April 26, 2019

Building Bridges Across the Black and Jewish Communities

By Amy Powell

Sabrina Howard and Ariella Gentin both attended high school in the Bronx, N.Y. at schools approximately five miles away from each other.

It was not until they met at Brandeis that they had another surprising realization: Neither had ever sat in class through grade 12 with someone who looked like the other. Howard, who is Black, grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. and attended public schools, graduating from KAPPA (Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy) International High School in 2015. Gentin, who is white, grew up in nearby New Rochelle, N.Y. and attended private Jewish day schools, graduating from SARS Academy (Salanter Akiba Riverdale) in 2016.

Both say their inexperience with the other led them to Brandeis Bridges, a campus group started six years ago with the mission of creating a space for Black and Jewish students to have dialogue and build connections. The centerpiece of the Brandeis Bridges experience is an annual trip that includes visits to Black and Jewish sites. This year, the group will visit Morocco in February. They chose it to get a sense of the culture and history, but also to get away from the paradigms of U.S. race relations.

“We wanted to go where it might look different, where there will be a Jewish community that is not white. That’s a big impetus for us,” said Howard, a senior majoring in Health, Science, Society and Policy and Anthropology and minoring in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies. They will visit Casablanca’s famous Hassan II Mosque and the Jewish Heritage Museum, the only Jewish museum in the Arabic-speaking world. Other stops include the Koutoubia Mosque, the iconic sight of Marrakech, the Bahia Palace, a stunning example of traditional Moroccan architecture), the medersas or religious schools, the Jewish quarter, the Souk and more. The itinerary notes that “Morocco’s rich history includes a long period of Arab and Jewish communities accepting their differences and living and working together to bring success to their respective businesses.”

Last year, Gentin and Howard were part of a Bridges cohort that traveled to Chicago. There, they realized that experiencing each other’s culture and heritage could cause them to question their prior understandings. For example, Howard found herself completely unfamiliar with everything during a Shabbat dinner at a private home. She and the other Black students watched while the Jewish students seamlessly fit in even though they had also never met the hosts of the dinner.

The situation flipped when the group attended a Baptist service at a Black church. “That was a comfortable space for me, like being home, like my childhood of going to church with my mom and sisters. It’s a different vibe from synagogue because we are up talking, singing. It’s a lively and animated experience and it was interesting to see how other people reacted,” Howard said.

As the group debriefed after each experience, they struggled. Finding the language to “unpack everything we do” challenged Gentin, a sophomore majoring in politics and Near East and Judaic Studies. “This was a big transition for me in college generally and creating a space to talk about identity is why I made my way to Bridges.” Gentin found it challenging to “explain movements that are not fully egalitarian or not fully consistent with Western values without sounding like an evil person. I learned to adjust what I say about a movement I feel empowered in, that is my lifeline, in a way that is understandable to others.”

Howard agreed that it is hard to find a common language. “I’ve never been asked to explain. People around me knew, had same understandings. Trying to explain it to an outsider allowed me to grow in many different ways. You question yourself and what you know, where you got the information and how clear you are being. You have to develop language to explain to others. You want to avoid speaking for entire population of people, but you want to do the explanation justice while making clear it is your individual perception.”

Gentin, Howard and the 10 Bridges fellows will be joined by Allyson Livingstone, Ph.D, Brandeis’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education, Training, and Development and Alex Kaye, the Karl, Harry, and Helen Stoll Assistant Professor of Israel Studies from the Near East and Judaic Studies Department. Livingstone noted that the experience Gentin and Howard had in high school is not so far from some experiences at Brandeis.

“These students are side by side, they are in parallel worlds and they are not connecting, but it’s not their fault. There are institutional processes that might not fit 2018 that prevent all of us from learning along with each other,” Livingstone said. “I keep hearing from faculty and students — we want to be able to talk to each other about things that make us different, that separate us, but we don’t know how.”

Livingstone said that we lack “explicit dialogic frameworks to have people engage in mutual learning without getting into argument, trying to convince someone of something else, or talking at people.”

That’s why both Livingstone and Kaye welcome the opportunity to learn from each other and from the students as they all strive to reach the important goal “building the community they seek,” Livingstone said.

Kaye joined because of his deep beliefs in the goals of the trip. “Today, perhaps more than ever, it is so important for us to be able to encounter and connect with people who may have different life experiences and ways of thinking. This process requires intellectual openness and emotional bravery. It is also exhilarating, edifying and fun,” Kaye said.

