University of Toronto’s blossoming Jewish Studies center now recognized as one of North America’s finest

University of Toronto’s blossoming Jewish Studies center now recognized as one of North America’s finest

Source: Jewish Tribune, 7-28-09

TORONTO – In the past two months alone, the number of majors at University of Toronto’s Jewish Studies centre, which had close to 2,200 students enrolled in its courses this past school year, has increased by 25 percent. By the spring of 2008, what had started out as an undergraduate Jewish studies program in 1967 evolved to become the Centre for Jewish Studies at University of Toronto (U of T), with Hindy Najman, associate professor of Ancient Judaism in the department of religion, as its director.

Last year there were 11 departments and centres that collaborated with Jewish studies; now there are 20. And while there had been 40 faculty members, now there are more than 50. As well, the Jewish Studies doctoral program, launched four years ago, has tripled in size this year, and there is a new Master’s program with 12 incoming students to date.

“I’ve worked very hard, gone to various departments to let them know the strengths of our program and what it has to offer,” Najman told the Jewish Tribune. “As a result, the students flocked to me. “The undergraduate program calls on various disciplines that touch on Jewish Studies, like religion, philosophy and political science,” she explained. “It has really been re-thought to reflect its strengths.”

Najman initiated an annual conference for graduate students, where faculty spends a full day listening to students’ papers and choosing the best ones for publication in a Jewish Studies journal. In fact, “this journal and many of the new programs are funded by two American foundations that have come to help us,” Najman said. “One is the Posen Foundation. And more recently, the Tikvah Fund of New York City, having funded Princeton and NYU [New York University] Jewish Studies programs – especially Jewish philosophy, thought and law – decided they wanted to help build our program. “They recognized, and hopefully the Toronto community will realize now, that our faculty resources are great, our students are the finest in Canada and U of T is one of the top universities in North America,” Najman enthused. “It’s time to bring us to the next stage,” she said. “There are community members who have stepped up to give support and encouragement.”

Indeed, an exciting addition is the Senator Jerahmiel S. and Carole S. Grafstein Fellowship to support advanced research in Jewish thought by post-doctoral academics from Israeli universities. Dr. Sol Goldberg, a native Torontonian, holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among the last students taught there by the late renowned philosopher Emil Fackenheim, Goldberg is the program’s first scholar and will be mentored by Jewish Philosophy Professor Paul Franks. “One of my major initiatives this year was to build a bridge between the Jewish community and the Centre for Jewish Studies,” Najman said. “The crucial thing for me is to promote Jewish literacy, to educate the next generation of leaders and to address matters of interest to the Jewish community.” This is the first of a series on U of T’s Centre for Jewish Studies. The next article will focus on its contribution to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit currently showing at the ROM.

Israel Studies Seminar in China Beats Obstacles

Source: JTA, 7-27-09

Chen Yiyi, a Peking University academic, said he was glad his institution was hosting the first major Israel studies seminar in China. “But you can’t imagine how much trouble it took to get here,” said Chen, a scholar on the Hebrew Bible and Jewish culture. Despite many obstacles in putting on the workshops this month, the seminar completed its week at the university with positive reviews from the participants before moving on for two more weeks at Shandong University in Jinan.

As the most prestigious institution of higher learning in China’s capital, any programming at Peking University, or PKU, is subject to intense scrutiny. When the university applied for approval to host the seminar from the Ministry of Education, the application was immediately passed to the Foreign Ministry, Chen said. “They said an Israel studies seminar was a sensitive topic, could we cancel the seminar—or maybe rename it?” Chen recalled, saying the ministry wanted to omit the Israel studies aspect in the title.

Israel studies programs are relatively new in China, where Hebrew language and Jewish cultural studies were around as early as the mid-1980s. PKU founded its Hebrew language program in 1985, mostly for national security reasons. While the Chinese are known for respecting Jews for the very reason they were historically demonized in the West—a fabled talent for money management – their Chinese impressions of Israel are more mixed.

The idea of Jewish professors lecturing on topics such as Zionism or Islamic radicalism to a room of Chinese academics raised concerns among school administrators and government officials. China’s relationship to the Arab world played a part, too. China has become increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are relying more and more on Chinese markets. The growing affinity was a major factor in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation agreeing to fund the seminar. “China is now concerned with understanding the Muslim world,” said Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and one of the seminar lecturers…..

Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh: Zionist in the White House

A SAFE HAVEN Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel

Source: NYT, 7-26-09

Although Harry Truman left office widely disliked and dismissed more than half a century ago, the effort to resurrect his reputation is now a thriving industry, with politicians and pundits of all stripes trying to tie themselves to the tough, blunt old cold warrior. Contributing to this effort, the husband-and-wife team Allis and Ronald Radosh have written “A Safe Haven,” the story of Truman’s integral role in the birth of Israel.

While some of Truman’s foreign policy accomplishments — the creation of the Marshall Plan, the United Nations and NATO, and his defiance of the Soviets — have gotten the credit they deserve, the Radoshes say, his involvement in the creation of Israel remains overlooked. That may not be quite right. Most modern histories already acknowledge Truman’s early support of the Jewish state; it’s hard to overlook the fact that he recognized newborn Israel just 10 minutes after its delivery. That said, what these histories don’t recognize — and here’s where the Radoshes make their contribution — is just how hard Truman had to work to get there, battling enemies, allies and many in his own administration to make certain that Israel made it to independence with American backing.

It was, as the Radoshes make clear, a long, tough slog. Truman, who fell into the presidency unprepared after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, inherited a mess in the Middle East. The suave and urbane Roosevelt (one of the Radoshes’ villains) had pursued a policy of “obfuscation” on Palestine, assuring both Jews and Arabs that he was sensitive to their concerns. This meant that on taking office, Truman had to deal with a tangle of contradictory commitments. He also had to face down two implacable opponents of Jewish statehood: Great Britain, the colonial power in Palestine, and his own State Department, which bitterly opposed granting the Jews a homeland.

Yet Truman — a biblical literalist and a Christian Zionist — had long been a fierce believer in Jewish statehood for reasons both religious and moral. The Old Testament said that Jews belonged in Israel. And Truman was appalled by the Holocaust (which gave him nightmares), as well as by the scandalously poor treatment of postwar Jewish refugees in European displaced-persons camps. And so this “simple man” waged a long and often bitter diplomatic campaign to help ensure that the Jews got a country of their own….

Rich Cohen: A Land and a People

ISRAEL IS REAL An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History

Source: NYT, 7-26-09

I read “Israel Is Real” while preparing for my son’s bar mitzvah. By “preparing,” I mean talking to tent people and mailing invites. On the spiritual side, I’ve done my usual shirk: ducking services, doodling during sessions with the rabbi and dodging queries about my own bar mitzvah of wretched memory, celebrated in a gloomy temple filled with old men waiting for me to blunder.

I mention this as preface because Rich Cohen’s book accomplished the miraculous. It made a subject that has vexed me since early childhood into a riveting story. Not by breaking new ground or advancing a bold peace plan, but by narrating the oft-told saga of the Jews in a fresh and engaging fashion.

“David Alroy was the first superhero,” Cohen writes of a false messiah known as “King of the Jews” in 12th-century Persia. “He offered a picture of strength to a people lousy with weakness.” Cohen regards Alroy as a model for the figure created in 1938 — “another dark age for the Jews” — by two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland. “Superman is a writer; Superman is brainy in his glasses; Superman is in exile from an ancient nation destroyed by fire; Superman has two names, a fake WASP-y name (Clark Kent) and a secret name in an ancient tongue, Kal-El; . . . Superman, whose cape is a tallis; Superman, whose logo, the “S” emblazoned on his chest, marks him as a freakish stranger as the yellow Star of David marks the ghetto Jew.”…

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Gratz College president will leave post Aug. 31

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, 7-23-09

Gratz College president Jonathan Rosenbaum will step down Aug. 31 after 11 years at the helm, officials announced yesterday. Under Rosenbaum, the Melrose Park school developed its first online program in Jewish studies; established its first doctoral program, in Jewish education; started its Legacy Heritage Institute for Jewish Early Childhood Educators; and expanded its undergraduate and graduate programs, college officials said. Enrollment is about 240 in Jewish studies and 1,000 in the master of arts in education program.

Rosenbaum, who will become president emeritus and professor emeritus of religious studies, is leaving to pursue writing and lecturing and spend time with his family, officials said. The college has begun a search for a new president. Founded in 1895, Gratz College was the first transdenominational college of Jewish studies in the United States and continues to teach Jewish studies and train Jewish professionals.

