On Shabbat, we remember that moments of rest and reflection are not a retreat from life: they lie at the essence of life. It was in this spirit that nearly thirty of us sat down to Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem this past Friday night. What connected us all — from artists to public servants, from faculty and staff to Israeli intellectuals, from alumni of Brandeis’ early classes to teenage prospective students — was a shared stake in the success of this unique university and a shared conviction that the already-deep bonds between Brandeis and Israel are only just beginning to grow.
The cornucopia of careers and interests around the table reflected the multi-faceted nature of Brandeis itself. Former Israeli Consul-General in Boston Nadav Tamir joined us, a longtime friend of Brandeis who is now an adviser to President Shimon Peres. We also hosted Mark Regev, spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told the story of what inspired him to make aliyah from Australia as a young man. Acclaimed filmmaker Yael Hersonski described how Jerusalem has changed since she studied at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School and discussed her Holocaust documentary A Film Unfinished, which she screened at Brandeis earlier this year as a Schusterman Fellow. We were delighted to welcome newly named editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post Steve Linde, along with Post reporter Tovah Lazaroff ’86.
Then, Professor Maurice Roumani from the Political Science Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recounted the story of how Brandeis’ Wien Scholarship rescued him from turmoil in Libya and forever changed his life and the lives of his family. Professor Fred Tauber of Tel Aviv University had a similar epic narrative to tell, describing how President Abram Sachar got American papers for numerous intellectuals among the survivors of the Holocaust — including Prof. Tauber’s father, who ultimately became a significant benefactor to the university whose founding president had transformed his life.
The rejuvenating spirit of Shabbat, and of the fellowship of the Brandeis family, continued on Saturday during the day as my family and I joined a discussion at the home of Rabbi Ron Kronish ’68 and his wife Amy. Ron is a founder and longtime director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, which works for interfaith dialogue. Among Rabbi Kronish’s guests were Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, arguably the most prominent reform rabbi in Israel; Dr. Mohammed Dajani, founder of Wasatia, a Palestinian group that highlights the roots of moderation within Islam; and the Rev. Timothy Lowe, rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute.
On Sunday, we visited the main campus of Al-Quds University, in Abu Dis. I had the chance to see in action the bridge-building exchanges of faculty, staff and students that have for years now characterized the partnership between Brandeis and Al-Quds, funded by the Ford Foundation. Brandeis professors Sue Lanser and Derek Isaacowitz and senior associate dean Elaine Wong teamed with Al-Quds colleagues in leading a discussion on the responsibilities of department chairs. In the new student center, two recent Brandeis alumni, along with assistant provost Alwina Bennett, introduced me to Palestinian students, who glowingly described how student exchanges in Waltham and Jerusalem had transformed their socio-political perspectives. I also discussed the future of our partnership with acting president Marwan Awartani and with Dr. Khuloud Khayyat Dajani, an energetic, innovative leader of the partnership from the Al-Quds side since the beginning.
The key to this partnership is that its roots are our institutions’ mutual commitments to excellence. The more discussions we held together on pedagogy, text study and best-practices administration, the more the spotlight shone on our common nature — as human beings and as members of academic communities.
Our incoming provost, Steve Goldstein, joined us today in Jerusalem. We were fortunate to benefit from his expertise, especially regarding our science collaborations. At Al-Quds, Steve met with the dean of the medical school, Dr. Hany Abdeen. In the coming days, Steve will spend considerable time at the Technion in Haifa, where he has forged in-depth collaborations as early as his days as a post-doc at Brandeis.
Later, we met with Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the planning and budget committee for Israel’s Council of Higher Education. Professor Trajtenberg gave Steve, Dan Terris and me a bird’s-eye view of Israeli higher education, emphasizing the past two decades’ tremendous expansion of colleges, and describing the government’s renewed commitment to supporting research. I look forward to continuing to consult with him as Brandeis builds ever-deeper connections and collaborations here in the Holy Land.