This spring marked the second year of The Leo Baeck Institute-NY Essay Prize in German-Jewish History and Culture.
EWCJS is pleased to announce Mr. Jesse Gamoran as the winner of our 2016 Leo Baeck Essay Award, with his essay entitled The Munich Visiting Program, 1960-1972. Mr. Gamoran graduated this past May from Oberlin College, where he studied Jewish history and German Studies. Starting this July he’ll be participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, a yearlong study-intern program in Germany. In addition to Jewish history, Jesse has interests in education and library science.
The prize money was gifted by Bernard Bloom, former president of the Leo Baeck Institute, and awarded by the Elie Wiesel Center in conjunction with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. To compete, students were asked to submit an essay of between 4,500 and 7,500 words on any topic related to the history and culture of German-speaking Jews, along with faculty letters of commendation.
Honorable Mention was awarded to Ms. Madelyn Stone, a student at Northeastern University, for her essay entitled “Reality is the Satire”: The Will to Hope in the Writings of Jura Soyfer.
Congratulations Jesse and Madelyn for your excellent work, and thank you to all of the students who participated in the contest!
To see other scholarship opportunities for undergraduate students, click here.
EWCJS minor, Erin Miller (CAS ’17, SPH ’18), was featured in the College of Arts and Science’s Magazine Spring 2016 for her dedicated research assistance with Dr. Grodin’s project on Rabbinic Responsa during the Holocaust. To read more about her contributions and the specifics of her research in halakhah and medical ethics, click HERE for the full article.
Best known for Arab Labor, his wildly popular Israeli TV sit-com, Israeli-Palestinian novelist and Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashua was greeted by a standing-room-only audience at the Elie Wiesel Center on February 18. The New Yorker has described him as “the most visible representative of Palestinian life in Israel.”
In conversation, he shared some of the backstory behind his TV projects, about what it means to straddle Israel’s Jewish-Arab divide, and – as the father of three, who was raising his children in one of Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods – how it feels to start life over in America’s MidWest.
Kashua’s new series, The Screenwriter, is in its first season. Unlike Arab Labor, a comedy that skewered Israeli stereotypes, the new show is a barely fictionalized drama about an Israeli-Palestinian writer who navigates Israel’s two worlds. Why the shift to drama? Kashua said he had no choice.
“My work has always been political, always about identity and nationality, and the personal and political pain of being trapped in stereotypes,” he said. “But as the situation – and the occupation – got worse in Israel, humor became impossible. I needed a new way to talk about these things.”
Kashua left the country in the summer of 2014. Three Jewish teenagers had been murdered, Jerusalem crowds were shouting “death to the Arabs,” and a Palestinian boy was found, burned to death. “I called my agent and said I had to leave, “he recalled.
Today he teaches at the state university in Illinois. His children are learning English and making friends, as he and his wife adapt. “I was tired of choosing camps, of people putting words in my mouth,” he explained. “But I still have an empty house in Tira, my village. Now we live in the cornfields in Illinois. I’m less scared. But I was raised in a place where you’re not supposed to leave.”
On March 15, from 6:30-7:30, Professor Rabbi David Ellenson will give the Elie Wiesel Center’s third annual Leo Trepp Lecture. Now Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis, Rabbi Ellenson is a past president of Hebrew Union College and a scholar of German Jewish neo-Orthodoxy.
In his lecture, Professor Ellenson will review the emergence of Reform, Orthodox and Positive Historical (Conservative) varieties of Judaism in 19th century Germany and explain the ongoing relevance of their beliefs and structures for an understanding of Judaism today.
The lecture with be preceded by a festive reception, starting at 5:30, in honor of the Trepp Torah scroll, which Mrs. Gunda Trepp, who sponsors the Lecture series, has generously donated to be permanently housed at the Center.
Professor Ellenson, who has written on the importance of studying both text and context, is also Visiting Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, as well as Chancellor Emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIIR).
