The KIVUNIM Educational Approach

KIVUNIM’s intellectual goal is challenging, but our educational opportunity is unparalleled and boundless.  Rarely does a college professor have the opportunity to compliment classroom presentations (be they lecture, Power Point, video, etc.) with experience in the field.  History refers not only to dates, but to places, societies, cultures, and peoples as well.  Sociology describes forms of human interaction. Anthropology describes our social and cultural forms.  Art speaks not just of “works” but of environments and surrounding influences. Music can be heard recorded but all would agree is best experienced in concert halls and other live performances.  Museums can be referred to and slides can show pictures of the great creations of the ages, but standing before an original is incomparable. Religious ritual can be spoken of or viewed on YouTube, but observing and/or participating in the divine service of diverse spiritual communities, communicates a very different story.

KIVUNIM combines classroom academics with the experiential; not for a one day or even a one week in-depth encounter, but all year for all courses.  Not only does the classroom inform the field experience, but the field experience enhances the classroom and opens new vistas for students accustomed to using only their eyes and ears to study (and often unfortunately not utilizing much of those either). Studying about and then traveling to 12 different countries where our students move between approximately 70 cities, towns and villages worldwide, entering some of the acknowledged greatest museums of the world, visiting some of the most expressive archaeological sites, meeting some of the most distinguished thinkers, writers, political and religious leaders, artists, musicians, poets…the intellectual growth and expansion made possible by this fully integrated approach is uniquely powerful. 

KIVUNIM offers the teacher a chance to expand the classroom experience either in anticipation of an upcoming trip or in reaction to a completed one.  Our teachers often redesign the standard form of their lectures to include several elements within the historical narrative and in direct relation to the itinerary of the related KIVUNIM travel.  This is not meant to take away from critical knowledge that students must acquire in order to gain a proper understanding of subject matter, but rather as a stimulus and encouragement of engagement with the material.  Anticipating a site visit both strengthens the field experience and heightens the sense of integration KIVUNIM seeks between our two central realms of encounter.  KIVUNIM’s ultimate educational goal is the seamless integration between field and text; between the world of ideas and the reality of the “street.”

This is accomplished by the repetitive use of key terminology accompanied by particularistic examples that teachers have at their fingertips.  A term like Identity comes to life when students understand the weaving of costume, geography, religion, ethnic history, even cuisine as formative elements in the evolution of personal, group and/or national expressions of being. We include examples of art, music, poetry, literature, etc to convey the meaning of culture in a more powerful way than the commonplace use of the word without either definition or example.  Conveying the place of religion in the evolution of a people with the inherent tension between formality and informality, institution and personal life, physical structure, illumination of place or text captures for the student a deeper understanding of spirituality as it lives in real time in peoples’ individual and communal lives. Similarly, we seek “living” examples from politics, theatre, national and/or sacred myths and other illuminating ideas that bridge the academic and experiential for the KIVUNIM student. 

The power of conceptual and intellectual integration is the ultimate (and all-to-often illusive) goal of a liberal arts education.  Its purpose is expressed beautifully by Seneca (Moral Epistles 88.20): 

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.” 

KIVUNIM represents the beginning of a unique intellectual journey for our students and our staff and faculty. KIVUNIM succeeds in creating a thoughtful, comprehensive, and resilient intellectual foundation for our students and alumni. 

Peter A. Geffen, Founder and President

KIVUNIM (Revised December, 2018)

COURSES (all courses are full academic year totaling 30 credits)

  1. Civilization and Society: Homelands in Exile

  2. Land, People, Ideas: The Challenges of Zionism

  3. Hebrew Language and Literature

  4. Arabic Language and Culture

  5. Visual Learning - The Art of Seeing






Civilization and Society: Homelands in Exile

We understand the Jewish experience in each land of the Jewish people’s Diaspora as one of integration, positive assimilation, and creative tension with the native culture. We want our students to appreciate the rich texture of life that has come from our dispersion. We have lived as Jews in over 50 countries of the world, in many places for over 1000 years and in some since the time of the First Temple. We have worn every costume, built in every architecture, decorated in every art form, prayed and sung in every musical mode – we have no cuisine, only a kosher version of whatever our neighbors ate. Even philosophically – our greatest philosopher was Maimonides, who was an Aristotelian.

To understand the Jewish people we must explore the environments in which they were born and nurtured.  “Civilization and Society: Homelands in Exile” is our setting for this exploration. Each unit begins in the Israel Museum, (ranked as one of the 15 greatest national museums in the world) and every KIVUNIM student receives a year-long membership for entry to the Museum whenever they wish. We have secured the services of one of the finest Museum Educators in the world and designed with him unique and powerful periodic full-day programs to introduce each new international segment of the course. Our students not only read and hear lectures about their travels, they develop a cultural awareness and literacy only dreamed about in most college humanities courses.

The academic program has required readings, fascinating lectures (courses are taught by top university professors from both Israeli and international campuses including those we bring to Jerusalem just for KIVUNIM), projects and papers - but it is brought to life when we travel. It is in some of the greatest museums of the world in country after country, at historical and archaeological sites, as well as sitting in cafes and restaurants talking with local people - hearing their struggles and appreciating the common humanity that we share - that our classroom study really comes alive!

Land, People, Ideas: The Challenge of Zionism

Our Middle East Studies course “Land, People, Ideas: The Challenge of Zionism” does the same in the very loaded and complex arena of emotions and contending ideologies. Here we seek to make the history of the Zionist movement come alive and allow KIVUNIM students to truly appreciate the capacity of the human being to become an historical actor: to make things happen.  The course explores the growth of Pan-Arab nationalism and the specific development of Palestinian identity and nationalism.  We resist the temptation to turn academic study into wishful thinking and fantasy, presenting our students with the harsh reality of contending forces of destiny and desire.  We make extensive use of documentary film, archival materials and personal testimony to allow students to understand more deeply and with greater empathy.  We encourage our students to imagine solutions while studying problems and to develop their sense of empowerment in glimpsing a future more positive then the past or today.

Hebrew Language and Literature & Arabic Language and Culture

Our language program enables all students to advance their knowledge of Hebrew and begin their study of Arabic, with many alumni continuing their Arabic studies when they return to college.  Some ask "why teach Arabic to Jewish students?" We answer: Israel lives in a neighborhood of Arabic language and culture. Those looking to a more peaceful future must be able to understand and speak to their neighbors.  As simple and profound as that!

Visual Learning - The Art of Seeing

Our Art Minor (taught by our Artist-in-Residence, world renowned Tobi Kahn) teaches our students, through the medium of photography, how to use sight to "learn" and not just to see.  We visit artists in their studios, study the great photographers to understand more of their perspective and insight and examine settings for clues to composition, structure, and expression in the photograph itself.

Intellectual and Cultural additions to the formal classroom

In addition to the formal academic program there are supplemental sessions in music, dance, cuisine, literature and film related to both Israel and the countries of our travels. One night each week is devoted to yet other study opportunities, sponsored either by KIVUNIM or other institutions in Jerusalem. Some study Talmud, others Basic Judaism, some with KIVUNIM staff and others at other Jerusalem Institutions. The KIVUNIM environment is constantly alive with new ideas and discoveries.