Ehud Netzer: An Israeli archaeologist is certain he has solved the mystery of Herod’s final resting place

Finding King Herod’s Tomb

After a 35-year search, an Israeli archaeologist is certain he has solved the mystery of the biblical figure’s final resting place

Source: Barbara Kreiger in Smithsonian Magazine, 7-1-09

Shielding my eyes from the glare of the morning sun, I look toward the horizon and the small mountain that is my destination: Herodium, site of the fortified palace of King Herod the Great. I’m about seven miles south of Jerusalem, not far from the birthplace of the biblical prophet Amos, who declared: “Let justice stream forth like water.” Herod’s reign over Judea from 37 to 4 B.C. is not remembered for justice but for its indiscriminate cruelty. His most notorious act was the murder of all male infants in Bethlehem to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy heralding the birth of the Messiah. There is no record of the decree other than the Gospel of Matthew, and biblical scholars debate whether it actually took place, but the story is in keeping with a man who arranged the murders of, among others, three of his own sons and a beloved wife.

Long an object of scholarly as well as popular fascination, Herodium, also called Herodion, was first positively identified in 1838 by the American scholar Edward Robinson, who had a knack for locating biblical landmarks. After scaling the mountain and comparing his observations with those of the first century Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, Robinson concluded that “all these particulars…leave scarcely a doubt, that this was Herodium, where the [Judean] tyrant sought his last repose.” Robinson’s observation was confirmed later that century by Conrad Schick, the famous German architect and archaeologist who conducted extensive surveys of Jerusalem and its nearby sites.

But where precisely was the king entombed? At the summit of Herodium? At the base? Inside the mountain itself? Josephus didn’t say. By the late 1800s, Herod’s tomb had become one of biblical archaeology’s most sought-after prizes. And for more than a century archaeologists scoured the site. Finally, in 2007, Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University announced that after 35 years of archaeological work he had found Herod’s resting place. The news made headlines worldwide—”A New Discovery May Solve the Mystery of the Bible’s Bloodiest Tyrant,” trumpeted the London Daily Mail…

Mohamed Hawary: What’s a nice Jewish studies professor doing in Egypt?

Source: Haaretz, 7-16-09

“What’s a nice professor of Jewish studies doing teaching in a place like this?” For those unfamiliar with contemporary Egyptian intellectual life, this might be the first question that comes to mind upon meeting Mohamed Hawary, a professor of Hebrew studies and Jewish thought at Ain Shams University in Cairo, a teeming school of some 180,000 students.

Hawary, 59, is considered to be the doyen of Jewish studies in Egypt. A world-renowned scholar of Judaism, the author of numerous books and articles on a wide range of Jewish subjects, Hawary is also a practicing Muslim and a proud and patriotic Egyptian. The Forward recently interviewed Hawary in Cairo, where both he and this reporter were attending an interfaith conference at Al-Azhar University. “I first developed an interest in Judaism and Israel because of the many verses in the Holy Quran pertaining to Jews,” Hawary recalled. “This led me to want to know more about Jews, the historical relationship between Judaism and Islam, but also to learn about Israel.”

It was, Hawary said, the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel that ultimately moved him to turn his budding interest into a career. “Israel was the enemy, of course, of Egypt and the Arabs. But I thought it was important to know who this enemy was.” Motivated to pursue Hebrew language and Jewish studies, Hawary received his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 at Cairo University and completed his doctorate at Ain Shams. There, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Divinity of the Children of Israel, From Moses to the Babylonian Exile.”….

Jonathan Brent Appointed Ex. Director of one of the world’s most important archives of Jewish life, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Former editorial director of Yale University Press and general editor of its celebrated Annals of Communism series is now in charge of one of the world’s most important archives of Jewish life

Source: Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-15-09)

One of the world’s most important archives of Jewish life, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, in New York, has a new executive director. Jonathan Brent, 59, lately the editorial director of Yale University Press and general editor of its celebrated Annals of Communism series, assumed the post on July 1.

Unlike his work on the Annals series, his new job will not require that he be ready to drink and smoke heavily.

He laughs heartily when that subject comes up. He secured his reputation as one of America’s leading academic editors by venturing to Russia, beginning in the early 1990s, to explore the vast archives of Soviet-era power. He says he encountered many lazy, venal, and anti-Semitic archivists who had become chiefs of small fiefdoms in a tattering system, and he found that nothing opened their doors as effectively as cartons of Winstons, Western-style food, and plenty of Jack Daniel’s.

