Alex Joffe: Israel Studies 101




Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 10-3-11

The modern American research university is a house of many rooms.  The field of Israel Studies, which has emerged in the past decade, occupies one of the newest—and smallest—of those rooms.  Israel Studies programs are meant to address a serious problem and take advantage of a large opportunity on campus.  What happens to them in the coming years will tell us something significant about Israel as a topic of study and about the American university itself.

Studying Israel  Jan Jaben-EilonJerusalem Post.  The growth of interest in Israel as a field of serious academic study is not just American but worldwide.

Multicultural Israel in a Global Perspective  Association for Israel Studies.  The Association for Israel Studies, in existence since 1985, plans its 2012 conference in Haifa.

Follow the Money  Alex JoffeJewish Ideas Daily.  Between 1995 and 2008, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and about $88 million in gifts to American universities. What has their money purchased?

Jewish Studies in Decline?  Alex JoffeJewish Ideas Daily.  Retiring faculty are not replaced, less research money is allocated, and fewer students enter the field. Is there a future for the academic study of Judaism?

In American universities over the past 150 years and more, academic programs and departments have come and gone.  One reason is that increasing specialization is, to some extent, intrinsic to the pursuit of knowledge.  Departments such as physics and chemistry broke off from one another as their disciplines grew too large and complex to be confined within a single intellectual and administrative space.  There have been fractures in disciplines like anthropology, where scholars of culture and scholars of biology discovered that they could no longer bear one another.

More recently, specialization has also been fueled by demands, from the subjects of study themselves, for inclusion on the academic menu.  Since the 1960’s, we have seen a proliferation of ethnic and gender studies programs meant to bring the narratives of ignored or excluded groups into the larger discussion.  Jews and Jewish Studies programs in American universities have been among the leaders of this drive for inclusion through separation.

At their best, such efforts have created true and valuable diversity—in the sense of new streams of thought—within American universities.  They have also created walled-off compartments in which faculty can preach to choirs of student disciples (or simply to themselves) and the politicians among them can clamor for more resources, often by claiming past or present discrimination.  Unlike Jewish Studies programs, which are largely funded by Jewish donors, most ethnic and gender studies programs are paid for by the host universities themselves.  Such programs can perhaps best be characterized as having produced some scholarship and much politicking.

Israel Studies programs have a different provenance.  After World War II, U.S. universities saw the rise of “area studies,” in which scholars crossed the boundaries of disciplines like history, economics, and political science in pursuit of ‘useful knowledge’ about a geographic region or cultural area.  Middle Eastern Studies departments emerged as part of this trend.  They are long awash in funds from, among other donors, Arab governments.  Predictably, these departments have been dominated by scholars of the Arab and Muslim worlds.  As their subjects have increasingly become the focus of world conflict, these scholars have—perhaps inevitably, in light of the current university climate—become advocates…. READ MORE

Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.



David Shneer: Colorado University Regents Consider Jewish Studies Degree




Program has grown in popularity since it started in 2007

Source: Colorado Daily, 10-3-11

Professor Caryn Aviv lectures during her Global Secular Jewish Studies class at the University of Colorado on Monday. As early as next month, CU regents will consider making CU the first university in the Rocky Mountain region to offer Jewish Studies as a major. ( MARK LEFFINGWELL )

University of Colorado student Carly Coons has studied abroad in Jerusalem, interned at a Jewish summer camp over the summer and is nearly fluent in Hebrew.

The international affairs student, who is also earning a minor in religious studies, is among the growing number of students at CU-Boulder who have taken a particular interest in Jewish studies.

When CU first began its Jewish Studies program in 2007, about a dozen students pursued the certificate. Now, 75 students are enrolled in the certificate program, and the Board of Regents will decide whether the Boulder campus can allow students to major and minor in the area of study. The decision could come as early as November when the regents meet.

If approved, CU would become the first university in the Rocky Mountain region to offer Jewish Studies as a major — though there are well-established programs at dozens of schools across the country, including many Ivy League colleges.

“We have seen a huge student demand,” said David Shneer, a CU history professor and the director of the Program in Jewish Studies. “Each time we add a class, it fills up.”

When the program first began, it offered five classes a semester. Now, 25 classes are offered to students — including courses on the Holocaust, Jewish-American Literature, Hebrew language and “Women, Gender & Sexuality in Judaism.”

Coon, who is leaning toward a career in the nonprofit sector, said she is hopeful Jewish Studies will become a major because the area of study allows students to think critically and in a cross-cultural context.

“Those are skills that can be applied to any career path that you choose,” she said.

The bachelor’s in Jewish Studies proposal is among nine new degree programs that are in the pipeline at CU-Boulder, all of which are in varying stages and would require approval from the Board of Regents. Other programs include a computer science degree housed in the College of

Katie Christensen, senior in international affairs, takes notes during professor Caryn Aviv’s Global Secular Jewish Studies class on Monday. ( MARK LEFFINGWELL )

Arts and Sciences, German and Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in architectural engineering.Coons — who is the president of Hillel Boulder, a Jewish campus life organization — has enough credits in the Jewish Studies program that if regents approve the degree program, she’ll have a bachelor’s degree in Jewish Studies when she graduates in May.

The certificate program requires students to take 24 credits, said Jamie Polliard, assistant director of the Program in Jewish Studies. Students would need to complete 18 credits to minor in Jewish Studies and 36 to major in it.

Each semester, 750 students take classes offered through Jewish Studies, she said.

Students pursuing Jewish Studies are oftentimes considering careers in international relations, teaching or working with community organizations, Polliard said.

Shneer said the degree proposal fits into the university’s long-term “Flagship 2030” plan because it will help prepare graduates for an increasingly global economy. Students in the degree program would have internship and study abroad options, and they’d be required to take three years of a foreign language.

The university will also be establishing a $2.5 million endowed chair in Jewish history made possible by a donation from Midge Korczak and Leslie Lomas, sisters who have advanced history degrees and live in Boulder.