The Sacred Space of Israel Education

This past month, I had the privilege of attending the annual conference of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). The JCPA is the hub of the Jewish community relations movement, representing over 125 local Jewish community relations councils and 16 national Jewish agencies.

While there, I attended a lecture and discussion with Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. The Shalom Hartman Institute is a pluralistic center of research and education deepening and elevating the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world. My colleagues frequently draw on their expertise as thought leaders in our field.

Kurtzer gave a phenomenal talk about the way we engage in Israel education. He spoke first about educational content, pedagogy, and facilitation. He proceeded to outline three models of education: affective, behavioral and cognitive.

In affective education, we focus on how a pupil will feel. We catalyze an emotional response. For example, think of Birthright participants being led blindfolded to the overview of the Old City of Jerusalem on their first Shabbat in Israel. The educational value is limited, the emotional impact is enormous. We don’t share that between the Haas Promenade (where the participants stand) and the Old City lies the Arab neighborhood of Abu Tor and that the practicality of modern Jerusalem is exceptionally complex. We seek to impart the emotional connection and – for better and worse – to do only that.

In behavioral education, we set-out with a goal for our pupils and seek to empower them to accomplish that goal. For example, think of the workshops taught around the world teaching teens and college students to fight the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. We teach them about diversity in Israel, about Israel as the start-up nation, Israel’s humanitarian aid and so much more. This education is a means to an end. Other examples include encouraging philanthropy or lobbying for a political position. We paint the picture we need our constituents to see. There’s nothing wrong with behavioral education; its goal is scripted from the start.

In cognitive education, we help pupils understand an issue in-depth. Kurtzer said, “doing this genuinely requires the educator to be agnostic to the affective and the behavioral.” He went further and said, “No one does this perfectly, or even says it’s good.” Then Kurtzer delivered this mind-blowing message, “the great tragedy of knowledge, the very risk of education, is that one cannot know the outcome of a genuinely educational endeavor.”

He challenged us to envision a space (even if it’s a limited space) in which we cease measuring educational success in attitudinal change or follow-up behavior. He proposed creating space for cognitive education and suggested that if we provide our pupils (at all ages and stages of life) with cognitive educational opportunities, we may see gains in the affective and behavioral arenas – but acknowledged that doing so was laden with risk.

As we all seek to engage our community in a myriad of educational opportunities, let us pause and ask how we can ensure those opportunities are best suited for our community.

Daniel “Doni” Fogel is the director of the Jewish community relations for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. Reach him at or 804-545-8626.


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