Michelle Shain is an associate research scientist at CMJS/SSRI. She will be leaving CMJS next week to begin a new position at the Orthodox Union’s Center for Communal Research.
How do you look back on your 10 years at CMJS? What do you feel you have gained from your time here?
My years at CMJS have been formative for me. I gained a tremendous amount of theoretical, methodological, and content expertise, in addition to practical research experience, which has left me prepared to take on my new role. Perhaps more importantly, I forged relationships with scholars from a variety of disciplines, as well as with funders and practitioners within the Jewish community. Those relationships helped me learn how to communicate research findings in a way that is useful to a broad set of stakeholders. I hope to bring the academic rigor as well as the passion that permeate the CMJS culture with me to the Orthodox Union’s Center for Communal Research.
Your research covered a wide range of topics, including Birthright, intermarriage, antisemitism on campus. Were there any unexpected findings?
The finding that surprised me the most was that going on a Birthright Israel trip has a positive, substantive impact on participants’ likelihoods of marrying a Jew later in life. That finding was first released in 2009 in the CMJS report Generation Birthright Israel and has been replicated since. I didn’t expect that a 10-day program would have an impact of that magnitude. I’m still trying to understand the mechanism behind it.
The finding that seems to surprise others the most is that the proportion of non-Jewish undergraduates who support the BDS movement is less than 10%, even at a school like the University of Michigan where the student government passed a BDS resolution. That finding was reported in the 2017 CMJS report The Limits of Hostility. I think the media’s reporting on this topic gives people a distorted picture of campus life.
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.
Congratulations on your prolific career! Can you tell us a little about your background before you joined CMJS in 2004?
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. Continue reading →
Our focus in “All Together Separate: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion on the Brandeis campus” was a single campus. It happens to be our home institution and, as the report acknowledges, has a unique history as the first and only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in the country. Conducting research about one’s own environment has advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is that we have abundant contextual information. But it is also a disadvantage—in Bayesian statistical terms, we have “priors.” In developing, analyzing, and reporting the study we tried to use our contextual information to create a more nuanced study, while also working hard to be as objective as possible.
A number of unanticipated findings shaped the report. First, the concern of our respondents, across racial and ethnic groups, about race and diversity issues on campus had not been fully appreciated. The negotiated end to recent student protests (#FordHall2015) did not settle the issues and, instead, seems to have brought them to the fore. A second significant finding was the notable increase in the diversity of Brandeis’s student population. Nearly half are now students of color and a large number are international students. Brandeis, which in the 1970s had an undergraduate student population of mostly Jewish students, now has a student body with about one third identifying as Jewish.