2017: A Year of Anniversary

By Professor David Ellenson

Professor David EllensonAn anniversary is a time to pause and consider the past. It is also a moment to consider the future. 2017 is surely such a year for us at the Schusterman Center, for this year is a significant anniversary for all people involved with and interested in the State of Israel and its study.

One hundred years ago, on November 2, 1917, Lord Balfour of Great Britain issued an historic proclamation. He wrote, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The Balfour Declaration put into motion a series of events that culminated thirty years later, when, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, allowing the State of Israel to be created six months later in May, 1948. In 2017, we at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies take note of these two dates and reflect on their multiple meanings and the complex events they placed into motion – the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the simultaneous growth of a burgeoning Palestinian national identity.

Fifty years ago, in 1967, Israel and her Arab neighbors went to war. I recall that when the war commenced, countless Jews feared that the State of Israel would be destroyed. Of course, these fears disappeared days later when the Israeli military won what was perceived as a stunning victory over the Arab armies assembled against them. Jerusalem was no longer divided, and sites like the Western Wall – where only a year before I had been unable to set foot because I was a Jew – were now in Israeli possession. It was also a moment that marked the beginning of Jewish settlement and occupation in the West Bank. Israelis and Palestinians alike live with complex and contradictory reactions to the implications of that war and its aftermath through the present day.

For me personally, these events all have special meaning. It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that I was born into a strongly Zionist family in 1947 just eight days before the United Nations voted Israel into existence. My mother always reminded me that I was entered into the Covenant of the Jewish people on the day that the United Nations voted to partition Palestine. My own life has been inextricably tied to Israel from my first moments. I have never known a life apart where Israel has not been at the center of my concerns. It is why – as I enter my third and final year – serving as Director of the Schusterman Center of Israel Studies has been a crowning chapter in my life. It has provided me with an opportunity to lead a program that can reflect on the multiple meanings of all these events in an academically rigorous and judicious manner—apart from the strident polemics that all too often surround these years and their meanings.

For this reason, the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, founded in 2007, is proud to mark its own Ten-Year Anniversary during this academic year. Dedicated to promoting exemplary teaching and scholarship in Israeli history, politics, culture, and society, the Center has remained committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the modern State of Israel by educating a new generation of scholars and teachers, building a vibrant academic community, and supporting research, publications, and conferences in a setting of intellectual and scholarly integrity and judgment. There is much to celebrate, and on March 25th-26th, we will do precisely that in a manner in keeping with our mission and goals. The Center will look back on the past, even as it plans for new visions to unfold as it promotes scholarship and literacy on Israel in the months and years ahead. We hope that many of you will join us at Brandeis as we mark our past and prepare for our future.

Professor David Ellenson is director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and chancellor emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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