Tom Segev Reviews Gur Alroey: The Makings of History / Zionism, Uganda and the Jews

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

The Makings of History / Zionism, Uganda and the Jews

In the annals of the Zionist movement there was no argument more bitter and more formative than that over whether the Jewish state should be built within the Land of Israel, or whether it would be better off wherever possible

Source: Haaretz, 12-9-11

A Jew, a Swiss and an Englishman were on a train. This could be the opening of a joke, but the three were on their way from Basel to Trieste. From there they sailed to Africa in December 1904, to look into founding a state for the Jews in Guas Ngishu, northwestern Kenya. That venture mistakenly went down in history as the “Uganda Plan.” The trio went at the behest of Herzl, following a decision by the Sixth Zionist Congress.

In the annals of the Zionist movement there was no argument more bitter and more formative than that over whether the Jewish state should be built within the Land of Israel, or whether it would be better off wherever possible. The Swiss scholar Alfred Kaiser and the engineer Nahum Wilbush, who came from the Land of Israel, ruled out settling Jews in Guas Ngishu; the British explorer Hill Gibbons thought the region might work and proposed setting up an experimental settlement.

Nahum Wilbush. Industrial pioneer. Nahum Wilbush. Industrial pioneer.

A fascinating book by Gur Alroey maintains that the British explorer voiced the most serious, in-depth and credible opinion (“Seeking a Homeland,” Ben-Gurion Research Institute ). Alroey, a professor in the University of Haifa’s department of Land of Israel studies, writes: “If we compare the condition of the Land of Israel to the condition of the region that the delegation investigated in those years, Guas Ngishu was not in the least ‘a place that has nothing and with which nothing can be done,’ as Wilbush claimed. It seems that had a similar delegation been sent in December 1904 to the lower and upper Galilee, the Jezreel Valley or the sand hills north of Jaffa, where Tel Aviv later arose, the sight would have been far worse than what the delegation found on the plains of Guas Ngishu. In this country – malaria stricken, rife with swamps and occupied by natives – they surely would have concluded against it.”…READ MORE

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Civics studies in Israeli Schools to focus on Jewish democracy

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Source: YNet News, 7-20-11

Education Ministry approves controversial changes to high school civics curriculum which will emphasize historical justifications for State of Israel’s establishment

A new civics curriculum is underway after being approved by the Education Ministry on Monday. The new curriculum has a bigger emphasis on the connection between a Jewish and democratic state.

The program’s approval encountered a few obstacles due to a public battle between civics teachers and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar who sought to introduce the change.

A source within the Education Ministry noted that while the alterations were relatively moderate, they definitely mark a change towards a more nationalistic and Jewish direction.

Secular, religious students to study civics together

Education Ministry pushing for new program in which religious, secular high schools will hold joint civics classes. ‘This requires a great deal of courage,’ program manager says — Full Story

The changes include additions like a historical introduction to the Balfour declaration and the UN’s partition plan in 1947.

The declaration of independence will be studied with an emphasis on the historical and international justification for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel. There will also be an emphasis on the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation state while explaining it from the perspective of democratic values…READ MORE

Edna Nahshon: Dolled Up An exhibit in Tel Aviv surveys the changes in Israeli history, and the nation’s self-perception, through the once-popular medium of decorative dolls

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EXHIBITIONS

Source: Tablet, 7-15-11

A figure of two members of a youth movement sitting on a tree trunk, made in the 1950s.From the Yaron Gayer collection; photos courtesy Eretz Israel Museum

To those who grew up in the pre-television Israel of the 1950s and 1960s—the country’s first broadcast came in 1966—the physical world that lay beyond our narrow territorial confines, its colors, smells, and textures, was often imagined via small personal collections of souvenirs: coins, stamps, cards, matchboxes, empty cologne bottles, napkins, and other potential discards. Modest thematized collections of trivial bric-a-brac went beyond kids’ stuff; grown-ups were equally engaged, showcasing in their modest living-rooms carefully assembled displays of small objects acquired in far-off lands like salt shakers and miniature liquor bottles. The curatorial emphasis was mostly on variety, not aesthetics, the decorative trophies endowing the household with social prestige and marking the collector as diligent and intelligent.

Dolls in national costumes were a particular favorite. These 4-to-7-inch figures were not meant to be played with, and when we children were given permission to hold them—one at a time, and only after our hands were inspected for cleanliness—we were forewarned to handle them carefully, and we felt privileged and trustworthy. Fingering the delicate lace mantilla of the Spanish doll, the tiny dirndl skirt of the Swiss, the gold flecks on the Mexican’s sombrero, or the shiny black boots of the Russian was an unmatched pleasure, a flight of fancy to faraway regions of the imagination, to rivers and mountains and steppes, to languages and sounds, to songs and dances that were as exotic to us as the Orient had been to the European imagination. Yet a measure of local patriotism was never absent from these homey international extravaganzas—every collection I remember included an Israeli doll, usually of a typical sabra in khaki shorts or a Yemenite Jew with long sidelocks in an elaborate ethnic garb, thus asserting our own national identity and our proud membership in the family of nations.

