Empathy vs. Critical Reflection: Encountering Holocaust Testimonies in an Israeli Classroom


  • Lilach Naishtat Bornstein Mofet Institiute and Kibbutzim College of Education
  • Eyal Naveh Tel Aviv University and Kibbutzim college of Education


Holocaust education, testimonies, teacher training, empathy, critical pedagogy


How can we bridge between the emotional and cognitive study of Holocaust testimony in Israel? We examine this question through an undergraduate course at an Israeli college of education, using the methodology of collaborative self-study. The fostering of empathy was a key component of the course, with students encouraged to share their feelings, personal experiences, and impressions. These were treated as a major resource in the study process, and connected classroom occurrences with the course material. At the same time, various pedagogical methods were used to elicit critical reflection, allowing us to explore preconceived notions held by the students concerning the preservation and expression of Holocaust memory. The students’ close identification with Holocaust victims became in and of itself an effective tool for critical examination. The three central foci of the study were assumptions of Israeli Jewish students with regard to Holocaust memory, changes achieved in the course through critical reflection, and the ethical value of these changes. We conclude with a discussion of future approaches to the teaching of Holocaust studies in light of the experience gained from this course.

Author Biographies

Lilach Naishtat Bornstein, Mofet Institiute and Kibbutzim College of Education

Lilach Naishtat-Bornstein is a literary scholar and an activist. Teaches at the Kibbutzim College of Education. She holds a PhD from Tel Aviv University (2010). She was a research associate at Five College Women’s Studies Research Center (Amherst, Mass. 2011) and is a post-doctoral fellow at the MOFET institute for teacher education (2015-2017).

Naishtat-Bornstein directed a documentary film (Zwischen Heimat und zuhause, 2012. With Hans-Peter Lubke) and published the first Hebrew translation of Coleridge’s Christabel (Even Hoshen 2011). Her recent books are Their Jew: Right and Wrong in Holocaust Testimonies (Hebrew University & MOFET institute, 2016), Who’s Afraid of Christabel? The Story of a Reading Group (Gama & Hakibbutz Hameuchad press, 2017), and Poetics of the Fragment (Resling, in press).

Eyal Naveh, Tel Aviv University and Kibbutzim college of Education

Prof. Eyal Naveh is a professor of history. Currently he serves as the chairperson of the Department of General History, at Tel Aviv University and heads the Academic Council at Kibbutzim College of Education. Alongside his academic publications, Professor Naveh wrote seven textbooks for the Israeli K-12 education system. He also coordinated and advised the Israeli-Palestinian Two Narratives history project. His latest book is Past in Turmoil: Public Debates over Historical Issues in Israel (MOFET Institute & Hakibbutz Hameuchad 2017).