Visiting Israeli Academics

Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

From the Land of Milk and Honey to the Nutmeg state

Israeli professors have made their way from the Land of Milk and Honey to the Nutmeg State to touch the lives of students of all ages. Private and public universities throughout the state of Connecticut serve as hosts to Israel’s “best and brightest,” representing many Israeli colleges and academic disciplines, as they pass through during a semester or full year of sabbatical.

According to Steven Fraade, Mark Taper Professor of the History of Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University, the relationship between the Israelis and their host communities is mutually beneficial. “It is a concrete, tangible way to strengthen ties and make bonds which continue for many years,” observes Fraade, “And when Israelis apply to be at Yale and live in New Haven, they tell us they have heard what a warm, welcoming community we have here.” There is a strong assistance network which exists between the Israelis, Yale professors, and members of the Westville (New Haven) community.

There are many stories of cars and furniture which have passed from one visiting Israeli family to another. And Sydney Perry, former head of the Department of Jewish Education, current director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, and frequent Shabbat lunch and dinner hostess to visiting Israelis, laughs as she tells how she continues to store dishes and flatware of Israelis likely to return to New Haven for a future sabbatical. There are several visiting professors at Yale, some of whom declined to be interviewed. Others, like Isaiah Gafni of Hebrew University, Goldsmith Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies and Religious Studies at Yale for the spring semester, were not contacted for this article. Gulie Neeman Arad, at Yale for the year as Blaustein Visiting Associate professor of Judaic Studies, was not available for comment. There are Israeli professors in the state such as Professor Yehezkel Landau, Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at the Hartford Seminary. He is interested in Jewish spirituality, religion, conflict and peacemaking, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. Landau is now at Hartford Seminary for an extended stay, through at least June, 2006. And Dr. Clinton Bailey, though not in Connecticut this year, deserves mention as he has served as Visiting Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Trinity College and Tel Aviv University, and he has done important work on Israel’s Bedouins; Bailey has lived among the Bedouin people and studied their culture for 30 years. He is the author of the book “Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev: Mirror of a Culture,” and he received the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel in 1994.

What follows is a round-up of Israeli academics at Connecticut universities during all or part of the 2004-2005 academic year.

The following questions were asked of each visiting Israeli faculty member:

1. Where do you live in Israel? Where do you teach?

2. How would you describe your main area of interest or expertise?

3. What attracted you to Connecticut and to your chosen university as you began planning for your sabbatical?

4. What are your goals for this year in the States? (What courses are you teaching? What are you currently researching, writing and speaking about?)

5. What has been your experience in Connecticut so far? How has it been living so far away from family and friends in Israel?

Professor Daniel J. Lasker: Yale University for full year as Goldsmith

Visiting Professor, Judaic Studies and Religious Studies; from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev—Beer Sheva, Israel, where he is the Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values Department of Jewish Thought

1. Beer Sheva, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

2. Medieval Jewish philosophy, The Jewish-Christian debate, Karaism.

3. Quality of Yale; terms of sabbatical.

4. I am teaching medieval debates among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Judah Halevi’s Kuzari, (also teaching at Queens College). I am researching the Jewish-Christian debate and issues in Karaism. I have a number of outstanding articles to finish. I have also been lecturing on Maimonides for the 800th anniversary of his death.

5. The experience has been very positive; the people in New Haven at the Westville Shul are very hospitable. We miss family and friends, but so far, two of our children have been here (plus son-in-law and grandson) and another son arrives soon, so we are not out of touch. There is also Internet including webcam and webmicrophone.

Professor Tamar Ross

Yale University for full year as Blaustein Visiting Professor, Judaic Studies and Religious Studies; from Bar-Ilan University.

1. I live in Jerusalem. I hold two jobs: one as professor in the dept. of philosophy at Bar Ilan University. I have also been teaching continuously in the first women’s Yeshiva, Midreshet Lindenbaum (once known as Bruria) ever since its inception in 1976.

2. My main area of interest is in theological questions of the modern era which engage the interface between tradition and modernity.

My areas of expertise are the thought of Harav Kook, Mitnaggedism, and the Musar movement founded by R. Yisrael Salanter. But I have also taught courses and published in topics relating to mysticism and to Medieval Jewish thought.

3. I got to Connecticut very much by chance. The invitation to Yale more or less rolled into my lap, and – aside from Yale’s great reputation – I heard from other Israelis that New Haven was a nice place to be in, especially on account of the welcoming Jewish community.

4. My goals are first of all to ready the Hebrew translation of my

recently published book on Orthodoxy and Feminism into final form for publication in Israel. There are also several spin-offs from that book in the form of tangential articles which need to be readied for publication. After that I want to return to a monograph I have been preparing on the topic of the belief in divine revelation in light of biblical criticism and the documentary hypothesis. I also am trying to get the doctorate I wrote on the philosophy of education of the disciples of R. Yisrael Salanter into book form. I am writing and speaking mostly about various implications of feminism upon Orthodox Jewish theology and practice, simply because there seems to be an endless public demand for discussion of this sort. I am also offering a mini-course on Maimonides at the Drisha institute one day a week in New York, and will be continuing with Yeshivat Hovevei Torah and the Edah Lehrhaus in Manhattan during the second semester. During that semester I will also be giving a seminar on the thought of Harav Kook at Yale.

