Will Israeli graduate students really be able to distinguish between the Upper West Side and Great Neck, or tell Philip Roth’s fiction from Allegra Goodman’s?
Those questions come to mind as Israel’s first-ever university program devoted to the study of American Jewry is launching this fall at the University of Haifa.
Initially, the academic program will have 21 graduate students, who will survey Jewish-American immigration history, modern foreign policy and governmental structures, as well as gender issues and the religious makeup of U.S. Jewish communities.
“The key to understanding American Jewry is first to understand American society,” Gur Alroey, chair of the history department the University of Haifa and director of the new program, told JNS.
A highlight of the curriculum will be a 10-day trip to the U.S. Students will attend lectures, tour Ellis Island, and explore the Tenement Museum in Lower Manhattan. The group also will visit Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History, which houses a comprehensive exhibit detailing Jewish immigration to America from Colonial times through the present.
“The trip will be the equivalent of Birthright for Israelis, only the experience will be academic rather than primarily cultural,” Alroey said, referring to the free 10-day trip to Israel.
Based in Boston and Israel, The Ruderman Foundation has become well known in the American Jewish community in recent years for its advocacy on behalf of Jews with disabilities.
The foundation’s president, Jay Ruderman, has lived in Israel since 2005. He told JNS that his support for the new program was inspired, in part, by his observation that when American Jewish leaders visit Israel or when Israeli leaders visit the United States, the conversation is “always about Israel” and how the Jewish state relates to Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and others.
“What’s happening in the American Jewish community?” and how those events impact future support for Israel never seem to enter the conversation, Ruderman said.
Alroey said, “The reality is that our treatment of the Jewish American community in Israel has been superficial at best. How can it be that numerous programs exist at Israeli universities for Asian, African and European studies, yet there is not a single program dedicated to the study of the American Jewish community?”