Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah!

Postcard image Shana Tova

Shana Tova card with portraits of Zionist leaders, 1910

Photo Credit: Copyright The National Library of Israel

YEAR IN REVIEW 2019-20 (5780)

Happy New Year from the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies! As we bid farewell to the past year, 5780 according to the Jewish calendar, we take pride in all that we have accomplished, despite the challenges of the past several months.

The great Columbia University Jewish historian, Salo Baron, once authored a book entitled "Steeled by Adversity." The title is apt for our times reminding us how often before we have faced adversity and been "steeled" by it. We are being steeled by the current crisis as well, especially here at Schusterman.

As we enter a new year, we look back and recall highlights of the tumultuous year just past.

People on Israeli street wearing masks
Move to On-line Programming

Though the pandemic forced us to postpone all live programs scheduled after mid-March, I am proud to report that we pivoted enthusiastically toward online programming. Instead of cancelling our last three Schusterman Scholars Seminars, we presented them live on Zoom, making them available not only to our Schusterman Scholars and SIIS fellows, but also to the general public.

With everyone isolated at home, craving stimulation, connection, and meaningful content, we then decided, for the first time, to host public events over the summer. We created the Summer Online Series, a quartet of webinars, each exploring a different timely topic: the Israeli elections, the history of plagues in the Land of Israel, contemporary Israeli music, the economic, social and political impact of the coronavirus pandemic in contemporary Israel. Average attendance was 133 participants per webinar. We also recorded the events and made them available on our new You Tube Channel with closed captioning. 

Because the online format removes the confines of geography, participants attended from all over the world. Viewers tuned in to our Summer Online Series webinars from 21 countries outside of North America: Austria, Azerbaijan, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Poland, the Russian Federation, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Bahai gardens Israel
Introducing the Research Guide to Israel Studies

Additionally, I am very proud to report that we produced a curated Research Guide to Israel Studies, a one-stop shop for Israel Studies queries, needs, and information. Launched in May, 2020, this free guide contains resources for students, researchers and scholars of every kind. Edited by our associate director, Dr. Shayna Weiss, this is the most comprehensive guide of its kind available. Please check it out!

Cover of Alex Kaye's book
Events and Courses

Until the coronavirus intervened, we continued our tradition of hosting world-class visitors – artists, authors, filmmakers, journalists, politicians, public intellectuals and leading scholars – for public events, lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, art exhibits, classroom visits, seminars, and educational workshops. In the 2019-2020 academic year, we hosted 30 events, many sponsored with other units at Brandeis, including:

  • a special evening with the first Arab-Israeli Rhodes Scholar, Lian Najami. She spoke about her push for shared existence in Israel as well as issues concerning minorities and individuals with disabilities.

  • a roundtable discussion entitled "Jewish Women and Religious Change in Israel and the United States: Divergence and Dialogue."

  • a documentary and panel discussion exploring Jewish-Argentine identity, attitudes towards Israel, and the subject of return migration.

  • a presentation by our longtime friend, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute, on "How Israel's Most important Leaders Shaped its Destiny."

  • a lively panel discussion entitled “Not Your Toy: Israel-Europe Relations through the Lens of the Eurovision Song Contest,” exploring why the contest is crucial for understanding both Israel and Europe today.

Two especially proud moments for us were the installation lecture for Dr. Alexander Kaye, the Karl, Harry, and Helen Stoll Chair Assistant Professor of Israel Studies, and, later, a book launch and discussion of his important new book, "The Invention of Jewish Theocracy: The Struggle for Legal Authority in Modern Israel" (Oxford University Press).

