Keynotes and Speakers

A speaker addresses an auditorium filled with students

Every summer, YLS invites prominent keynote and guest speakers to address participants. Summer 2017 keynote and guest speakers are listed below, as are those individuals from summer 2016.

2017 Keynote Speaker

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Mishy Harman, Host of "Israel Story" radio show

Mishy Harman is a curly-haired Jerusalemite. After completing his military service in the IDF, he moved abroad and studied history at Harvard and archeology at Cambridge. His PhD is from the Hebrew University. He stumbled upon radio almost by chance, founding Israel Story together with some of his closest childhood friends. Harman is the host of the show.

2017 Program Speakers

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Gannit Ankori, Ph.D.
Professor of Fine Arts and Chair in Israeli Art, Department of Fine Arts and Schusterman Center for Israel Studies

Gannit Ankori joined Brandeis in the fall of 2010 as Professor of Art History and Theory and Chair in Israeli Art at the Department of Fine Arts. In 2013 she was appointed Chair of the Creative Arts School Council and Head of the Division of Creative Arts. Before coming to Brandeis, she served as the Henya Sharef Professor of Humanities and Chair of the Department of Art History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was also a Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University and at Tufts University's School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Among her many duties at Brandeis, Gannit is an active member of the Rose Art Museum's Advisory Board, Faculty Curator and Director of Integrated Arts at the Rose Art Museum, and an affiliate of departments and centers on campus (e.g., The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Film, Television and Interactive Media, Latin and Latino American Studies, and the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program.)

Gannit Ankori has published and lectured extensively about modern and contemporary art from a global perspective, with emphasis on issues pertaining to gender, national identity, religion, trauma, exile, hybridity and their manifestations in the creative arts. Her geographical regions of expertise, include the Middle East and Mexico. Her book, "Palestinian Art " (Reaktion Books, London, 2006) was awarded the prestigious “Polonsky Prize for Originality and Creativity in the Humanistic Disciplines”. In addition to her many publications, she has also curated several exhibitions on Israeli and Palestinian art, e.g., "Home" (1997) with Jack Persekian at Gallery Anadiel, Jerusalem; "Dor Guez: 100 Steps to the Mediterranean" (2012) at the Rose Art Museum; "Rose Video 07: Nira Pereg" (2015) and "Ben Hagari: Potter's Will" (2016) also at the Rose Art Museum, where she currently serves as Faculty Curator and Director of Integrated Arts.
Gannit's current projects include a theoretical study on “Visual Epistemology: The Work of Art as a Source of Knowledge”; a forthcoming book, based on ongoing research being conducted at Harvard University’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program, titled "A Faith of Their Own: Women Artists Re-Vision Religion"; an edited volume of artist texts by Larry Abramson; and a project on "Trauma and Art".

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Aviv Ben-Or, Ph.D.
Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department, Brandeis University

Aviv Ben-Or has just completed his doctorate at Brandeis University in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department. He works in the elds of Hebrew literature and Israeli culture, with a speci c focus on Arab-Jewish identity and the literary contact between Arabic and Hebrew in Israel. Ben-Or is particularly interested in questions of movement from one language to another, the form of the Hebrew novel and the impact of Arabic on Israeli literature.

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Ofra Backenroth, Ed.D.
Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, Jewish Theological Seminary

Dr. Backenroth’s work focuses on the integration of the arts in the teaching of Hebrew language, Hebrew and Israeli literature, and Israel studies. Backenroth earned her M.F.A. in Dance Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a B.A. in Comparative Literature and an education diploma from Tel Aviv University. She received her Ed.D. in Jewish Education in 2004 from The Davidson School. During the summer, Backenroth uses her arts background to teach an online course “Arts as Exegesis,” exploring the incorporation of arts and culture in Jewish education. She co-directs the Israel programs of Davidson school specifically the yearly seminar,  Vision and Voices of Israel.  In 2015, she was invited by the Polish government  to participate in Through Polin – Discovering Jewish Heritage in Poland Fellows Program. In 2006, she participated in the Summer Institute for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and in Israel. In 2001, she received the Young Scholar Award from the Network for Research in Jewish Education. Prior to assuming her current position at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Backenroth was an Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Gratz College in Philadelphia and a guest professor in the Revivim program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Backenroth has published and presented extensively on the arts, Israel and Jewish education. Recent publications include "Lights, Cameras, Action Research!—Moviemaking as a Pedagogy for Constructivist Israel Education” with Alex Sinclair, Journal of Jewish Education, 2015, “Vision, Curriculum, and Pedagogical Content Knowledge in the Preparation of Israel educators” with Alex Sinclair, Journal of Jewish Education, 2014, “Reveling and Unraveling in the Face of Israel's Complexity” with Alex Sinclair, eJewish Philanthropy. August 29, 2013, and “What Does It Mean to Be an Israel Educator?” with Alex Sinclair, eJewish Philanthropy. February 1, 2013.

