How Israel Reshaped Jewish Culture

Many Americans define their Judaism culturally rather than religiously. But with Israeli-Jewish influences becoming increasingly prominent, is there still a role for American-Jewish cultural life in the future? Or, to put it another way, will the falafel win over the bagel in the Jewish cultural stakes? We’re getting to the heart of exactly what Jewish culture means and how the American and Israeli versions have developed in parallel to each other. Utilize the accompanying educational resources to engage your students.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Early Zionists pushed to create:
    • The new Israeli
    • The new Jew
    • The biblical Zionist
    • The ancient Hebrew
  2. Which of the following Jewish Diaspora cultures were “left out” of the new Hebrew culture?
    • Yiddish
    • Arabic
    • Ladino
    • All of the above
  3. Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews make up:
    • Over 50% of Israeli Jews
    • Almost all Israeli Jews
    • About a quarter of Israeli Jews
    • The majority of Jews outside Israel
  1. Each video in this series makes the claim that it is the most important Jewish priority. Based on the video and your own thoughts, make a compelling case for why arts & culture should be the most important priority within the Jewish world.
  2. Does Jewish culture refer to things created by Jews? Or is Jewish culture things that are connected to Jews and Judaism?
  3. Ahad Ha’am, the founder of cultural Zionism, argued for the establishment of a new spiritual center for the Jewish nation in what he called “a Jewish state and not merely a state of Jews.” Do you think that Israel has become the cultural center of the Jewish nation or do you think it is akin to the Jewish culture emanating from other countries around the world?
  4. When theorizing what the “new Jew” could look like, early Zionist writer Micha Berdichevsky wrote that “we will either be the last Jews or the first Hebrews.” How do you interpret this statement? What is this statement trying to say about Jewish identity?
  5. Gal Gadot, the Israeli star of “Wonder Woman” and one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood is a role model for many Jews and Israelis around the world. Read this article about Gal’s connection to Judaism and this article about the “danger” of overhyping her Jewishness. As a Jewish actress, do you think Gal along with other Jews in show business should use their platforms to be representatives of Israel or the Jewish people?
  1. Watch an episode from one of the following Israeli shows and answer the following questions: Fauda, When Heroes Fly, Shtisel (Available on Netflix), Beauty and the Baker (available on Amazon Prime)
    • What did this episode teach you about Israeli society?
    • Were there any explicitly “Jewish” references in the episode?
  2. Listen to the song “Keter Melucha” by one of the biggest Israeli artists, Ishay Ribo. This song went viral during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the lyrics translated here into English. Ask your students to highlight as many Jewish references as they can find within the lyrics. Do you think a song like this (not in Hebrew) could be as popular outside of Israel? Why or why not?
  3. While watching the Unpacked video about Arts & Culture, ask your students to take note of all the ideas they hear about both general Jewish culture and uniquely Israeli Jewish culture. Then, ask your students to produce Venn diagrams with the characteristics of both Jewish and Israeli Jewish culture to see how the two concepts relate and differ.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on Arts & Culture!
  1. Static and Ben El are popular Israeli artists. Drake (inappropriate language) is a popular Canadian Jewish hip hop artist. Listen to both artists and answer the following question: What makes music or art Jewish? Is it the artist, the content or something else? When listening to Static and Ben El and Drake, does one feel more Jewish than the other? 
  2. If you have been to Israel before, does it feel different to be publicly Jewish in Israel than in the Diaspora? Would you be more inclined to wear something visibly Jewish in Israel than outside of Israel? Why or why not? Do you feel more or less connected to Judaism when in Israel? Why?
  3. Most American Jews define themselves as “cultural Jews”. How do you define yourself Jewishly? Is it your culture, nationality, religion, ethnicity, family, or something else?
  4. Who is your favorite Jewish artist or actor? Does their Jewish identity play any role in how you feel about them?

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