In January, as part of our effort to nurture scholarship not only within Brandeis but beyond, and to build connections between disciplines, we hosted "The Formation of New Jewish Communities, the 4th Biennial Graduate Student Workshop." This workshop was designed to give advanced graduate students a space to discuss their work, explore pedagogy and professionalization, and create an intellectual community. Participants received feedback on a chapter of their dissertations from peers and facilitators, and benefitted from sessions on archives, publishing, and the job market. I co-facilitated the workshop with Dr. Yael Zerubavel, Professor of Jewish Studies and History, Emerita, Rutgers University.
During the 2019-20 academic year, the Center offered 12 lunchtime Scholars Seminars which we live streamed and recorded for our Summer Institute Fellows. The Seminars' diverse topics ranged from Holocaust refugee children in Tehran, to the history of the Yiddish language in Israel, to nuclear weapons, and legal theory.
The Schusterman Center also supported, directly or indirectly, five Israel-related courses at Brandeis that collectively enrolled 101 undergraduate and graduate students.

Schusterman Doctoral Fellows and Alumni

We take special pride in the accomplishments of our talented doctoral fellows:

  • Maham Ayaz (NEJS) spent the past year working on her dissertation research and prospectus design. She also prepared to teach an undergraduate course that she designed, "Defining Status in the Modern State: Citizens, Nationals, and Refugees," to be offered in Spring 2021. Maham won a University Prize Instructorship from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in May 2019 to develop and teach the course.

  • Shirah Malka Cohen (NEJS) is preparing a new article for publication on the subject of intertextuality in Hebrew Literature. During this academic year, she worked as a teaching assistant for two courses.

  • Maya Dworsky-Rocha (Anthropology) completed her field work in Israel and presented a paper, "It Takes a Nation: Telescopic Temporality and Childhood in Israel," at the North East Modern Language Association annual convention in Boston in March. She has been hired to teach two Cultural Anthropology undergraduate courses at Babson College this fall.

  • Rima Farah (NEJS), finished her dissertation proposal and is now an ABD (all but dissertation) candidate. She taught Hebrew at Brandeis University this past year and at Middlebury College this summer. She submitted an article, "The Rise of Aramaic Nationality in Modern Israel," and prepared a syllabus for a new course, Ethnic Minorities in Modern Israel, which she will teach at Brandeis in Spring 2021.

  • Mika Hackner (Politics) was a teaching fellow for two courses. She, too, was awarded the University Prize Instructorship and will be teaching the course she designed, "How Democracies Break Down" in the spring semester.

  • Iddo Haklai’s (NEJS) first scholarly article "Four Paradigms of Legal Change: American Conservative Halachic Rulings on Women’s Roles in Synagogue Practice" appeared in "Modern Judaism: A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience".

  • Yair Bar Tzuri spent last year in Israel working on his dissertation, teaching at Midreshet Hannaton, and writing for their new journal, Mitzpe. He published two essays: "The State of Emergency as an Opportunity for Rehabilitation," and "The Return of the Myth" about the importance of myth in the Zionist and Israeli ethos.

We are always thrilled to celebrate the successes of our graduates, the Schusterman Doctoral Fellowship alumni. Jason Olson was recently selected for the Navy's prestigious Foreign Area Officer program. Amber Taylor reviewed Dana Hercbergs’s "Overlooking the Border: Narratives of Divided Jerusalem for H-Net Judaic." Eric Fleisch accepted a tenure track Assistant Professorship in Jewish/Israel Studies at Penn State University, and Rutgers University Press has signed on to publish his book, "Checkbook Zionism: Philanthropy and Power in the Israel-Diaspora Relationship." Rachel Fish has become the founding executive director of the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism. Mostafa Hussein published a much-discussed article in Ha'aretz entitled "Jewish Studies on the Nile: The Rise of Hebrew and Jewish Degrees in Egypt." 

Visiting Scholars

We were delighted to host two visiting scholars this past year. In the Fall, we welcomed Jehad Abusalim, a PhD candidate in the History and Hebrew and Judaic Studies joint program at New York University. He studies Arab intellectual writings on Zionism from the first half of the twentieth century. In the Spring, Dr. Rachel Weissbrod, associate professor in the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies at Bar-Ilan University, joined us. Her most recent book, "Translating the Visual: A Multimodal Perspective" was written in collaboration with Dr. Ayelet Kohn and published by Routledge in 2019.