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Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D.
Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Past President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Rabbi Ellenson is Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and Visiting Professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Chancellor-Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he served as President of HUC-JIR from 2001-2013.  
For two decades, Ellenson served as head of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, the undergraduate program in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California conducted under the aegis of HUC-JIR. He has also served as a Visiting Professor at both UCLA and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and he has been a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem as well as a Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies and a Lady Davis Visiting Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the spring of 2015, New York University appointed him as Distinguished Visiting Professor and he taught there in the Skirball Department of Judaic Studies

A scholar of modern Jewish thought and history, Ellenson is recognized for his writings and publications in these fields. He has written extensively on the origins and development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany during the Nineteenth Century; Orthodox legal writings on conversion in Israel, North America, and Europe during the modern era; the relationship between religion and state in Israel; the history of modern Jewish religious movements; and American Jewish life.

Ellenson has authored or edited seven books and over 300 articles and reviews in a wide variety of academic and popular journals and newspapers. His book, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity, won the National Jewish Book Council’s award as outstanding book in Jewish Thought in 2005. His work, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, published by the University of Alabama Press in 1990, as well as his book, Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policy-making in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa, co-authored with Daniel Gordis and published by Stanford University Press in 2012, were also both nominated for book awards by the National Jewish Book Council. His newest book, Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice, appeared in September of 2014 in the University of Nebraska/Jewish Publication Society’s Scholar of Distinction Series.  His academic colleagues honored him with the publication of Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition – Essays in Honor of David Ellenson, edited by Michael A. Meyer of HUC-JIR and David N. Myers of UCLA, in 2014.

Ellenson received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1981 and was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in 1977.  Previously, he received his B.A. degree the College of William and Mary in 1969 and the University of Virginia granted him an M.A. in Religious Studies in 1972.

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Rachel Fish, Ph.D.
Rohr Visiting Lecturer in Modern Israel Studies, Harvard University Recipient, Derek Bok Certificate of Teaching Excellence Associate Director, Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University

Dr. Fish is associate director of the Schusterman Center. She completed her doctoral degree in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department at Brandeis University in 2013. Her dissertation, “Configurations of Bi-nationalism: The Transformation of Bi-nationalism in Palestine/Israel 1920's-Present,” examines the history of the idea of bi-nationalism and alternative visions for constructing the State of Israel. Fish has worked as an educator and consultant in various capacities in the Jewish community and higher education, teaching about Zionism and Israeli history at Harvard University, Brandeis University, UMass Amherst and the Me’ah Adult Jewish Education program. At Brandeis, she teaches the Myra Kraft seminar on Israel at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. In 2015, she held the Rohr Visiting Professorship at Harvard University, where she lectured on modern Israel and received the Derek Bok Certificate of Teaching Excellence.

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Andrew Flagel, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment; Executive Director, Young Leaders Seminar

Andrew Flagel is senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis. He supervises the offices of admissions, community living (housing), athletics, financial aid, student accounts, the Hiatt Career Center, the Health Center, the Interfaith Chaplaincy, the Intercultural Center, Student Activities, Global Youth Summit and others serving the Brandeis community. He also teaches periodic courses, most recently in the theater department.

Prior to joining Brandeis in 2011, Andrew was associate vice president for enrollment development and dean of admissions at George Mason University. There he also taught in the Department of Communication, was executive director for the Washington Journalism and Media Conference and the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment, and served as advisor to the university band and the Jewish Student Association.

Before George Mason he was the director of admissions at the University of Michigan-Flint. He also served as the director of enrollment management for the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and as a regional director of admissions at George Washington University (GW).

Andrew earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and philosophy and Master of Arts in education and human development from GW. He received his Ph.D. in education with a concentration in communication from the College of Education at Michigan State University.

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Rachel S. Harris, D.Phil
Associate Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture in Comparative & World Literature and the Program in Jewish Culture & Society at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Harris works on contemporary Israeli culture and its relationship to Israeli society. She has an MA from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She completed her doctorate in Hebrew Literature at the University of Oxford. Her book An Ideological Death: Suicide in Israeli Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2014) examines the ways that writers have challenged national myths through their fiction. She co-edited Narratives of Dissent: War in Contemporary Israeli Arts and Culture (Wayne State Press, 2012). She has just completed a new book Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema which is forthcoming, and considers women’s place on the silver screen as well as behind the camera. Along with her work on literature and cinema, she is also the series editor for the Dalkey Archive Press, Hebrew Literature in Translation Series.

