The building of an Israel studies center

April 2, 2018

Looking around the Schusterman Center today, with its elegant hallway, the rich and varied exhibits of Israeli art, and the twenty offices and desks where faculty and students’ books and notebooks pile up, a testament to their long hours immersed in research, it could be mistaken for a long-standing institution that had grown and matured over decades. But it has been just a little over ten years since the center’s founding in 2007.

The remarkable work of Professor Ilan Troen in founding and growing the center, followed by Professor David Ellenson at the helm as director, meant approaching the challenge from all angles. It began with attracting the right faculty who were Israel experts and could design well-rounded and compelling courses in this interdisciplinary field, in departments from Fine Arts to Politics, from Anthropology to Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. With the right syllabi, these faculty attracted high-caliber doctoral students. Together they have enriched not only Brandeis’ course offerings, but the very field of Israel studies.

Simultaneously, the Schusterman Center worked hand-in-hand with the Association for Israel Studies, hosting association conferences and sending its faculty and students to present papers, thus contributing original scholarship and new knowledge in wide-ranging interdisciplinary areas. The center’s doctoral and post-doctoral fellows have gone on to positions at MIT, Oxford University, and many other highly esteemed institutions, seeding the field of Israel studies in North America and throughout the world.

Guest speakers and lecturers in the Schusterman Center supplement regular academic courses for all Brandeis students, and often for the general public. Up to 24 public events per year have featured authors, filmmakers, politicians, and more.

In order to ensure that quality scholarship on Israel is read, studied, and discussed far and wide, the Schusterman Center has partnered with Brandeis University Press and Indiana University Press on two book series in Israel studies that have published 24 books so far. A key work that has expanded the body of knowledge available on Israel—while making it accessible to students and scholars at all levels—is Essential Israel, edited by Ilan Troen and Rachel Fish (IUP 2017). This collaboration by top experts in the field would not have been possible without a strong vision and firm editorial guidance. The center’s publications committee (chaired by Troen) also boasts the journal Israel Studies, currently at 3,000 subscribers.

Beyond Brandeis University, the Schusterman Center continues to be an invaluable resource for higher-education faculty all across North America and the world. The center’s highly competitive Summer Institute for Israel Studies, an immersive three-and-a-half week seminar both at Brandeis and in Israel, allows select faculty to delve into all areas of this broad field, learning from their colleagues and developing rich Israel studies course syllabi together—which they then implement at their home institutions. So far, a full 291 Summer Institute fellows have gone on to teach 1,040 courses to more than 27,000 students in Israel studies. Additionally, independent visiting scholars join the Schusterman Center all year round to work on Israel-related research and pursue invaluable partnerships with Israel studies colleagues at Brandeis and beyond. Finally, workshops for community leaders, high school teachers, university faculty, and other professionals draw on the top academic resources on Israel and bring in leading scholars to teach. Spearheaded by associate director Rachel Fish, these workshops share a wealth of knowledge and resources beyond the Brandeis campus. High school students are even able to come to Brandeis to experience Israel studies courses for themselves in the Young Leaders Seminar on Israel Studies, a partnership with the university’s Office of Precollege Programs. This gives them an early introduction to an important field which they could consider pursuing in college.

Earlier this week, the center held a 10th-Anniversary Celebration and Conference featuring speakers Daniel Shapiro '91, former US ambassador to Israel, and Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. BrandeisNOW and the Justice covered the event, and Shapiro and Carmi's talks can be watched on video on the Schusterman Center's online resource site for Israel Studies.

The coming year is sure to hold plenty of new and exciting developments, as Brandeis University's March 26 article heralds.

Abby Huber

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