Schusterman Center for Israel Studies celebrates its 10th anniversary

schusterman foundation group photoPhoto/Bob Keene

Left to right: founding Schusterman director Ilan Troen, Schusterman Foundation Vice President Lisa Eisen, Schusterman Center executive director Rachel Fish Phd'13, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro '91, Schusterman Foundation co-chair Stacy Schusterman, Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi, Schusterman Foundation founder co-chair Lynn Schusterman, Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz, Schusterman Center director David Ellenson, Schusterman Foundation President Sanford Cardin

The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday, March 25 with a conference featuring keynotes from former United States Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro ’91 and Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi.

In all, more than 200 guests attended the conference at Olin-Sang auditorium on the Brandeis campus.

The event also highlighted the Schusterman Center’s accomplishments in its first decade, including educating undergraduate and graduate students, and fostering postgraduate fellows and early-career academics. Its vaunted Summer Institute has promoted Israel studies throughout the world, and has drawn 291 professors from every continent to study at Brandeis over a two-week period.

Founding director Ilan Troen has overseen the publication of 24 books, while the journal, Israel Studies, recognized globally as the leading academic journal in the field, counts more than 3,000 subscriptions.

Recognized as one of the world’s leading academic research institutions for Israel studies, the Schusterman Center was founded at Brandeis in 2007, primarily with gifts from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

“As my mother said at the Center’s dedication, ‘Israel past, present and future deserves a place in the academic world and Brandeis will be its standard bearer,’” noted Stacy Schusterman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

“We feel great pride in the Center’s accomplishments and the growth of Israel studies generally,” Schusterman added. “We also believe our work is far from finished. College campuses are where  tomorrow’s diplomats, artists, executives and elected officials form their worldview. It is the students studying at Brandeis and campuses nationwide who will determine the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Praising the center’s research accomplishments, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz announced three new faculty appointments and the creation of a new academic chair in conjunction with the 10th anniversary.

University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna ’75, MA’75, will succeed professor David Ellenson as Schusterman Center director on Aug. 1, 2018. Meanwhile, Rachel Fish, PhD’13, will be promoted to executive director. Assistant professor Alexander Kaye has also been appointed to the Stoll Family Chair in Israel Studies, succeeding founding Schusterman Center director Ilan Troen in that position.

Additionally, the newly endowed Marash and Ocuin Chair in Ottoman, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish Studies will be awarded to a future tenure-track or tenured faculty member with expertise in the history and experience of Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews in Israel. A search to fill the chair will begin this year.

“These appointments suggest a bright future of Israel studies at Brandeis,” Liebowitz said. “We are confident we will grow from strength to strength and hope that all of you are proud of what has been and will yet be accomplished. I thank all who have made this possible, but no one more than Lynn Schusterman and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.”

In prepared remarks, Shapiro spoke about his time as U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the Obama Administration. He added his take on the ongoing relationship between the U.S. and Israel and highlighted the strong ties between both countries while also outlining how the two nations’ perspectives can sometimes diverge on issues like Syria, the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  

“The first step is to try and understand where our interests converge and, less often of course, when they diverge,” Shapiro said. “We must realize and accept that we are extremely close and supportive allies, but ultimately two different countries whose interests are not always identical.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of that fact; it’s more a question of management and doing it with our eyes open” Shapiro added. “Like in any relationship, it’s best to confront questions honestly rather than with denial. Instead of being scared of occasional daylight, relationship strong when we recognize and deal with it honestly.”

During a Q&A session following his lecture, Shapiro also discussed the implications of the #MeToo movement in the Middle East, the final days of the Obama administration and the pros and cons of being a Jewish ambassador to Israel.

Carmi, the first woman president of an Israeli academic institution and a world renowned geneticist, used her remarks to outline what it was like to grow up in Israel. She described her personal growth in the aftermath of her nation’s euphoria following the Six-Day War, the horror of the Yom Kippur War, and her current role in academia.

Under Carmi’s guidance, Ben-Gurion University, already recognized as a global hub for cybersecurity studies, has committed to undertake research across all disciplines. The university also encourages its students to be involved in community service.

“Unfulfilled visions are false visions,” said Carmi, quoting her university’s namesake, David Ben-Gurion.

“I want to humbly add to that: Visions not coupled with a sense of mission cannot be implemented. The incredible vision of creating a homeland for the Jewish people required a great deal of a sense of mission vision on behalf on many. I feel incredibly lucky and privileged, as a child of the state, to have been one of them.”

Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy attended Sunday’s celebration and delivered a city proclamation congratulating the Schusterman Center and Brandeis University.

The 10th anniversary celebration continued on Monday, as the Center hosted an academic conference featuring Harvard University professor Safa Abu Rabia, Binghampton University professor Shay Rabineau and Brandeis associate professor of Near Eastern and Judaic studies Yehudah Mirsky. Artists Hagar Ophir and Hakim Bishara also held a special workshop.

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