5. My experience in Connecticut so far has been pleasant as far as people, my students and colleagues at Yale, and particularly the Jewish community is concerned who are very helpful and hospitable. On the other hand, I find the hassle of uprooting and then adjusting to a new setting terribly frustrating and time-consuming: getting used to new highways and byways, finding one’s way around giant supermarkets to identify kosher products among a huge array, adopting endless pin numbers, i.d.’s, passwords and manuals in the process of getting into the bureaucracy of telephone and bank accounts, utilities, internet, etc. And the worst hurdle of all is adjusting and transferring material to a new computer and establishing email contact without glitches. But email and telephones do create a sense that we are all living in a global village with family and friends not too far away. All that these cannot reproduce is the special light of an early Jerusalem morning and the beautiful view of the hills that serves as background to my daily routine back home.

Professor Joseph Yahalom Yale for fall semester as Perlow Visiting Professor, Judaic Studies and Religious Studies, from Hebrew University.

1. Jerusalem, in the Nayot neighborhood near the Israel Museum and the Knesset. I teach at Hebrew University.

2. Shira Ivrit—Modern Hebrew Poetry (secular poetry and piyyutim). For example, I am interested in poetry of Spain and Israel and the interrelationship between poetry and music, and poetry and language. I am also interested in the influences of Turkish and Sufi poetry during the 16th century.

3. There is a very interesting papyrus of liturgical Hebrew poetry at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. It is the most extensive piece of papyrus which includes Hebrew poetry.

4. I am here for one semester, teaching “Poetry and Society in Late Antiquity” at Yale, as well as a weekly course at Yeshiva University in New York.

5. This is a very nice community, and the shul has a nice new rabbi. I have especially enjoyed the American students I have been teaching at Yale. They ask questions, they are more relaxed (than Israeli students) and they are very open.

Professor Matt Silver

At both University of Hartford and Central Connecticut State University for one year, from the Emek Yezreel College (of the Galilee).

1. In Tuval, a private neighborhood alongside Kibbutz Tuval, on Mount Mitzpeh, about 10 kilometers above Karmiel. I grew up in Westchester (NY) and in Montgomery County (MD), I am a Cornell graduate, and we made aliyah 20 years ago. I teach Modern Jewish History at Emek Yezreel College.

2. My field is modern Jewish history. I’m interested in general issues of 19th century modern Jewish history, communities in the West. I focus on American and Israeli issues, where the cultures are alike and similar. I say that I teach American Jewry to Israelis and I teach Israel to American Jews.

3. I am a visiting professor at the Univ. of Hartford Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies. It is an academic appointment in modern Jewish history. I also have a chance to work with the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Hartford and SNEC. The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford participates in a program designed by Prof. Richard Freund, an American with ties to Israel, where an Israeli gets to provide an important service on campuses and in synagogues; it is an opportunity to get a pro-Israel voice which is neutral and also academic. Professor Freund’s ideas was for a visiting professor to come for one year to teach courses and to network and do outreach to the Jewish community.

4. I came two years ago as a visiting professor for one semester. My own college, Emek Yezreel College [a college in northern Israel with 25% non-Jewish students including Israeli Arabs], entered into a tri-lateral agreement with the University of Hartford and C.C.S.U.

(Central Connecticut State University). This semester, I am teaching “Modern Jewish History,” and “Contemporary Studies, Media and the Middle East,” I have been “expanding my radius,” speaking in New Haven, Stamford and Worcester.

5. One highlight so far has been speaking during the 6th or 7th game of the World Series, and people stayed to hear about Israel, through the third inning! I find that people want to hear information, even though I speak on issues of the highest controversy. My sense is that I can present what unites and divides us in an informational, engaging way, and this is what people want. My wife and four kids, ages 12, 11 and twins age 6 are here with me. My children attend the Solomon Schechter Day School (in West Hartford), and it is an opportunity to experience the middle ground on a whole spectrum—something that is mainly missing in Israel.

Professor Etgar Keret

(Was at Wesleyan University for fall semester, visiting from Tel Aviv University. Will soon begin new teaching appointment at Ben Gurion University.

1. I live in Tel Aviv. I have spent the last ten years in the film department at Tel Aviv University. I will now be joining the creative writing department (which is part of the Hebrew literature department) at Ben Gurion University.

2. First, I must say that I am a writer and not an academic. I started teaching because of my writing. I actually studied math and philosophy (in university). My greatest interest is in story telling and writing—playwriting and screenwriting. I try to work with students on things that transcends genre—what makes a story a story, and how to move a story from a sentence to a plot to a story.

3. I have given guest lectures and readings on two occasions in the past. I found the religion department to be a very special place because the head of the Religion Department, Jeremy Zwellinger, is extremely open and smart and tries to push the envelope I had lectured overseas (in Berlin) in English before and was invited to Wesleyan.

4. I was teaching a one semester course entitled “From Idea to Plot Development,” which was about how to move from an abstract idea to a plot and story line. The course was offered in the religion department at Wesleyan. While in the States, I have also delivered lectures at Harvard University, Washington University in St. Louis, and McGill University. I am mostly writing short fiction. My stories are sometimes fantastical and surrealistic, with a lot of humor. They are often more

associated with Jewish writing than Hebrew writing.

5. I have been teaching for ten years and the class I taught at Wesleyan was by far one of the best classes I’ve ever had! The students always did their best to get the most from the class. They always asked what they could do to get more out of the class. If they worked on a project, they would even come back to me after they got their grade to ask what else they could do to get more out of the material and the class. The contrast to the Israeli students I teach is so drastic. In Israel, when I teach, the students, from the first lesson, are on a first name basis. This interaction causes the relationship to be more subjective; we are like a bunch of people stuck in the same classroom. This has more disadvantages than advantages. The students will read my stories and say things like, “the third story was not as good as the first one…” Before I came to America, I expected the students to be more pragmatic, more ambitious, out for good grades. This was not the case at all. They always wanted to learn. Everything they did came from the right place!

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