January 18, 2024
Dear AJS Members,
In early January I had the privilege of traveling with a diverse group of 23 Jewish studies scholars to Israel. Trip members work at a wide range of academic institutions and hold disparate religious and political views. For me, being on this trip was crucial not only as someone seeking to understand a pivotal moment in world (and Jewish) history, but also as the new AJS President. The Association for Jewish Studies has members from at least 33 countries, but Israel is the largest contributor to our association outside of the United States. One of my questions on this trip was how can AJS better support these members and help promote real, substantial dialogues in our organization across a very wide range of political and ideological positions.
During our three days together, we visited Bar-Ilan University, University of Tel Aviv, Achva Academic College, and Sapir Academic College and spoke to administrators, faculty, and students. Throughout Israel, colleges and universities are on the frontlines of grappling with how to create a cohesive diverse community. (By way of example, Achva is about 89% female and 30% Bedouin and many students are first generation college students. Likewise about 30% of Bar-Ilan’s students are Arab-Israeli.) Colleges and universities are the first place many Jewish and Muslim students have attended classes together, hence these institutions are creating the next generation of leaders in cross-cultural competency. Many campuses have just returned to classes, and there has been extra training for faculty on how to help students cope with trauma, repair tensions, and rebuild community.
The work our colleagues are doing at these institutions is a crucial reminder why AJS has a long-standing commitment to the free exchange of ideas and opposition academic boycotts. One thing we heard from colleagues at all the academic institutions we visited was the devastating impact of academic isolation and rejection since the war began. Many had experienced informal or implicit boycotts of them or their work, regardless of whether they supported the current administration and its policies. Consistently faculty we met expressed the hope that other AJS members would continue to review Israel colleagues’ articles and books, agree to serve on tenure reviews, and seek out collaborations.
AJS will be working on initiatives to better support all of our members in the coming months. If you have specific requests please feel free to reach out to me.
Best wishes to all of you during this difficult time,