The Jewish Studies Program’s fall 2016 events explored Jewish experiences in three very different parts of the world.
On October 26, we hosted prize-winning Israeli political philosopher Chaim Gans for our third annual Israel Studies lecture. Addressing a packed audience of students, faculty, and community members, Gans spoke on “Jews, Palestinians, and Israel: Three Historiographies, Three Moralities, and Three Roadmaps.” Gans outlined three competing philosophical or normative approaches to Zionism, each of which implies a different set of relationships between Jews and Palestinians and between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora. He contrasted the understanding of Zionism that has been historically dominant, which he called “proprietary Zionism,” with a version he labeled “egalitarian Zionism.” Gans also presented post-Zionism as the antithesis of “proprietary Zionism.” He recommended “egalitarian Zionism” as offering the most historically accurate and just approach.
In November, Jewish Studies co-sponsored a series of events on “Jewish Life in Germany Today.” Supported by a grant from the German Embassy, the series included an exhibit on contemporary Jewish life in Germany, a panel discussion, and a screening of the 2013 film “Ein Apartment in Berlin,” about young Israelis living in Berlin. The panel discussion brought together Rabbi Ron Fish, a participant in a delegation of Boston-area rabbis that traveled to Germany with the German consul-general in the summer of 2016; Peter Wiederspahn, Associate Professor of Architecture at Northeastern, who spoke compellingly about Holocaust memorials in Germany; and Toby Axelrod, an American Jew living in Germany and the Berlin correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
In December, we moved to Africa for a celebration of the publication of In the Shadow of Moses: New Jewish Movements in Africa and the Diaspora. Co-edited by Northeastern Professor of Political Science Bill Miles, with Daniel Lis and Tudor Parfitt, the volume includes articles by twelve scholars of historic and emerging Jewish communities in Africa. Contributors Bill Miles, Len Lyons, and Marla Brettschneider were present to discuss their work on the Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Madagascar Jewish communities, respectively.
The spring semester opened with a highly successful series of Holocaust Awareness Week events on the theme of “Personal Confrontations With the Past,” about which you can read elsewhere in this issue.
Holocaust Awareness Week was followed on February 15 by “Nature Knows No Border: Environmental Cooperation in the Middle East,” at which a young Palestinian man and Jewish Israeli woman, alumni of Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, talked about their personal histories, especially the limits of their contact with one another’s communities despite having grown up in close proximity. Their concern for the environment, dedication to science, and love of nature led both to this educational project in the Arava, where “nature knows no border.” They used their experiences to illuminate how shared concern for the earth leads to friendships with peacebuilding potential. The Northeastern students who attended were a diverse and engaged group who asked powerful, challenging questions and engaged in dialogue with our visitors. It was lively and inspiring.
On March 15, we screened the documentary “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War.” Telling the story of a Massachusetts couple who left home to save hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi occupation over two years of life-threatening and heroic missions, the film offers a powerful lesson about the ability of individuals to make a difference in the face of almost insurmountable odds. The film was co-directed by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, grandson of the Sharps, and features the voices of Tom Hanks and Marina Goldman. Joukowsky and Larry Rothstein, co-founders of No Limits Media, which co-produced the film, led a powerful and lively question-and-answer session following the screening.
A highlight of our spring was the annual Morton E. Ruderman Memorial Lecture, featuring noted bioethicist Dr. Paul Root Wolpe speaking on “Frankenstein and the Golem: How ancient tales can inform modern biotechnology.” Wolpe is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics, the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics, a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University; he also serves as the first Senior Bioethicist for NASA. For more on his lecture, see the article in this issue.
Our 2016-2017 events will conclude on May 8 with a day-long symposium on cantillation, the ancient practice of chanting sacred scripture, as practiced in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Scholars, practitioners and students from the three faith traditions will come together for sessions that will address theoretical and performance issues that all (or many) have in common. The symposium will conclude with an evening concert, open to the general public, featuring Dünya, the acclaimed world music ensemble.
Read the rest of the Spring 2017 Haverim Newsletter here.