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Hebrew University. Photo credit: delayed gratification from Flickr (I forgot my camera!)

My advisor Zvi and I had planned to meet tomorrow, but when I called him today he asked if I could meet in about 45 minutes at Hebrew U – clear across the city! Of course I said yes. A brief attempt at waiting for the bus followed by a taxi ride later I was on the Hebrew U campus. When I asked the guard for directions, he asked the next student through security if she spoke English. Not only did she, she was heading to the school of education. I ended up (my own predictions notwithstanding) actually making it to Zvi’s office on time.

Amazing interviewer and conversationalist – really puts you at ease, is up front about his “agenda” – polite but honest. He gave me the sense that he had plenty of time, and he asked me about me, my family, and just generally got to know me. When we transitioned to my work, first he helped me clarify my question. I kept saying “visit schools.” He reminded me that I really did not need to see a lot of classes, since they would not be in English. (We had a sidebar conversation about visiting schools that did speak in English – he mentioned a school in Jerusalem called St. John’s that educates primarily Palestinian kids and teaches in English.) He suggested that interviewing teachers was the key thing I needed to do, and noted that I need not gain formal access to schools to do this.

In discussing his own work, he said that two things he always needs are people to read and summarize, and people to gather data. He noted that I need not do either and that he would still do all he could to help my project. I said I thought that “gathering data” would fit well with my project as far as I knew now. “Reading and summarizing” only concerned me to the extent that it would pull me out of experiencing Israeli and Palestinian cultures. He completely understood, and reassured me that even if I wanted to help with reading, it would not be a huge amount. On the data gathering side he spoke about interviewing techniques. I noted my interest in having the most helpful and correct methodology, and he sent me two papers on interviewing.

Zvi also told me about a possible project he was forming with a Singaporean scholar, Jasmine Sim, comparing citizenship education in Israel and in Singapore. He invited me if I was interested to see if my work could be a part of their work, and that sounded good to me. He had previously sent me some of her papers to read so I could imagine the overlaps.

I told Zvi a bit about my understanding of how religion was taught in Israeli secular schools, and asked him whether I was on target. His first point was that the Bible course I had referred to was only one was the idea of Judaism was taught – he noted Jewish history, Jewish literature and Jewish tradition as other courses (or parts of courses?) that were other ways. He also noted the crucial importance of ceremonies – for example before religious holidays, holocaust remembrance, Independence Day – in shaping the Jewish identity of students in “regular” Israeli schools. He sent me several papers to read on the formation of Jewish and Israeli identities through such means.

While I think the next week or two will still be a mix of “getting my life together” and of my project, I think the project work has really begun!