Cover of Israel Studies Journal

With the publication of volume 25, issue #3 this summer, our journal, "Israel Studies" completed a quarter of a century of defining and advancing Israel Studies as a new field of scholarship. Beginning with volume 26 the journal will be guided by Professor Arieh Saposnik of Ben Gurion University. After serving for twenty-five years as founding editor, Ilan Troen is transitioning to service as an Editorial Board member in 2021. Linked closely to the journal is the book series, "Perspectives on Israel Studies," published for us by Indiana University Press, under Professor Troen’s editorship. Rachel Rojanski’s "Yiddish in Israel: A History" came out in January and Uri Bialer’s "Israeli Foreign Policy: A People Shall Not Dwell Alone" was released in March. Forthcoming later this year are Michal Shaul’s "Holocaust Memory in Ultraorthodox Society in Israel" and Paula Kabalo’s "Israeli Community Action during the War of Independence."

Faculty and Staff Activities
  • Gannit Ankori, Professor of Art History and Theory and Chair in Israeli Art at the Departments of Fine Arts, and the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, was named Interim Director and Chief Curator of the Rose Art Museum, effective July 1st. Ankori, who specializes in contemporary Israeli and Palestinian art, film and visual culture, was interviewed about why Israeli TV and movies resonate with American audiences for an article in the Forward. She also published a comprehensive essay titled "Raida Adon's Liminal Spaces of Art: Journeys, Rituals, and Intervisuality" (Israeli Museum of Jerusalem, 2020).
  • Alexander Kaye, Karl, Harry, and Helen Stoll Assistant Professor of Israel Studies, taught four courses, including three that were entirely new to Brandeis. His course, "Legal Controversies in Israeli History" attracted almost 50 students! Prof. Kaye advised four doctoral students and numerous undergrads. He was asked for the second year running to be the faculty advisor to Brandeis Bridges, an initiative designed to bring together Black and Jewish students on campus, and to join them on a week-long trip to Los Angeles. Professor Kaye’s book, "The Invention of Jewish Theocracy," published in February has been garnering enthusiastic reviews, including an article by Rabbi Shlomo Carmy published June 30 in The Lehrhaus. He led a webinar relating to the book for the Hiddush series, "Israel/Diaspora at a Crossroads - Religion, Law, and Morality in Challenging Times." Hiddush is an NGO that deals with religious pluralism in Israel. He likewise was interviewed by the Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix, Arizona. Prof. Kaye also has a chapter in the widely publicized new book, "The New Jewish Canon," edited by Yehuda Kurtzer and Claire E. Sufrin. He gave the inaugural talk for his Stoll Chair in Israel Studies, and numerous talks at external organizations, including the Hartman Institute, the Wexner Foundation, Harvard University and others. He also gave a workshop about Zionism to a group of Jewish and Muslim leaders.
  • Yehudah Mirsky, Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, wrote and was interviewed for a wide number of articles, and had numerous speaking engagements. He served as Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University, at the Jewish Center, in New York City, where he delivered two talks to several hundred people, and at Brandeis University Hillel. He gave presentations to the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee, Senior Fellows of Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Genesis Forum, and the Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix, Arizona. He also chaired our lunchtime Schusterman Scholars Seminars. His articles, op-eds and other writing appeared in Guardian, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Forward, and The Lehrhaus.
  • Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Director, spoke on Israeli radio, in Hebrew, about the Schusterman Center and how we are training professors to teach about Israel. He was invited to be part of Our Common Destiny, a global initiative of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the State of Israel, under the auspices of Israel’s President, convening the world’s leading Jewish thinkers and activists in Jerusalem. The purpose: to launch an effort to connect Jews to each other and to Israel across diverse religious and cultural identities through a shared set of ethics and values. He spoke at the New York Historical Society’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad (1869), which includes an account of Twain’s travels in the Holy Land, an event that drew 200 attendees. He also spoke on a panel at a special gathering hosted by the Ruderman Family Foundation about contemporary and historical perspectives and paradigms for understanding Jewish-American-Israeli relations. Together with Dr. Steven Bayme, he co-led an AJC Jerusalem meeting of representatives of over ten Israeli universities and colleges for a discussion with AJC’s Israel-Diaspora Task Force, to explore the potential of a joint project. He spoke at a Lawyers for Israel Executive Breakfast Briefing, and was named by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston a “2020 Superstar,” a designation CJP awards to volunteers who make a substantive positive impact in the community. Most recently, The Jewish Review of Books hosted him in a Zoom event on August 24th, "Living through American Jewish History: A Conversation with Jonathan Sarna."
  • Ilana Szobel, Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Associate Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature, researches disability studies, women’s and gender studies, sexualized violence, and trauma studies. She spent her sabbatical as a fellow at Harvard University where she continued her research and worked on a second book project, "Flesh of My Flesh: Sexual Violence in Hebrew Literature and Israeli Culture." She was also instrumental in planning and organizing what was to be our 2020 Spring conference, "In Motion: Israeli and Palestinian Arts and Culture." The conference has been postponed until 2021.
  • Shayna Weiss, the Schusterman Center’s associate director, specializes in Israeli history, gender, Orthodox Jews, politics of popular culture, television and film, nationalism, and politics. The Boston Jewish Film Festival invited her to speak at their TLV TV Binge and to moderate a discussion with Arab-Israeli singer, actress, songwriter and producer Mira Awad. Dr. Weiss also spoke at the Israel Policy Forum’s Atid Boston launch reception, and was interviewed for a French documentary, "Israël, terre de séries," on the global influence of Israeli TV. She also appeared on the "Identity/Crisis" podcast hosted by Yehuda Kurtzer and on the "Jewish History Matters" podcast, hosted by Jason Lustig, talking about representations of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israel in TV and film, and the global phenomenon of Israeli television. In addition, she delivered a lecture at the CJP Genesis Forum entitled "A Day in Degania: Building a Secular Utopia in Israel's First Kibbutz."
New Faculty

