Network for Research 2021 Article of the Year Awarded to Drs. Lauren Applebaum, Anna Hartman, and Sivan Zakai

Lauren Applebaum

Dr. Lauren Applebaum

The Network for Research in Jewish Education has awarded the 2021 Article of the Year honor to Dr. Lauren Applebaum, Director of the DeLeT Program; Dr. Anna Hartman ‘15, Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education Clinical Faculty Mentor; and Dr. Sivan Zakai, Sara S. Lee Associate Professor of Jewish Education, for their article published in the Journal of Jewish Education, “A Little Bit More Far Than Mexico: How 3- and 4- Year Old Jewish Children Understand Israel.”

The study examines how 3- and 4-year-old Jewish children think and feel about Israel. The research, conducted as a collaboration between scholars and practitioner-researchers who work in Jewish early childhood centers, draws upon group interviews, elicitation/provocation exercises, a drawing task, and teacher documentation to investigate how some of the youngest learners in Jewish educational settings conceive of Israel. They found that 3- and 4-year-old Jewish children think about Israel as a foreign country with its own customs, landmarks, and language. They also think about Israel as a distinctly Jewish place, with a special role in Jewish traditions and stories. They found no evidence that 3- and 4-year-old children reflect on Israel as a place of personal meaning for their own Jewish lives. This absence challenges both the theory and practice of Israel education in the early childhood setting.

Anna Hartman

Dr. Anna Hartman

Dr. Zakai shared, “We wrote this article after a multi-year collaboration with a group of early childhood educators. We had been facilitating professional development workshops for these educators, and the questions we investigated came from the pressing questions in their classrooms. As we were facilitating professional learning for these educators, we realized that we didn’t know the answers to their most pressing question – how do 3- and 4-year-olds think about Israel? – but we knew we could investigate it together. This article was the result of that collaborative and investigative process.”

Dr. Applebaum added, “Our work was inspired by the authentic questions of a group of teachers and our hope that we could work collaboratively with them to help answer those questions for them and for the larger field. In addition to helping give voice to the ideas of children, this project made space for teachers to be learners together, allowing them to support and challenge each other as they grow.”


Sivan Zakai

Dr. Sivan Zaka

After considering 17 articles that appeared in the Journal of Jewish Education in 2021, the selection committee thought that the authors produced a beautifully written and compelling narrative that should be compulsory reading in academic frameworks, and also for practitioners in the field of early years education. While focused on North America, the research and discussion will resonate with educators and academics throughout the diaspora. The Awards committee was especially impressed with the sophisticated way in which the authors built the conceptual framework. The article is a theoretical advance for the topic, and identifies many questions for future research.

Dr. Hartman stated, “In my research, I seek to understand how children make sense of Judaism. In my work, I get to focus on empowering Jewish early childhood educators to create classrooms of discovery and genuine exploration. I am constantly inspired by children; they are so curious and intelligent and yet the adult world rarely tunes in.”