My Sec­ond-Favorite Country

January 3, 2022

Reveals how young Amer­i­can Jew­ish chil­dren come to devel­op their views about Israel

Israel has long occu­pied a promi­nent place in the lives and imag­i­na­tions of Amer­i­can Jews, serv­ing as both a sym­bol­ic touch­stone and a source of inter­com­mu­nal con­flict. In My Sec­ond-Favorite Coun­try, Sivan Zakai offers the first lon­gi­tu­di­nal study of how Amer­i­can Jew­ish chil­dren come to think and feel about Israel, track­ing their evolv­ing con­cep­tions from kinder­garten to fifth grade.

This work sheds light on the per­cep­tion of Israel in the minds of Jew­ish chil­dren in the US and pro­vides a rich case study of how chil­dren more gen­er­al­ly devel­op ideas and beliefs about self, com­mu­ni­ty, nation, and world. In con­trast to pop­u­lar views of America’s youth as naive or unin­ter­est­ed, this book illu­mi­nates both the com­plex­i­ty of their think­ing and their desire to be includ­ed in con­ver­sa­tions about impor­tant civic and polit­i­cal mat­ters. Zakai draws from com­pelling empir­i­cal data to prove that chil­dren spend con­sid­er­able effort con­tem­plat­ing the very con­cepts that adults often assume they are not ready to dis­cuss. Indeed, the book argues that over the course of their ele­men­tary school edu­ca­tion, chil­dren devel­op and express deep inter­est in com­plex issues such as the intri­ca­cies of iden­ti­ty and belong­ing, con­flict­ing ways of fram­ing the past, and the demands of civic respon­si­bil­i­ty. Ulti­mate­ly, Zakai argues that in order to take children’s ideas seri­ous­ly and bet­ter pre­pare them for a world full of dis­agree­ment, a sub­stan­tive shift in edu­ca­tion­al prac­tices is necessary.

Discussion Questions

In My Sec­ond-Favorite Coun­try, Sivan Zakai shares her find­ings from the first lon­gi­tu­di­nal study of how Amer­i­can Jew­ish ele­men­tary school chil­dren think about Israel. Although Israel edu­ca­tion is now a cen­tral fea­ture of the Amer­i­can Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence, to date there has been lit­tle data to sug­gest how Jew­ish chil­dren think and feel about Israel. Zakai’s research helps to fill this gap.

The author also sug­gests that most edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions have yet to clear­ly define goals for Israel edu­ca­tion and that pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment in this field must con­tin­ue to evolve, to bet­ter sup­port edu­ca­tors in under­stand­ing both the sub­ject mat­ter and how chil­dren learn. Zakai claims that only by explor­ing these two dis­ci­plines in par­al­lel will these pro­grams pre­pare par­tic­i­pants to sup­port stu­dents in grap­pling with a set of inher­ent­ly com­plex ideas that are often reserved for old­er learners.

My Sec­ond-Favorite Coun­try is an impor­tant work for any read­er inter­est­ed in how Israel edu­ca­tion must devel­op to bet­ter meet the needs of today’s Jew­ish children.