“Let me put it this way,” Mr. Brent says in a husky voice that seems to bear out his point. “A Russian general once quipped to a Polish diplomat: Once you Poles learn how to drink with Russians, then you can negotiate with Russians.”

Experts in Soviet history and politics have hailed the Annals series as one of the most ambitious archival publishing projects of all time. It has breathed new life into Soviet studies with 20 volumes, most of them edited collections of documents on such key events as the Great Terror, collectivization, and the gulag. The series’ first publication was Harvey Klehr, John E. Haynes, and Fridrikh I. Firsov’s The Secret World of American Communism (1995), which shocked even true believers by detailing how much the American branch of the party had been at Moscow’s beck and call….

Mohamed Hawary: Egypt’s Jewish Studies Doyen Looks Back

Source: The Forward, 7-15-09

A Career in Academia Born of Desire To Know ‘The Enemy’ Leads to Acclaim and Visits From Fellow Scholars

“What’s a nice professor of Jewish studies doing teaching in a place like this?”

For those unfamiliar with contemporary Egyptian intellectual life, this might be the first question that comes to mind upon meeting Mohamed Hawary, a professor of Hebrew studies and Jewish thought at Ain Shams University in Cairo, a teeming school of some 180,000 students.

Genizah Go-To Guy: Mohamed Hawary’s expertise on Cairo’s Jewish treasure trove is valued by colleagues worldwide.

JACOB BENDER
Genizah Go-To Guy: Mohamed Hawary’s expertise on Cairo’s Jewish treasure trove is valued by colleagues worldwide.

Hawary, 59, is considered to be the doyen of Jewish studies in Egypt. A world-renowned scholar of Judaism, the author of numerous books and articles on a wide range of Jewish subjects, Hawary is also a practicing Muslim and a proud and patriotic Egyptian. The Forward recently interviewed Hawary in Cairo, where both he and this reporter were attending an interfaith conference at Al-Azhar University.

“I first developed an interest in Judaism and Israel because of the many verses in the Holy Quran pertaining to Jews,” Hawary recalled. “This led me to want to know more about Jews, the historical relationship between Judaism and Islam, but also to learn about Israel.”

It was, Hawary said, the 1967 Six Day War with Israel that ultimately moved him to turn his budding interest into a career. “Israel was the enemy, of course, of Egypt and the Arabs. But I thought it was important to know who this enemy was.”

Motivated to pursue Hebrew language and Jewish studies, Hawary received his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 at Cairo University and completed his doctorate at Ain Shams. There, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Divinity of the Children of Israel, From Moses to the Babylonian Exile.”

“When I started out in the field,” Hawary said, “there were very few of us. Hebrew was not a separate department, but was studied as part of Arabic and Semitic languages.” Today, thanks to the efforts of Hawary and his colleagues, more than half of the 18 institutions of higher learning in Egypt have departments of Hebrew and Jewish studies….READ MORE

Exhibition: Taking the A Train to ‘The Fourth Reich’ German Jews Who Fled to Washington Heights

Taking the A Train to ‘The Fourth Reich’

A Munich Exhibit Looks at the German Jews Who Fled to Washington Heights

Source: Forward, 7-8-09

In 2008, the German city of Munich celebrated its 850th birthday amid much fanfare, and various cultural institutions were asked to mark the occasion. When the recently opened Jewish Museum was approached, it reacted with ambivalence. Indeed, for nearly half the history of Munich — more than 400 years — Jews were excluded from taking part in the life of the city.

This is where Bernhard Purin, the museum’s director, stepped in. Last September, the museum unveiled its contribution to the festival year, City Without Jews: The Dark Side of Munich’s History, a stark and effective exhibition about the various persecutions and expulsions that formed the bedrock of Munich’s history of antisemitism long before the Holocaust. The exhibit runs until the end of August.

Opened in May 2007, the Jewish Museum Munich is the youngest Jewish museum in Europe. The contrast to Jewish Museum Berlin — Germany’s most famous such museum — could hardly be more striking.

Where the Berlin museum attempts an exhaustive history of the Jewish experience in Germany, starting with the Middle Ages and leading up to the present day, the approach favored by Munich is to represent the history of Jews in that city via a compact and thoughtful permanent collection that combines interactive installations, artwork and a few well-chosen ritual objects and historical artifacts. A visitor can take in the exhibit in less than an hour, before making his way upstairs to view the changing exhibitions.