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Sharon Shalom, Ph.D.
Bar-Ilan University/Tel Aviv University

Rabbi Sharon Zaude Shalom is a visiting scholar at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies. Born Zaude Tesfay in an Ethiopian village, Shalom immigrated to Israel as an 8-year-old in a rescue mission by the Mossad and the Jewish Agency, following two years in the Tawa refugee camp in Sudan. As a young Ethiopian immigrant in Israel, he struggled with questions of identity and his place in Israeli society. Those ques- tions have in uenced his scholarship and teaching. Today, Shalom holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy from Bar-Ilan University, where he teaches the courses “Culture, Halakhah and Tradition in the Ethiopian Community” and “Tolerance and Pluralism in Jewish Sources.” He is also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University in the African Studies Department, where he teaches “Ethiopian Jewry: From Ghetto to Segregation.” In addition to his academic positions, Shalom serves as rabbi of Kedoshei Yisrael, a community in Kiryat Gat established by Holocaust survivors.

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Eugene R. Sheppard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Modern Jewish History and Thought, Director of the History of Ideas program, Associate Director of the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, and associate editor of the Tauber Institute Series with Brandeis University Press.

Eugene R. Sheppard is associate professor of modern Jewish history and thought, director of the History of Ideas program, associate director of the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, and associate editor of the Tauber Institute Series with Brandeis University Press. He is the author of “Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile: The Making of a Political Philosopher” (Brandeis University Press 2007). He co-edited "The Individual in History: Essays in Honor of Jehuda Reinharz" along with ChaeRan Y. Freeze and Sylvia Fuks Fried (Brandeis University Press 2015). He has published a piece in the Jewish Review of Books on the origins of Theodore Herzl's Zionist novel “Altneuland.” Professor Sheppard is currently writing a book that explores the ways in which pre-modern Jewish persecution and catastrophe were understood and represented by a variety of German and German Jewish gures from 1933-47. He is also working on another book that looks to how German Jewish academics grappled with issues of political loyalty and dissent from the interwar period to the Cold War. He and Samuel Moyn (Harvard University) are managing editors of the multivolume "Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought" on Brandeis University Press/UPNE.

2016 Program Speakers

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Irit Aharony, Ph.D.
Senior Preceptor in Modern Hebrew, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Dr. Aharony's work focuses on Hebrew and Israeli literature, Israeli culture, the influence of the Bible on Israeli literature and cinema, using language to discuss moral dilemmas and the meaning of place and space in Israeli literature. Aharony is also interested in pedagogical methods of language teaching and in multimedia language class environment. She received her Ph.D. in Hebrew Literature from Bar Ilan University in Israel. She has been teaching at Harvard since 1996, and has served as the head of the Modern Hebrew Program since 2008. She has developed original interactive digital grammar books and textbooks for her classes, and created special tools for language students using the iPad. She also serves as a cultural representative of the Israeli Consulate by lecturing extensively in and around New England on Israeli culture.

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Ofra Backenroth, Ed.D.
Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, Jewish Theological Seminary

Dr. Backenroth's work focuses on the integration of the arts in the teaching of Hebrew language, Hebrew and Israeli literature, and Israel studies. Backenroth earned her MFA in Dance Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a BA in Comparative Literature and an education diploma from Tel Aviv University. She received her EdD in Jewish Education in 2004 from The Davidson School. During the summer, Backenroth uses her arts background to teach an online course "Arts as Exegesis," exploring the incorporation of arts and culture in Jewish education. She co-directs the Israel programs of Davidson school specifically the yearly seminar, Vision and Voices of Israel. In 2015, she was invited by the Polish government to participate in Through Polin – Discovering Jewish Heritage in Poland Fellows Program. In 2006, she participated in the Summer Institute for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and in Israel. In 2001, she received the Young Scholar Award from the Network for Research in Jewish Education. Prior to assuming her current position at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Backenroth was an Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Gratz College in Philadelphia and a guest professor in the Revivim program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Backenroth has published and presented extensively on the arts, Israel and Jewish education. Recent publications include "Lights, Cameras, Action Research!—Moviemaking as a Pedagogy for Constructivist Israel Education" with Alex Sinclair, Journal of Jewish Education, 2015, "Vision, Curriculum, and Pedagogical Content Knowledge in the Preparation of Israel educators" with Alex Sinclair, Journal of Jewish Education, 2014, "Reveling and Unraveling in the Face of Israel's Complexity" with Alex Sinclair, eJewish Philanthropy. August 29, 2013, and "What Does It Mean to Be an Israel Educator?" with Alex Sinclair, eJewish Philanthropy. February 1, 2013.

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Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D.
Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies Past President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Rabbi Ellenson is Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and Visiting Professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Chancellor-Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he served as President of HUC-JIR from 2001-2013.

