Israeli and Diaspora Students Travel to the Holocaust Sites in Poland: The Impact on the Perceptions of the Holocaust, Jewish Identity, and Israel-Diaspora Ties

By Davidovich, Nitza; Soen, Dan | Sociological Papers, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Israeli and Diaspora Students Travel to the Holocaust Sites in Poland: The Impact on the Perceptions of the Holocaust, Jewish Identity, and Israel-Diaspora Ties


Davidovich, Nitza, Soen, Dan, Sociological Papers


Abstract

The Ministry of Education encourages Israeli students to visit sites of historic Jewish communities in Poland and the sites of Nazi death camps. The trip is designed to reinforce the youngsters' sense of belonging to the Jewish people, their connection to and identification with Jewish heritage and history, and their commitment to the future of Jewish life in Israel and its sovereignty. This study explores the impact of trips to Poland, organized by Tachlit Center, on Israeli and overseas university students. The vast majority of participants confirm that the trip emphasizes the important role of the Holocaust memory and commemoration. Findings on the impact of Holocaust education on other Israeli and Jewish values (e.g., the significance of immigration to Israel and ties to the Jewish Diaspora) are discussed, along with the implications for future Holocaust education programs.

Introduction

Most researchers claim that Judaism forms a core of the Israeli-Jewish culture and the shared ground of Israeli identity (Auron, 1993; Ben Rafael, 2008; Herman, 1988; Levy, Levisohn, & Katz, 1997; Pikar, 2009). Israel's official language is Hebrew, the calendar and most public holidays are Jewish (Ben-Rafael & Ben-Chaim, 2006), the Zionist ideology draws from Jewish tradition (Ben-Rafael, 2008; David, 2012), Israeli art represents different Jewish images and traditions (Hemo & Sabar Ben-Yehoshua, 2009). Moreover, there are clear indications of the expansion of Jewish education in state schools even in the regions considered a bastion of secularism (Sabar Ben- Yehoshua, Stein & Posner, 2009) and growing interest in Judaism in the secular Jewish sector (Azulay & Tabory, 2008; Azulay & Werczberger, 2008; Goodman & Yona, 2004). Maybe this is the expression for the wish of many in Israeli society and its chief institutions, including the Ministry of Education, to enhance the Jewish component of Israeli culture (Pikar, 2009). This tendency is understandable given the social structure of Israeli society, which in contrast to the common view is not sharply divided between the religious and the secular. This society is composed of a spectrum of identities, with most Jews situated at various points along the religious-secular axis and not at its polar extremes. This group, forming a majority in Israel, has a positive view of creating strong links with Jewish tradition and reinforcing Jewish identity (Mimran, 2010).

Despite the wish to maintain contact with Judaism and the perception of Jewish education as part of Jewish continuity (Fox & Scheffler, 2000), most Israelis have long been dissatisfied with the manner and degree in which Jewish contents are being imparted in the educational system. The issues related to Jewish Israeli identity and to the historical heritage of the nation are still controversial in Israeli society reflecting the ideological rifts between different segments of Israelis (Resh & Benavot, 1998). Despite the polarization and heated public disputes, there is a relative consensus that the Jewish state cannot exist without shared Jewish identity and basic knowledge of modern Jewish history. One of the most meaningful projects in this context was the launch of youth delegations to Poland organized within the state educational system. The stated goal of these delegations was overcoming the perceived crisis of Jewish identity among Israeli youth by re-connecting with recent Jewish history and strengthening relationships with the Diaspora (Director General Circular, 1999). Despite these declared goals, a study by Romi and Lev (2003) conducted among teenagers after the trip to Poland shown that it has had no meaningful effect on their Jewish identity. However, participants' self-concept as Israelis was enhanced, probably because they associated Israeliness with feelings of power, pride, and hope reinforced throughout the trip. A recent evaluation study (National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education, 2011) has also found that the trip's effect on reinforcing Jewish identity is fairly marginal, as is its effect on the attitudes towards Diaspora Jewry. …

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