Institutes of higher learning are looking at Israel through multiple lenses.
Concordia University in Montreal and Ben Gurion University in Israel’s Negev Desert are two such champions of progress, moving into the field of Israel studies and attracting students from all over the world.
The schools are studying beyond religion, considering the economy, culture, business, language, and politics. The objective of the Concordia Azrieli Institute of Israeli Studies and the Center for Israel Studies (MALI) is to study Israel from a broad perspective.
This update was provided by Prof. Csaba Nikolenyi, the Director of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies at Concordia University.
“The Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies was established in 2011 thanks to a generous gift by the Azrieli Foundation to Concordia University. Over the past years, the Institute has established itself as the leading academic centre of Israel Studies in Canada and one of the most important such entities around the world. Examples that attest to the Institute’s growing international reputation include hosting the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association for Israel Studies, the appointment of the Institute’s Director, Csaba Nikolenyi, Professor of Political Science, to the Board of the Directors of the Association as well as the Editorial Board of Israel Studies, the flagship academic journal of the field. In addition, faculty members and graduate students who work at the Institute regularly travel to national and international conferences to present and disseminate the results of their current research.
The Institute has built two important international relationships with Israeli partners. The first such partnership is with the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which provides the framework for the Institute’s annual Summer in Jerusalem program. The participating students spend one month at the Rothberg School where they complete an intensive summer course on Israeli politics, culture and religions for Concordia University credit. The Summer in Jerusalem course has been offered every year since 2017 and has made a unique contribution to the inter-disciplinary undergraduate Minor in Israel Studies, the only such program in Canada, which is directed from the Institute.
The Institute’s second international partnership is with Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism located at the Sde Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University. This partnership focusses on research collaboration. Within its framework, the two centres have exchanged visiting lecturers, sabbaticant visiting researchers, and they have hosted two research workshops at their respective locations dedicated to exploring how Israel is studied “at home” and “abroad”. These research exchanges have led to the publication of a special issue in the journal Contemporary Review of the Middle East edited by the two centre’s directors, Professors Paula Kabalo and Csaba Nikolenyi. The Institute also works closely with the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University to organize events and promote programs of common interest.
Besides its academic mandate to promote Israel Studies on campus, the Institute plays an active role in the dissemination of contemporary Israeli culture by bringing Israeli writers and public intellectuals, such as Meir Shalev and Yossi Klein Halevi, to Montreal.”
The Center for Israel Studies (MALI) at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
This update was provided by Prof. Paula Kabalo, the director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism at Ben-Gurion University and head of Center for Israel.
Where Difference Unifies—CIS (MALI) as a Rainbow
A seemingly odd bunch of people clustered around a cardboard container and some pieces of paper in the cellar of the Ben-Gurion Archives in Sede Boqer. Haredi and secular Jews—shoulder-to-shoulder—tilted forward to hear their associates read out aloud from correspondence between David Ben-Gurion and the Rabbi Hazon Ish on Religious womens’ recruitement to the IDF in December 1952.
“It overwhelms me to express my immense sorrow to you over [my] fear of this decree and to ask the Prime Minister to set it aside,” intoned the volunteer narrator, a civil-society haredi leader from Jerusalem, her voice trembling. “It saddens me very, very much that I cannot honor your wish,” responded the voice of a senior executive at a North American philanthropic foundation headquartered in Israel.
“What grandeur, what mutual respect. We can learn something from these two personalities,” murmured the man in the hat who stood next to me. I turned to him with a smile and nodded in affirmation.
It was the climax of a unique workshop at the Center for Israel Studies (CIS – commonly known as MALI, following its Hebrew acronym)—a day on which civil-society activists, leaders of change in Israel’s haredi communities, and representatives of philanthropic foundations that support their activity gathered at round tables. The two groups were joined by Junior and senior researchers —Ph.D. candidates, post-docs, and members of academic staff from the ‘Jewish World IN Israel’ research hub. This research team has made it its goal to contemplate different groups in the Jewish world and their interrelations as they are formed and acted out in Israel. “It is not only in order to understand ‘them,’” Prof. Ofer Shiff, head of the group, explains again and again. “It was mainly in order to understand ‘us.’” That’s the paradigm that the team shaped in the course of three years of tumultuous weekly debates. Israeli society is the sum of its parts, many of which represent Jews who arrived from diverse cultural communities that also offer innovative ways of grasping Judaism, faith, and connection with Eretz Israel. To understand ourselves, we must understand the sum of our parts by familiarizing ourselves with, and plunging into, the different worlds that, by encountering each other, fashioned the whole that we today call Israeli society.
“Israeli society is the sum of its parts.”
“It’s different among us; they can’t understand it,” said Gabriel Haritos in the course of a stormy discussion on nation-building that took place at MALIs’ Ben-Gurion research Hub. Gabriel’s “us” refers, “of course,” to Israel and Israelis, and “they” signifies the rest of the world. But … Gabriel is Greek, an Orthodox Christian from Rhodes. He’s a post-doc at MALI and a scholar of Israel’s relations with the contemporary Hellenic world, starting with the detention camps on Cyprus, to which the vestiges of European Jewry were sent when the gates of Mandate Palestine were closed to them, and up to the tightening of relations between Israel,Greece and Cyprus today, pursuant to the discovery of gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Gabriel—who speaks fluent Hebrew that’s peppered with the latest Israeli slang—is the grandson of the late Gabriel Haritos, mayor and de facto governor of that island at the end of World War II, and the man behind the construction of the first monument in Greece, and in all of Europe as far as is known, to those who perished in the Holocaust. Gabriel joined MALI while searching for an Israel Studies community that will enrich his knowledge and embrace his own intellectual assets. “MALI is my home”, he repeatedly says.
Now concluding its third year of activity, MALI has become a magnet for the diverse individuals and groups who specify Israel and Israeli society as their area of interest. Like archeologists at a large dig, the members of MALI circulate with sharp-edged but delicate tools and uncover the fine strata of which the Israeli phenomenon in its various hues, then and now, is composed.”
These schools and research centres are looking at Israel from the roots in order to understand the totality of the country, and answer the question “What is Israel Studies?”