For two decades, Ellenson served as head of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, the undergraduate program in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California conducted under the aegis of HUC-JIR. He has also served as a Visiting Professor at both UCLA and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and he has been a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem as well as a Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies and a Lady Davis Visiting Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the spring of 2015, New York University appointed him as Distinguished Visiting Professor and he taught there in the Skirball Department of Judaic Studies.

A scholar of modern Jewish thought and history, Ellenson is recognized for his writings and publications in these fields. He has written extensively on the origins and development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany during the Nineteenth Century; Orthodox legal writings on conversion in Israel, North America, and Europe during the modern era; the relationship between religion and state in Israel; the history of modern Jewish religious movements; and American Jewish life.

Ellenson has authored or edited seven books and over 300 articles and reviews in a wide variety of academic and popular journals and newspapers. His book, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity, won the National Jewish Book Council's award as outstanding book in Jewish Thought in 2005. His work, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, published by the University of Alabama Press in 1990, as well as his book, Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa, co-authored with Daniel Gordis and published by Stanford University Press in 2012, were also both nominated for book awards by the National Jewish Book Council. His newest book, Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice, appeared in September of 2014 in the University of Nebraska/Jewish Publication Society's Scholar of Distinction Series. His academic colleagues honored him with the publication of Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition – Essays in Honor of David Ellenson, edited by Michael A. Meyer of HUC-JIR and David N. Myers of UCLA, in 2014.

Ellenson received his PhD from Columbia University in 1981 and was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in 1977. Previously, he received his BA degree the College of William and Mary in 1969 and the University of Virginia granted him an MA in Religious Studies in 1972.

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Rachel Fish, Ph.D.
Rohr Visiting Lecturer in Modern Israel Studies, Harvard University; Recipient, Derek Bok Certificate of Teaching Excellence; Associate Director, Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University
Dr. Fish is associate director of the Schusterman Center. She completed her doctoral degree in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department at Brandeis University in 2013. Her dissertation, "Configurations of Bi-nationalism: The Transformation of Bi-nationalism in Palestine/Israel 1920's-Present," examines the history of the idea of bi-nationalism and alternative visions for constructing the State of Israel. Fish has worked as an educator and consultant in various capacities in the Jewish community and higher education, teaching about Zionism and Israeli history at Harvard University, Brandeis University, UMass Amherst and the Me'ah Adult Jewish Education program. At Brandeis, she teaches the Myra Kraft seminar on Israel at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. In 2015, she held the Rohr Visiting Professorship at Harvard University, where she lectured on modern Israel and received the Derek Bok Certificate of Teaching Excellence.
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Andrew Flagel, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment; Executive Director, Young Leaders Seminar

Andrew Flagel is senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis. He supervises the offices of admissions, community living (housing), athletics, financial aid, student accounts, the Hiatt Career Center, the Health Center, the Interfaith Chaplaincy, the Intercultural Center, Student Activities, Global Youth Summit and others serving the Brandeis community. He also teaches periodic courses, most recently in the theater department.

Prior to joining Brandeis in 2011, Andrew was associate vice president for enrollment development and dean of admissions at George Mason University. There he also taught in the Department of Communication, was executive director for the Washington Journalism and Media Conference and the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment, and served as advisor to the university band and the Jewish Student Association.

Before George Mason he was the director of admissions at the University of Michigan-Flint. He also served as the director of enrollment management for the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and as a regional director of admissions at George Washington University (GW).

Andrew earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and philosophy and Master of Arts in education and human development from GW. He received his PhD in education with a concentration in communication from the College of Education at Michigan State University.

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Rachel S. Harris, D. Phil
Associate Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture in Comparative and World Literature and the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Harris works on contemporary Israeli culture and its relationship to Israeli society. She has an MA from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She completed her doctorate in Hebrew Literature at the University of Oxford. Her book An Ideological Death: Suicide in Israeli Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2014) examines the ways that writers have challenged national myths through their fiction. She co-edited Narratives of Dissent: War in Contemporary Israeli Arts and Culture (Wayne State Press, 2012). She has just completed a new book Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema which is forthcoming, and considers women's place on the silver screen as well as behind the camera. Along with her work on literature and cinema, she is also the series editor for the Dalkey Archive Press, Hebrew Literature in Translation Series.

2016 Commencement Speaker

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Bari Weiss
Associate Book Review Editor, The Wall Street Journal

Bari Weiss is an associate book review editor at The Wall Street Journal, where she has also worked as an op-ed editor. Bari was previously a senior editor at Tablet, the daily online magazine of Jewish news, politics, and culture, where she edited the site's political and news coverage. She's also written for Haaretz, the Forward, and the New York Sun. At the Journal, in addition to her work as a book review editor, writes regular op-eds and profiles.

A native of Pittsburgh, Bari is a 2007 graduate of Columbia University, where she majored in history. From 2007-2008, she was a Dorot fellow in Jerusalem.