The same impulse for compression characterizes City Without Jews, which tells its story through a dozen small displays of representative objects and video interviews.

For instance, the pogrom of 1285, sparked by accusations of ritual murder, where between 68 and 187 members of Munich’s first Jewish community were locked inside their burning synagogue, is signified by a 19th-century edition of the Nuremberg Memorbuch, the 1296 commemoration of prominent community leaders and martyrs compiled by the Nuremberg Jewish community.

The 1349 accusation of host desecration — a common medieval accusation that the Jews abused the consecrated host in order to repeat the suffering of Christ — is represented through a 1624 painting, which was displayed for nearly 200 years in Munich’s St. Salvator Church. The old folklorist legend of the Wandering Jew inspired artists from Heinrich Heine to Richard Wagner before the Nazis twisted it to embody all the degenerative traits they ascribed to the Jews. This phantomlike figure that has, over time, emblemized the internal experience of Jews in the Diaspora is represented by a coat stand with an umbrella and an old edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung; it is a reference to a Lion Feuchtwanger story in which the Wandering Jew is spotted in Munich’s famous Odeon Café, reading a newspaper.

The Nazi persecution and mass murder are metonymically represented by an empty trunk with the initials of its last owner, Rosa Picard. A businesswoman from Munich, Picard filled the trunk with valuables and entrusted it to a Christian family before she and her family perished.

A counterpoint to this decidedly downbeat exhibition is the three-part series of temporary installations, Places of Exile.

“We wanted to answer the question:Where did the Jews of Munich live when they were not allowed to live in Munich? So we looked for three places of exile,” Purin explained.

After exhibits on Istanbul and Tel Aviv, the final installment, on display until August 30, looks at New York City’s Washington Heights, which became the center of Munich’s exiled Jewish community during World War II.

In particular, the exhibit focuses on Beth Hillel Synagogue, a Conservative congregation founded in 1940 by the chief rabbi of the Munich Jewish community, Leo Baerwald, who had fled Germany. The first services, held on Rosh Hashanah of that year in the Paramount Hall on 183rd Street, attracted 800 people.

Initially, services were held in German and followed the tradition of southern German Jews, known as Minhag Schwaben. German Jews were such a prominent minority, and so much German was spoken on the streets of Washington Heights in the 1940s and ’50s, that they ironically nicknamed the neighborhood “Das Vierte Reich” — or the Fourth Reich.

In the first decade, the congregation grew to 750 families from 200 and moved into a former post office at 571 West 182nd Street, just south of Yeshiva University. As members became more assimilated and prosperous, services were increasingly held in English. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the congregation was in steady decline caused by suburbanization and the new waves of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, which changed the demographic of the neighborhood.

In 1980, Beth Hillel merged with the Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel and, despite ever-shrinking numbers, managed to survive until 2000, when it finally closed its doors. Today, the building on 182nd Street is home to a department store.

Purin’s co-curator for the project is Celia J. Bergoffen, an urban archeologist who excavated the Eldridge Street Synagogue mikveh in 2001. Together with Purin, she conducted interviews with members of the community and tracked down pertinent artifacts.

“It was funny to see that they were very professional in talking about their childhood in Germany, because that’s what they are doing in schools and for the [Steven] Spielberg video project, but they never were asked about the other 80% of their lives, which started in 1939 or 1940, when they were teenagers in Washington Heights,” Purin explained.

Among the surviving congregants of Beth Hillel is Eric Bloch, a professor emeritus at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was born in Munich in 1928. In an interview with Bergoffen, he discusses the role that the congregation played in easing the transition to America: “I think the importance of Beth Hillel and the other Jewish congregations was to help immigrants establish themselves in the new country. They were a very important source of support.” The interview is published in the exhibition brochure, which can be ordered, free of charge, from the museum.

Among the items installed in the exhibition are two memorial stones from Munich’s destroyed main synagogue and a yellow Jewish star that wound up at a synagogue in Paramus, N.J. Another relic is the parochet (ark curtain) from Beth Hillel, which was found in 2002 at a Berlin flea market.

“It is in some ways a little bit funny that the history of this congregation in Washington Heights will now be kept in Munich,” Purin mused.

City Without Jews: The Dark Side of Munich’s History and Places of Exile 3: Munich and Washington Heights are on view at the Jewish Museum Munich until August 30.

A.J. Goldmann is a writer based in Berlin. His articles on art and culture have appeared in various publications, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor.