Let’s call a spade a spade. Despite Israeli intellectual stature and accomplishments, Israeli academia has been taking a beating lately internationally. Repeating student and professor union strikes, including the PR fiasco that was 2007′s especially harsh holdout, don’t help. Of course, relentless campaigns to marginalize our institutions on the shaky and inconsistent grounds that Israeli Universities are perpetrators of human rights violations against the Palestinians don’t either.
Despite it all, Israel remains a major draw for international thinkers in many fields, and every Israeli university has strong partnerships with sister organizations in North America. Some American schools even offer degrees through their Israeli counterparts.
Haifa’s Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, Israel’s only University to offer no undergraduate programs, has recently announced that its MBA program will now be offered exclusively in the English language. The announcement says a lot about the struggle for Israeli academia’s internationally respected status – the Technion is, after all, the first Jewish-led institution of higher learning in the Holy Land, thereby representing a landmark in the development of the contemporary Hebrew language:
Because German was then the dominant language of the scientific world, and all textbooks were written in German, the institute’s backers demanded that most subjects at both the institute and the affiliated high school be taught in German. This decision caused the outbreak of the “language war” – a dramatic fight that convulsed the pre-state Jewish community of that time. Students at Hebrew schools appealed to the Technion’s administration and the World Zionist Organization, declaring: “The language of the Technicom [the Technion's original name] can and should be the Hebrew language.”
It’s all about globalization, a concept not foreign to the Technion’s approach in recent years. The school’s leadership hopes that its globalization efforts won’t backfire by merely enabling Israel’s elite thinkers to skedaddle. In fact, they’re hoping that other local institutions will follow suit, making Israel a major destination for the world’s non-Zionist developing minds, a relatively untapped market so far. As Prof. Boaz Golany, dean of the Technion’s faculty of industrial engineering and management, told Haaretz,
“We reached the conclusion that if we continued to train our students by teaching in Hebrew, we would be placing them in an inferior starting position, given the conditions of the global competition.”
In other words, in order to maximize matriculation figures amongst overseas students here, and in order to minimize the impact of Israel’s brain drain, sometimes a little identity mediation is in order.
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Religion
The rebirth of Jewish identity and culture in Poland is old news. Many projects are underway to refurbish various community institutions that were destroyed in the Holocaust, and more and more Poles are wondering if they are descended from secretly Jewish stock, forming a new, vibrant generation interested in exploring Jewish identity. The Polish Jewish population is officially numbered at around 4000, but many times that number are either unaware that they are Jewish don’t (yet?) identify as such despite their heritage.
Israel has been loathe to sit this one out, and 2008-09 is “Polish Year in Israel,” a partnership between the two nations that manifests mostly as sponsored Poland-themed cultural programming for Israeli audiences.
A Jerusalem organization called Shavei Israel (Returners to Israel) is dedicated to reaching out to the Polish Jew-curious on a theological as well as nationalistic level, proliferating education programs and aliyah outreach through two offices in Poland and encouraging visits to the homeland.
A few days ago, a group of 22 young Poles hailing from seven different cities completed three weeks of studies and Judeo-Zionist acculturation – all in Polish. According to YNet,
This seminar is the first of its kind, and it will take place in Jerusalem and be held entirely in Polish. As part of the program, the participants will travel throughout Israel, study Hebrew, and learn about Jewish history, culture and religion, as well as the history of the State of Israel.
Considered by Shavei Israel to be “Hidden Jews from the Holocaust,” some of the participants have even decided to stay here a little longer to continue studying. The organization has already begun planning similar upcoming programs, as Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund says, “in the hope that it will lead to a strengthening of Jewish life in Poland and ensure that the younger generation of Polish Jews remains connected to their Jewish heritage.”
Israel has a tremendous amount of Israel exports but among the most successful is Israeli metal. Israeli bands have actually created a sub genre of metal called “oriental metal.” The most notable is Orphaned Land, a doom metal act whose lyrics consist of biblical allusions and are sang over a sonic bed of undeniable metal amalgamated with Middle Eastern sounds using traditional folk instruments. Other bands such as groove metal bandBetzefer have also received critical accolades abroad and are garnering fans throughout the world.
