How To Teach The History of Zionism and Israel

Any good history class provides students with a sense of the narrative of the subject and some of the core questions about that story. Such a class ideally ought to consider therefore both intellectual and social aspects of the story:  the ideas values principles of that world and how that world changed in material terms as well.  

When it comes to teaching the history of Zionism and Israel we're blessed to have two English language anthologies of primary sources that provide excellent entrée to the intellectual and social history of the subject.  

Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea  still remains the single best introduction to the thought of Zionism's founders, from the middle of the nineteenth-century up until the founding of the state in 1948 and figures like David Ben-Gurion. This volume functions like the Zionist version of The Federalist Papers.  

For the social history of the pre-statehood period we now have Eran Kaplan and Derek Penslar's documentary history, The Origins of Israel, 1882-1948. The editors set out to complement Hertzberg's intellectual history and they succeed, covering various figures events and trends in the social and cultural history of the period. The collection of sources provides a sense of the intellectual ideological and political richness of the many voices in Zionist public life beyond the dominant left of the labor movement and its political expressions.  The texts also help us hear the voices of ordinary people, Jews who came to the land of Israel and who never sought or attained prominence.  In that sense, the book satisfies one goal of social history, the recovery of the experiences of the everyday in spheres beyond the elites.  

Your course can then easily help students know the two core aspects of the history of Zionism:  its intellectual foundations—the varieties of Zionism—and the narrative of the movement's development.  How did this story progress from the 1880's when twenty-some thousand poor powerless Orthodox Yiddish-speaking residents become a society of some six-hundred thousand Hebrew-speaking secular Jews who had built a proto-state in social economic and political terms, a society prepared to be a state when statehood came in 1948?  

Finally, your class should engage the students in asking different sorts of questions.  What resulted from Zionism's story:  What were its successes, failures, opportunities and challenges?

Enjoy your learning!