He is internationally recognized for his publications and research in the areas of Jewish religious thought, ethics and modern Jewish history. His twelve-year tenure as president of the seminary of the Reform Movement was distinguished by his devotion to sustaining HUC-JIIR’s academic excellence. He received an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2014.
This event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required, as there is limited seating.
We are pleased to announce a new course on the Kabbalah, offered this spring semester by Dr. Yair Lior. The course closes a major gap in our curriculum and rounds out other courses we teach on early Jewish and comparative mysticism.
Also new this spring: HI393 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (formerly: “Topics in the History of Israel”). Taught by Dr. Jacobson, who plans to return to Israel next year, the course counts toward IR tracks Africa & the Middle East, Foreign Policy & Security Studies, and Regional Politics & Cultural Anthropology; also approved as a MENA Social Science or Elective course. Vicky Kelberer-McKee (Pardee School advisor) writes: “Our students are very excited to take the course!”
Dr. Alexandra Herzog, post-doctoral fellow in Jewish Studies and the CAS Core Curriculum, will offer a new course titled “Sex in the Shtetl.” The course is offered as WS 305 B1″ Topics in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies” and examines major works of modern Yiddish literature through the lenses of gender and sexuality, exploring how authors cultivated an imagination populated by norm-defying beings: the prostitute, the androgyne, the cross-dresser, angels and demons.
Finally, offered by the Kilachand Honors College, a new freshmen seminar on Moses and Muhammad, co-taught by Elie Wiesel Center director Michael Zank and Prof. Kecia Ali (Religion), author of an acclaimed book on the biography of Prophet Muhammad.
For more information about these and our other courses, please go to Spring 2016 Courses.
On Sunday November 1, the Center hosted Quill of the Soul: A Musical Tribute to Elie Wiesel at the Tsai Performance Center at 7pm. The multicultural performance was also the closing event of the year-long artist’s residency of Russian-Israeli composer Matti Kovler at Boston University, hosted by the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies.
Inspired by Elie Wiesel’s “Melodies of My Childhood,” and the work of Israeli composer Andre Hajdu, Matti Kovler presented an evening that took the Hasidic Niggun (or “chant”) as its point of departure. Incorporating instrumental music, song, and media, this performance explored surprising parallels between Nigguns and other world incantations. The diversity of the program –and of the cast– mirrored the variety of faiths and ethnicities –from Hindu to Sufi to Buddhist– that share similar approaches to sacred song. Quill of the Soul featured a multi-national ensemble of 12 musicians, a student choir, video projections and narration.
Part of the Floating Tower series directed by Matti Kovler, Quill of the Soul was supported by the Boston University Jewish Cultural Endowment, the BU Arts Initiative and BU Center for the Humanities.
Boston University commemorated the 20th anniversary of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination this year with a lecture by Israeli security expert Efraim Inbar and a panel discussion moderated by NPR/WBUR On Point host Tom Ashbrook. Our event – which drew a standing-room only audience at the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium – featured a personal message from former President Bill Clinton and brief comments from Israeli Consul General to New England Yehuda Yaakov.
In his introductory remarks, Elie Wiesel Center Director and Religion Professor Michael Zank deplored the current violence that has made victims of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. “We will never know whether this and earlier rounds of violence could have been avoided had the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO been implemented,” he said.
But, he added, “It is time to reconsider Rabin, who was not a perfect man, and Oslo, which was not a perfect agreement, but a step in the direction of a 2-state solution and a diplomatic, mutually-agreed, negotiated settlement of this conflict between the people of Palestine and the Jewish state, whose right to exist is beyond dispute.”
Director of the Begin-Sadat Strategic Studies Center at Bar-Ilan University and currently Visiting Israel Studies Professor of Political Science at Boston University, Professor Inbar knew and worked closely with Rabin for many years. In his lecture, he described the Israeli Prime Minister as a courageous leader, brilliant strategist, and sober realist, whose overriding goal was Israel’s security.
