham. 2005. Listening to young children: Experts in their own lives. Adoption & Fostering 29(1): 45–56.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, Steven M. 1996. Did American Jews really grow more distant from Israel (1983–1993)?—A reconsideration. In Envisioning Israel: The changing ideals and images of North American Jews, ed. Allon Gal, 352–362. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, Steven M., and Arnold M. Eisen. 2000. The Jew within: Self, family, and community in America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, Steven M., and Ari Y. Kelman. 2007. Beyond distancing: Young adult American Jews and their alienation from Israel. New York, NY: Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen, Steven M., and Ari Y. Kelman. 2010. Thinking about distancing from Israel. Contemporary Jewry 30(2–3): 287–296.Google Scholar
  13. Connelly, F.Michael, and D. Jean Clandinin. 1990. Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educational Researcher 19(5): 2–14.Google Scholar
  14. DellaPergola, Sergio. 2010. Distancing, yet one. Contemporary Jewry 30(2–3): 183–190.Google Scholar
  15. Drever, Eric. 1995. Using semi-structured interviews in small-scale research: A teacher’s guide. Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education.Google Scholar
  16. Einarsdóttir, Jóhanna. 2007. Research with children: Methodological and ethical challenges. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 15(2): 197–211.Google Scholar
  17. Ezrachi, Elan. 2011. North American participants in high school age travel programs to Israel. Chicago, IL: The iCenter.Google Scholar
  18. Gallagher, Michael. 2008. Ethics. In Researching with children and young people: Research design, method and analysis, ed. E. Kay M. Tisdall, John M. Davis, and Michael Gallagher, 11–64. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  19. Gillham, Bill. 2005. Research interviewing: The range of techniques: A practical guide. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).Google Scholar
  20. Grant, Lisa D. 2007. Israel education in reform congregational schools. CCAR Journal LIV(3): 3–24.Google Scholar
  21. Grant, Lisa D. 2008. Sacred vision, complex reality: Navigating the tensions in Israel education. Jewish Educational Leadership 7(1): 22–27. Retrieved from
  22. Grant, Lisa D., and Ezra M. Kopelowitz. 2012. Israel education matters: A 21st century paradigm for Jewish education. Jerusalem: The Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.Google Scholar
  23. Harper, Douglas. 2002. Talking about pictures: A case for photo elicitation. Visual Studies 17(1): 13–26.Google Scholar
  24. Hassenfeld, Jonah. 2015. “Sixty-six years of fighting”: Parents and their children talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict. New York, NY: The First Joint Conference on Research in Jewish Education, hosted by the Network for Research on Jewish Education and the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry, June 10, 2015.Google Scholar
  25. Hassenfeld, Jonah. 2016. Negotiating critical analysis and collective belonging: Jewish American students write the history of Israel. Contemporary Jewry 36(1): 55–84.Google Scholar
  26. Hassenfeld, Jonah. 2018. Landscapes of collective belonging: Jewish Americans narrate the history of Israel after an organized tour. Journal of Jewish Education 84(2): 131–160.Google Scholar
  27. Hirsch Jr., E.D. 1988. Cultural literacy: What every American needs to know. New York, NY: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  28. Holland, Sally, Emma Renold, Nicola J. Ross, and Alexandra Hillman. 2010. Power, agency and participatory agendas: A critical exploration of young people’s engagement in participative qualitative research. Childhood 17(3): 360–375.Google Scholar
  29. Horowitz, Bethamie. 2002. Reframing the study of contemporary American Jewish identity. Contemporary Jewry 23(1): 14–34.Google Scholar
  30. Horowitz, Bethamie. 2003. Connections and journeys: Assessing critical opportunities for enhancing Jewish identity. A report to the commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal. New York, NY: UJA-Federation of New York.Google Scholar
  31. Horowitz, Bethamie. 2012. Defining Israel education. Chicago, IL: The iCenter.Google Scholar
  32. Hromek, Robyn. 2004. Game time: Games to promote social and emotional resilience for children aged 4–14. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  33. Kelman, Ari Y., Abiya Ahmed, Ilana Horwitz, Jeremiah Lockwood, Marva Shalev Marom, and Maja Zuckerman. 2017. Safe and on the sidelines: Jewish students and the Israel-Palestine conflict on campus. Report of the research group of the Concentration in Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford University, Stanford, CA: Stanford Graduate School of Education.Google Scholar
  34. Kelner, Shaul. 2010. Tours that bind: Diaspora, pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright tourism. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Keysar, Ariela, and Barry A. Kosmin. 1999. North American Conservative teenagers’ attachment to Israel. London: Institute for Jewish Policy Research.Google Scholar
  36. Kopelowitz, Ezra, and Daniel Chesir-Teran. 2012. Next generation advocacy: A study of young Israel advocates. Jerusalem: Research Success Technologies for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.Google Scholar
  37. Kopelowitz, Ezra, and Nathalie Wess. 2014. The Goodman camping initiative for modern Israeli history: Camper survey summer 2014. Chicago, IL: The iCenter.Google Scholar
  38. Koren, Annette, Shira Fishman, Janet Krasner Aronson, and Leonard Saxe. 2015. The Israel literacy measurement project: 2015 report. Waltham, MA: Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.Google Scholar
  39. Leonard, Madeleine, and Martina McKnight. 2015. Look and tell: Using photo-elicitation methods with teenagers. Children’s Geographies 13(6): 629–642.Google Scholar
  40. Levisohn, Jon A. 2016. Redeeming Jewish literacy. HaYidion: The RAVSAK Journal Spring 2016: 12–13.Google Scholar
  41. Lindfors, Judith Wells. 2004. A written conversation with Vivian Gussin Paley, outstanding educator in the language arts. Language Arts 82(2): 148–153.Google Scholar
  42. Lugo, Luis, Alan Cooperman, Gregory A. Smith, Erin O’Connell, and Sandra Stencel. 2013. A portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.Google Scholar
  43. Mahon, Ann, Caroline Glendinning, Karen Clarke, and Gary Craig. 1996. Researching children: Methods and ethics. Children & Society 10(2): 145–154.Google Scholar
  44. Morrow, Virginia. 2005. Ethical issues in collaborative research with children. In Ethical research with children, ed. Ann Farrell, 150–165. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Meier, Deborah. (1995/2002). The power of their ideas: Lessons for America from a small school in Harlem. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  46. Miles, Matthew B., and A. Michael Huberman. 1994. Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  47. Peters, Joel, and David Newman. 2013. The Routledge handbook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Pomson, Alex. 2012. Beyond the B-word. Listening to high school students talk about Israel. In Israel education matters: A 21st century paradigm for Jewish education, ed. Lisa D. Grant and Ezra M. Kopelowitz, 92–102. Jerusalem: The Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.Google Scholar
  49. Pomson, Alex. 2018. Devoted, disengaged, disillusioned: The forces that shape a relationship with Israel. Berkeley, CA: Rosov Consulting.Google Scholar
  50. Pomson, Alex, Howard Deitcher, and Daniel Held. 2011. How do Jewish day school students think and feel about Israel?. Jerusalem: Melton Centre for Jewish Education.Google Scholar
  51. Pomson, Alex, Howard Deitcher, and Daniel Rose. 2009. Israel curriculum in North American Jewish day schools: A study of untapped transformative potential. Jerusalem: Melton Centre for Jewish Education.Google Scholar
  52. Pomson, Alex, and Randal F. Schnoor. 2008. Back to school: Jewish day school in the lives of adult Jews. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Pomson, Alex, and Randal F. Schnoor. 2018. Jewish family: Identity and self-formation at home. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Pomson, Alex, Jack Wertheimer, and Hagit Hacohen-Wolf. 2014. Hearts and minds: Israel in North American Jewish day schools. New York, NY: The AVI CHAI Foundation.Google Scholar
  55. Roberts, Helen. 2008. Listening to children: And hearing them. In Research with children: Perspectives and practices. 2nd ed, ed. Pia Christensen and Allison James, 260–275. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  56. Robertson, Margaret, and Rod Gerber. 2001. Children’s ways of knowing: Learning through experience. Melbourne: ACER Press.Google Scholar
  57. Rosov Consulting. 2013. Serving a complex Israel: A report on Israel-based immersive Jewish service-learning. Jerusalem: Repair the World and The Jewish Agency for Israel.Google Scholar
  58. Sales, Amy L., and Leonard Saxe. 2006. Particularism in the university: Realities and opportunities for Jewish life on campus. New York, NY: The AVI CHAI Foundation.Google Scholar
  59. Sasson, Theodore. 2014. The new American Zionism. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Sasson, Theodore, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe. 2008. American Jewish attachment to Israel: An assessment of the “distancing” hypothesis. Waltham, MA: Steinhardt Social Science Institute, Brandeis University.Google Scholar
