Annette Koren recently retired from CMJS after 13 years. We asked her to share with us some of her thoughts on her career and the state of Israel studies.
I attended graduate school at Indiana University where I earned a PhD in social and economic history. I taught at Fordham University before beginning a career in business. After a stint in market research and part-time teaching, I became the Research and Evaluation consultant for the Boston Bureau of Jewish Education where I got to know CMJS’ Dr. Amy Sales through our partnership evaluating the Sh’arim Family Educator Initiative.
You have spearheaded many of the projects related to Israel studies on college campuses. How do you think the study of Israel on campus has changed since you began looking at it?
It has expanded dramatically. The American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University are two examples. Beginning in 2005, AICE funded and provided professional development assistance to graduate students concentrating in Israel studies and also recruited and funded Israeli faculty to teach courses about Israel at universities in the United States. The Schusterman Center at Brandeis, founded in 2007, prepared graduate students in the field and created the Summer Institute for Israel Studies (SIIS). To date, SIIS has prepared 270 faculty members from a variety of colleges and universities to teach about Israel. These individuals, many who otherwise may never have taught a course about Israel, now teach such courses at colleges and universities across the United States and around the world.
AICE and SIIS, with their emphasis on academic scholarship, as opposed to advocacy, helped make it possible for professors to offer their students the opportunity to learn about Israel beyond ‘the conflict.’ Our directories of Israel studies document the dramatic increase in the range and sheer numbers of courses being offered.
What are the issues that most concern you about the current state or future of Israel studies on campus?
I have two concerns. The first is about the more general shift in the academy away from the humanities and some social sciences. This is having an impact on so many fields of study. Hebrew programs are being eliminated, and the study of Israel could also suffer from that phenomenon. My other concern is whether funders will continue to support programs that have been successful when they are no longer trendy. Our research on the AICE program showed its value, but its funding ceased.
Was there one study or finding that particularly surprised you?
The results of our 2015 Israel literacy study did surprise me. The goal of this study was to understand what Jewish young adults know about Israel. What was surprising was that students preparing to go on Birthright knew so little about the country they were going to visit, regardless of their Jewish education and experiences growing up. Fewer than one in four of the students we tested had taken any courses about Israel. The number of courses available to them has grown, but it’s still not enough.
What advice do you have for researchers who will be continuing to look at these issues?
Using data to inform solutions to complex problems can be challenging. The CMJS team approach helps by bring multiple perspectives to the collection and analysis of data. Ultimately, however, taking the time to do research right is critical and the only thing that will ensure that the community benefits from our work.
To see more of Annette’s publications, visit http://www.brandeis.edu/cmjs/researchareas/israel-studies/campus.html