2017 Keynotes and Speakers

The keynote and guest speakers for Summer 2017 is forthcoming; in the meantime, check out the speakers from this past year!

Keynote Speaker: Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro
United States Ambassador to Israel

Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro arrived in Israel on July 21, 2011.  Before arriving in Tel Aviv, Ambassador Shapiro was Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa on the National Security Staff at the White House, where he advised President Obama and other senior U.S. officials on all aspects of U.S. policy in the region.  Prior to serving in the White House, he was Senior Policy Adviser for the Obama for America presidential campaign.  He advised the campaign on Middle East policy and led then-Senator Obama's visit to Israel in July 2008.

Ambassador Shapiro spent much of his career working in senior positions in the United States Congress, with a focus on Middle East policy.  He began his career in government as a Professional Staff Member on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, under Chairman Lee Hamilton of Indiana.  He later served as a Legislative Assistant and senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, and as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.  Ambassador Shapiro contributed to numerous Congressional efforts to support negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, to increase U.S. security assistance to Israel, and to strengthen sanctions and other measures against Syria, Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas.  

From 1999 to 2001, Ambassador Shapiro was Director for Legislative Affairs at the National Security Council, serving as Congressional liaison for National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, He previously worked for the U.S. State Department at the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates.

Ambassador Shapiro was born in Champaign, Illinois.  He received a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University with a focus on modern Middle Eastern history.  He graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis University, with high honors in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and an additional concentration in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.  He also studied at Hebrew University.  He is married to Julie Fisher of Duluth, Minnesota. They have three daughters, Liat, Merav, and Shira. He speaks Hebrew and some Arabic.

Program Speakers

Irit Aharony, PhD
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.

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.

Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD
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 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.

Rachel Fish, PhD
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.

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

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. 

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.

Commencement Speaker: 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.