These displays seemed to disappear as I grew older. I never gave them a second thought. The local dolls I sometime glimpsed in store windows now struck me as crass trinkets of the tourist industry, much like the wooden camels with which they often shared space on the same shelves.

A Land and Its Dolls,” a captivating exhibition that opened in May at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, brought back these memories.

Shelly Shenhav-Keller, the anthropologist who curated the exhibition, assembled more than 200 dolls from museums, organizations, and private collectors—some of them non-Israelis who, as tourists, had bought the dolls as mementos of their visit. As souvenirs go, these dolls encapsulate their period’s essential notion of Israeliness, and thus, says Shenhav-Keller, they express important aspects of the construction of Israeli identity and societal values, ranging from the early uniformity of the melting-pot ideal to the multiethnic and multicultural spirit of more recent years.

All the dolls displayed in the exhibition were produced in Israel, first by individual artists and craftspeople and later, as demand grew, by local workshops. The earliest dolls in the exhibition—a middle-eastern man and woman—were created by Rivka Stark-Avivi (1895-1979) in 1919. The most recent ones are from the 1980s: Local production of Israeli souvenir dolls came to an end in the 1990s, when there was little demand for them mostly due to the sharp reduction in tourism caused by the first Intifada. Dolls of a more recent vintage are bound to be made in China….READ MORE

Israel’s History: Sh’ma: Journal of Jewish Responsibility

Sh’ma: Journal of Jewish Responsibility, May 2011

Israel’s History

Jonathan Sarna and Jay Ruderman: Op-Ed: Education is key in a changing U.S. Jews-Israel relationship

Source: JTA, 4-4-11

The relationship between American and Israeli Jews is changing. For most of Israel’s history, the American Jewish community was larger, wealthier and more powerful than its “poor cousin” in the Middle East, but now the differences between the two communities have greatly narrowed. More Jews are living in Greater Tel Aviv than in Greater New York, and Israel, like the United States, is one of the world’s most developed nations.

In addition, funds from Israel now strengthen the American Jewish community through programs like Taglit-Birthright Israel. Charitable funds no longer flow exclusively in the other direction.

The political relationship between the two communities is likewise changing. Gone are the days when major American Jewish organizations, and the bulk of their members, took their cue from the government of Israel and supported its policies reflexively. Thanks to the Internet, American Jews now hear a full range of voices from Israel. As a result, the spectrum of American Jewish opinion concerning Israel increasingly mirrors the spectrum of opinion within Israel itself.

Given these and other changes, the relationship between the world’s two major Jewish communities is in need of recalibration. To this end, much attention has been paid over the past few years to improving American Jews’ understanding of Israel. In 2008-09, according to a recent Brandeis University study, some 548 courses on campuses across the United States focused on Israel, seeking to improve students’ knowledge of the subject. Centers for Israel studies on American campuses also have proliferated.

By contrast, Israelis learn almost nothing about American Jewry. Not one significant academic center for the study of American Jewish life exists in the State of Israel, and university-based courses on the American Jewish community are few and far between. At the high school level, the study of American Jewish life is equally neglected.

As a result, the understanding of American Jewish life on the part of Israelis is quite limited. They know next to nothing about the deepest issues upon which Israelis and American Jews agree and disagree. They cannot comprehend what church-state separation means and how pluralism operates in the American context. Many fail to understand their American cousins at all.

All Israelis, political leaders in particular, would benefit from knowing more about American Jewish life. The more American Jews and Israelis learn about one another, the better their future relationship will be.

Israelis, including members of Knesset, too often only look inward at Israeli society when legislating and voting on matters that ultimately impact upon American Jewry. Even if their first responsibility is to the citizens they represent and the sovereign state they serve, they would do well to consider how the American Jewish community, too, is affected by their choices.

If every measure considered by the Knesset carried a “Diaspora impact statement” (analogous to our environmental impact statements), consciousness of how Israel’s actions impact upon world Jewry would be heightened.

Six Israeli Knesset members are visiting Boston and New York as part of a program organized by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Foundation to help Israeli leaders gain new perspectives on American Jewish life and on the changing relationship between their country and the American Jewish community. They are meeting with religious figures, community leaders and private citizens.

By learning more about the American Jewish community, we hope they will come to better appreciate how their actions — such as Knesset efforts to legally define Jewishness for the purposes of marriage or aliyah, Israel’s military actions and how the Foreign Ministry reacts to democratic uprisings in the Arab world — impact upon American Jews and Jews worldwide.

Educating Israel’s political leaders about the American Jewish community should be the start of a larger effort aimed at teaching Israelis as much about American Jews as the latter learn about them.

A new day is dawning in the relationship between American Jews and Israel. The image of wealthy American Jews providing charity to their struggling Israeli cousins is fading fast. More than ever, each community now needs to understand how its interests are bound up with that of the other.

Just as American Jews are becoming better educated about Israel, the time has come for Israelis to learn more about the American Jewish community and their inextricable relationship to it.

(Jonathan Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which has offices in Boston and Rehovot, Israel.)