Israeli society is culturally and socially diverse, the result of generations of immigrants whose own experiences and backgrounds have contributed to the complexity of the national identity. The explanation of this identity often varies by generation, and is the result of that generation’s ideas, beliefs and hopes for the future. Senior Fellow Tamar van Gelderen wanted to examine the diversity of Israeli society though the eyes of its youth. She wanted to give them the opportunity to reflect on their own perceptions of national identity and their individual struggles with cultural and socio-economic differences. She hoped that through this process, the youth could begin to better understand themselves and one another.
In order to better understand how Israeli youth conceptualized national identity, Tamar wanted to develop a project that offered students, ages 13 to 15, the opportunity to explore their personal, social, and national identity through workshops encompassing digital photography, the arts, history, class discussions, social activities, and excursions. Tamar began by designing the curriculum and reaching out to people and organizations who would be interested in cooperating or funding the project. This process took about six months.
“A Piece of Mine” facilitated an environment in which questions could be asked freely. Students were encouraged to explore their own identities as well as those of their peers.
The name of the project reflects on the idea that everyone is not only informed and shaped by their environment, but contributes to their surroundings by being part of that environment; the world is a piece of you, as much as you are a piece of the world.
Tamar then worked to build a relationship with a local school, invite participants, and arrange all of the logistics for the project.
There were some guiding questions that reflected on the concept of multiple identities which the students returned to during every workshop. The workshop providers were professional photographers who also worked as social activists and educators. The students learned to develop a personal narrative about their family history, their homes, friends, school, and their understanding of the society they are in. The workshops also offered an opportunity to develop and refine photography skills and artistic expression. Tamar wanted her project to include a final, concrete product. She said that “When working with students, it is often very helpful to set a certain goal for them to aspire to.”
Thus, Tamar decided to have the workshops culminate in a student artwork exhibition that answered the following three questions through a personal interpretation:
Who am I? What does my social life look like? What does my (home) country look like?
This final exhibition provided an opportunity for the workshop students to share their artwork with their peers, and for all of the students to engage in a larger discourse about national identity. “A Piece of Mine” ran for two years, and Tamar hopes to be able to one day implement projects like this in other countries whose diverse populations experience similar difficulties with conceptualizing a national identity.