  61. Sasson, Theodore, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe. 2010a. Trends in American Jewish attachment to Israel: An assessment of the “distancing” hypothesis. Contemporary Jewry 30(2–3): 297–319.Google Scholar
  62. Sasson, Theodore, Benjamin Phillips, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe. 2010b. Still connected: American Jewish attitudes about Israel. Waltham, MA: Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.Google Scholar
  63. Sasson, Theodore, Benjamin Phillips, Graham Wright, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe. 2012. Understanding young adult attachment to Israel: Period, lifecycle and generational dynamics. Contemporary Jewry 32(1): 67–84.Google Scholar
  64. Saxe, Leonard, and Matthew Boxer. 2012. Loyalty and love of Israel by diasporan Jews. Israel Studies 17(2): 92–101.Google Scholar
  65. Saxe, Leonard, and Barry Chazan. 2008. Ten days of Birthright Israel: A journey in young adult identity. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.Google Scholar
  66. Saxe, Leonard, Michelle Shain, Graham Wright, Shahar Hecht, and Theodore Sasson. 2017. Beyond 10 days: Parents, gender, marriage, and the long-term impact of Birthright Israel. Waltham, MA: Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.Google Scholar
  67. Schnall, David J. 1993. Orthodoxy and support for Israel: Inferences from the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. Journal of Jewish Communal Service 69(4): 6–14.Google Scholar
  68. Sheskin, Ira M. 2010. A geographical approach to an analysis of the distancing hypothesis. Contemporary Jewry 30(2–3): 219–226.Google Scholar
  69. Sinclair, Alex. 2009. A new heuristic device for the analysis of Israel education: Observations from a Jewish summer camp. Journal of Jewish Education 75(1): 79–106.Google Scholar
  70. Troen, S.Ilan, and Rachel Fish. 2017. Essential Israel: Essays for the 21st century. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Uprichard, Emma. 2008. Children as ‘being and becomings’: Children, childhood and temporality. Children & Society 22(4): 303–313.Google Scholar
  72. VanSledright, Bruce, and Jere Brophy. 1992. Storytelling, imagination, and fanciful elaboration in children’s historical reconstructions. American Educational Research Journal 29(4): 837–859.Google Scholar
  73. Waxman, Chaim I. 2010. Beyond distancing: Jewish identity, identification, and America’s young Jews. Contemporary Jewry 30(2–3): 227–232.Google Scholar
  74. Waxman, Dov. 2016. Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish conflict over Israel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Waxman, Dov. 2017. Young American Jews and Israel: Beyond Birthright and BDS. Israel Studies 22(3): 177–199.Google Scholar
  76. Wilson, Hannah. 1998. The development of national identity in 5 to 11 year old English schoolchildren (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Surrey, Guilford, UK. Accessed 21 December 2018 from
  77. Wineburg, Sam. 2001. Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Woocher, Meredith. 2015. Insights and perspectives from Jewish teens: A report on research conducted for the National Incubator for Community-Based Jewish Teen Initiatives. New York, NY: National Incubator for Community-Based Jewish Teen Education Initiatives.Google Scholar
  79. Woodhead, Martin, and Dorothy Faulkner. 2008. Subjects, objects or participants: Dilemmas of psychological research with children. In Research with children: Perspectives and practices. 2nd ed, ed. Pia Christensen and Allison James, 10–39. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  80. Zakai, Sivan. 2011. Values in tension: Israel education at a U.S. Jewish day school. Journal of Jewish Education 77(3): 239–265.Google Scholar
  81. Zakai, Sivan. 2015. “Israel is meant for me”: Kindergarteners’ conceptions of Israel. Journal of Jewish Education 81(1): 4–34.Google Scholar
  82. Zakai, Sivan. 2018. Connection and disconnection: The paradox of Israel education in the 21st century. CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly Spring 2018: 121–140.Google Scholar
  83. Zakai, Sivan. 2019. “This year bad things happened”: How children of the digital age make sense of violent current events. The Social Studies. Scholar
  84. Zakai, Sivan, and Hannah Tobin Cohen. 2016. American Jewish children’s thoughts and feelings about the Jewish State: Laying the groundwork for a developmental approach to Israel education. Contemporary Jewry 36(1): 31–54.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of ReligionLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations