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A Lot of Ropes, But No Lion: School Culture and Ethiopian Israeli Students’ Struggle for Identity

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This article describes the culture of an Israeli elementary school in which most of the students are Ethiopian immigrants or the children of Ethiopian immigrants. The original goal of the research was to understand the ways the culture of “Beit Yakov” school contributes to the building of Israeli identity among a beleaguered group of immigrants to Israel, many of whom are suffering from the trauma of the difficult passage, from severe culture shock and from lack of acceptance in Israeli society. As the research unfolded a more complex conception of identity was developed in which Ethiopian identity is as important as Israeli identity and the children are seen as striving to construct their identities from both these roots. The school contributes to this process in both positive and negative ways through the revealed curriculum, and the teaching of both Israeli and Ethiopian cultural knowledge, as well as through the tacit messages conveyed by teachers’ language and behaviour, and through role models provided by adult Ethiopian-Israelis. Suggestions are offered as to how schools can work on both these levels to help Ethiopian Israeli children, and by extension, other immigrant children, to develop a strong, cohesive identity.

Keywords: Erikson; Ethiopian Israelis; Ethiopian immigration; Israeli elementary school; identity formation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Bar-Ilan University

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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  • World Studies in Education is a bi-annual, refereed, international journal offering a global overview of significant international and comparative education research. Its focus is on educational reforms and policy affecting institutions in the global economy.
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