“He did not seek peace as a value,” Inbar said. “But he was willing to trade territory for Israel’s security,” premised on the hope that the Palestinian leadership would put an end to attacks on Israel. He became ambivalent after the signing however, according to Inbar, amid continuing reports that the Palestinians were violating the agreement and “were not preparing for peace, but for war.”
“He believed that Oslo was reversible,” said Inbar, who thinks that those violations would eventually have led Rabin to decide that the peace agreement with Arafat could not be implemented.
Inbar offered a dire view of Rabin’s legacy. “The peace process with the Palestinians was a failure,” he said. Today, twenty years later, the now “intractable” ethno-religious struggle with “no solution in sight” is, in his view, a “young conflict” that could last decades – an assertion that moderator Tom Ashbrook called “very disturbing.”
President Bill Clinton, who helped broker the 1995 agreement between Rabin and Arafat, struck a very different note. He described Rabin as “a man of uncommon courage and unbounded wisdom” who worked to “build lasting relationships based on mutual understanding” to create “the conditions for peace.”
Our four panelists offered a diversity of views on Rabin’s legacy and prospects for Mid-East peace. Professor Andrew Bacevich, Chair Emeritus of BU’s Department of International Relations, faulted “both sides” for the conflict. He said Israel’s continuation of West Bank settlements has “complicated the problem” and threatens to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States because it is “one of the root causes of anti-Israeli sentiment.”
Rejecting Professor Inbar’s bleak predictions, Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, called “despair” an unacceptable response. She urged a more humane approach, arguing that political leaders alone cannot build peace. “We cannot keep repeating the same canards about ‘Palestinians.’ Instead, we need to speak to one another,” she added, “because there is no security without peace.”
Boston Globe Op-Ed Columnist Jeff Jacoby agreed with Professor Inbar’s analysis, asserting that “Rabin would have pulled the plug on Oslo” within a few months of signing the agreement with Arafat. “Israel wasn’t created for peace,” he added. “It was created to have a secure Jewish homeland, even if security means living without peace.”
Professor David Ellenson, Director of Brandeis University’s Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, argued that power alone is not enough to secure peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Part of the problem, he said, is that Israel has shifted away from Rabin’s pragmatic focus, “so what had been largely a secular conflict has become more of a religious conflict, and is now much more difficult to unravel.”
Overcoming the conflict will require “an ethic of aspiration,” he said, one that acknowledges the “conflicting narratives” of Israelis and Palestinians, with each believing in their historical right to their ancestral homeland.
The evening concluded with a half hour of questions from the audience, with vigorous discussion continuing long after in the reception that followed.
Alexandra Herzog (Boston University): “Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Demons:
A Carnivalesque Journey”
Dr. Alexandra Herzog opened her BU Jewish Studies Forum talk on Isaac Bashevis Singer by asking, “Do we need demons in life?” Her close analysis of several Singer stories has led her to suggest that he understood the supernatural as a naturally occurring force in his own inner life. He believed that demons are a necessity, a vehicle for rebellion, protest, and questioning conventional notions of truth. Herzog’s talk prompted her assembled colleagues and students to further discuss various concepts of madness and the universal capacity to harbor demonic impulses.
A scholar of American Jewish literature and Gender Studies, Dr. Herzog noted that the Talmud says that madness must be experienced in moderation, as life is “sometimes sane, sometimes, insane.” Singer believed that madness is inescapable because “the world of matter and deeds is an insane asylum.” This perspective explains his frequent mockery of “order” in stories about reversed societal and gender roles, in which women’s bodies become battlegrounds for demonic possession, and stories in which mental illness offers an escape from social reality. Singer’s ending for these tales is always the same, Dr. Herzog noted: “carnivalesque” laughter and the horror of demons force order to unravel and signal the character’s descent into madness.
For more information on Dr. Herzog, see http://www.bu.edu/jewishstudies/people/post-doctoral-fellows/.
Students gathered at the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies to meet, enjoy Middle Eastern sweets, and listen to live music performed by the Rinat Tregerman Trio.
The event took place on September 15, from 8pm, and was held at the Second Floor Library of 147 Bay State Road.