Recently Israeli-band, The Fading won the first place in Germany’s Wacken Open Air music festival, the world’s most popular metal festival, after beating 15 other bands from all over the world.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” lead vocalist Ilia Badrov told Ynet. “Our excitement is huge, we’re still unable to digest it.” The second place went to the band representing Poland, followed by Greece. The Fading won a record and performance deal with international company ICS, and received musical instruments from the competition’s sponsors and invitations to take part in future metal music festivals in Europe. The battle was held Friday, and the Israeli representative was declared the winner in a press conference held Saturday evening. Upon the announcement, the band was surrounded by dozens of reporters from rock and metal magazines worldwide.
The Israeli metal scene will be getting even more attention soon when the the follow up to “A Headbanger’s Journey” a documentary is released later this year. The movie chronicled the history of metal and the second movie, Global Metal, focuses on how metal flourishes throughout the world – including Israel.
Street artist Adam Yekutieli, 19, was born in California, but he soon moved with his artist parents to Ramat Hasharon, where he recently completed studies in a fine arts high school.
Yekutieli’s chops were honed as a subversive spray-painter, proliferating tags like “Please Believe” and “Know Hope” in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel. Since then, according to a recent profile in The Forward, his work has evolved considerably:
Though Yekutieli began by spray-painting and posting long blocks of text, he has come to prefer a “less bold” aesthetic that solidifies his message into shorter, more easily read bites. About two years ago, he started what he calls his “library project,” in which he pasted drawings and phrases on the street with double-sided tape, inviting removal. On the wall behind the pieces, Yekutieli wrote, “I let you borrow my heart for a while but others borrow it as well.”
In the past year, Yekutieli has worked almost exclusively on site-specific installations that bring his “character” – as he calls the figure at the center of his work – to life in cardboard 3-D. In these installations, the character interacts physically with the surroundings, climbing across Tel Aviv’s landmarks or feeling out crosswalks as if they were Braille.
Sophisticated stuff for a spray-paint-happy teenager. But defining himself as “primarily an external observer,” Yekutieli believes that his preoccupation with the cold and temporary nature of urban existence doesn’t necessarily make his subject matter dreary.
And in terms of specifically Israeli themes to his work, it all comes down to context. On the one hand, Yekutieli says that politics are so saturated in the minds of the Israeli street-walking public that he doesn’t want his installations to fade in to the white noise, but on the other hand, social commentary (albeit more universal than regional) is at the heart of what he’s trying to do. “I want to address the human conditions that compose the political and social issues,” he told The Forward.
Universal, heady messages with subversive executions apparently yield international appeal, as Yekutieli currently has four formal overseas shows on display through the autumn, at noted venues including San Jose’s Anno Domini, London’s The Gallery in Cork Street, West Hollywood’s Carmichael Gallery and Stavanger, Norway’s edgy Nuart Festival.
Nefesh B’Nefesh a pro-aliyah organization dedicated to assisting North American Jews immigrate to Israel is doing something a bit different this time around. They’ve embedded bloggers with their latest group, assigning them a new immigrant to profile and to write about their immigration experience on their blogs.
CK of Jewlicious is accompanying a young woman named Danielle:
Danielle Sheldon, 19 and a resident of Los Angeles, is smart. A UCSD graduate who double majored with a BA in both International Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, she’s multilingual, and loves dancing and reading. Her future plans include graduate studies and after chatting with her for close to an hour, I am certain that Danielle can do whatever she sets her mind to. With her charm, wit and bubbly personality, Danielle’s options are virtually limitless. On August 18th, Danielle will join a plane load of North American immigrants headed to Israel to begin a new chapter in their lives. Danielle’s move to Israel, where she plans on joining the IDF, getting an MA in Security and Counter Terrorism at Tel Aviv University and settling in Tel Aviv, seems to be the obvious culmination of a lifelong path. Her father, born in Israel, insisted on speaking Hebrew to Danielle and sending her to a Jewish Day School. Consequently, Danielle’s Hebrew language skills are pretty darn good (her Arabic’s not bad either!). She got further practice when she spent a summer semester at Tel Aviv University and leading a group of High School students on a trip to Israel. She’s a fan of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Ahad Ha’am’s poetry.
Other Jewish and Israeli bloggers are in the mix as well. Check out Esther, Jameel and Treppenwitz for more on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s latest flight and a little personal glimpse into what motivates some North Americans to move to Israel.