After an extensive search, I am thrilled to report that we have filled the Marash and Ocuin Chair in Ottoman, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish Studies. We look forward to welcoming Dr. Yuval Evri, currently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Kings College London, to Brandeis in August 2021. In the meantime, Magnes Press has just published his new book (in Hebrew), "The Return to Al-Andalus: Disputes over Sephardic Culture and Identity between Arabic and Hebrew".

SIIS Fellows at Israeli museum
Summer Institute for Israel Studies

Our renowned Summer Institute for Israel Studies (SIIS) continues to have a powerful impact around the globe. A recently-completed study by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies shows that since the inception of the Summer Institute in 2004, we have trained 336 professors to teach Israel Studies. SIIS’s multiplier effect is remarkable. Our SIIS alumni have taught 1,272 courses about Israel to more than 31,739 students at 235 institutions worldwide, as a result of their Summer Institute experience. We have prepared an international cadre of Israel-literate faculty helping students reach a nuanced understanding of the complexities of Israeli society, politics, history and culture, based on sound, rigorous scholarship. They also make important contributions to the field itself by producing books and articles. We pride ourselves on the proven impact of our Summer Institute, the Schusterman Center’s signature program.

Cast of "Jews are coming" show in costumes
Looking Ahead

We look forward to a rich panoply of events during the coming year – all of them safely made available via Zoom. We kick off the new semester on September 14th with stars from Israel’s Academy-award winning satire series: "The Jews are Coming" ("Ha-Yehudim Baim" in Hebrew). The program will feature clips from the new season, translated for an English-speaking audience for the very first time, as well as a conversation with the series’ stars.

For other programs, see our website. Please join us!

Headshot of Jonathan SarnaIn closing, I wish to thank our friends and supporters as we continue our mission to cultivate Israel literacy and a deep, nuanced understanding of Israel, its history, culture and people. "Steeled by adversity," the Schusterman Center’s reach now extends far beyond Brandeis to the broader academy and to all those interested in deepening their knowledge of Israel anywhere in the world. In these unprecedented, historic times, our work, your support, and our shared vision are more vital than ever.

Jonathan D. Sarna
Director, Schusterman Center for Israel Studies
University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History