As they approach the February departure date, the group is raising money for the trip. HBI is one of the financial supporters because “it is a wonderful example of inter-religious and inter-racial dialogue led by students at Brandeis. HBI’s mission to support innovative thinking about Jews and gender seeks to support these opportunities to build understanding and to affirm the leadership of young women,” said HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe.

Kaye noted that, “Today, politics around antisemitism and structural racism in the United States, different ideologies pertaining to the State of Israel and Zionism, and varieties of identity politics more broadly, make it all the more important that we all get to know each other, learn from each other, and listen to each others’ perspectives and life experiences and ultimately collaborate in making a positive difference in contemporary society.”

Gentin noted that ahead of the trip, this year’s student cohort of nine women and one man seems a bit more comfortable than last year’s, maybe because gender is less of an issue.

Howard added, “We all have intersections of our identity and some are more visible and prominent than others.” Without gender being as much of an issue, they may be able to get comfortable more quickly and get to work on other identities, she said.

Ideally, they would prefer more perspectives in the group and hope to bring that in the future, they said.

“It can be emotional when we talk about lived experiences,” said Howard. “I was crying so much — even on the airplane. I didn’t know why I was so emotional, I didn’t have the words. I’m very connected to my identity as a Black woman and as a Black woman, I navigate through this world very differently than people around me.”

Livingstone said the trip fits into her role of helping to support dialogue that makes the Brandeis experience better for everyone involved. She summarized by saying,  “I need you and you need me for this to be a better place. I need to know about your perspective, your life, where you struggle, your strengths to build a really strong community. Then, hopefully we go forth in other social networks and share the experiences.”

Donors can support Brandeis Bridges by clicking here and specifying “Brandeis Bridges” in the text box.

Amy Powell

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

Speaking Up Against Femicide in Israel

By Tally Kritzman-Amir

Today, Dec. 4, women in Israel are taking to the streets to protest the unprecedented violence against women this year. The Women’s Strike, a bottom-up and spontaneous initiative, has roots in similar protests over the years all over the U.S., Europe and Latin America. These are over issues regarding sexual abuse and harassment such as the #MeToo movement that is sweeping the world and issues of gender wage disparities, access to abortion or the general policy towards women.

The tipping point for this action stems from the murders of two young women. On Monday Nov. 26, the remains of the body of 16-year-old Yara Ayoub were found in a trash bin in the Palestinian village of Jish in the North of Israel. Several hours later, in the South of Tel Aviv, a 13-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker, Silvana Tsegai, was found murdered at her home with signs of violence on her body.

The two girls did not know each-other and had little in common, but the few characteristics they shared are very much related to their almost simultaneous death. They were both suspected to have been murdered by men they knew. They both belonged to disempowered minority groups – Ayoub as a Palestinian National and Tsegai as an Eritrean asylum seeker. Despite the fact that Ayoub was a citizen of Israel and a part of an indigenous minority group, and that Tsegai was an undocumented black asylum seeker, both existed in a liminal sphere, in the margins of the Israeli society, where they were subjected to double subordination – as women and as members of a disempowered minority.

 As members of disempowered minority groups they were less likely to receive any assistance from the authorities. Perhaps the most striking evidence to this is the fact that Tsegai had repeatedly complained about being subjected to violence by her alleged murderer, her mother’s former partner, but had not received protection, according to an account in Haaretz.  Since Tsegai was an asylum seeker and not a citizen or resident, she was not eligible for access to social services, which are not extended to undocumented persons in Israel.

In addition, Ayoub and Tsegai belonged to distressed groups. Asylum seekers are often traumatized from the occurrences they endured in their country of origin and their experiences en-route to their country of asylum. In Israel they find themselves lacking any formal status or any stable protection, living in abject poverty, with no job security and with a feeling of constant threat. Much like them, Palestinians in Israel are marginalized and discriminated against (in structural forms of discrimination as well as spontaneous forms), and often also live in poverty, with limited access to education or the job market.

Credit: Elana Sztokman

Femicide and Violence Against Women on the Rise as Restrictions to Gun Access Are Relaxed

Ayoub and Tsegai are far from the only victims of femicide in Israel in 2018. The past year marked a dramatic increase in femicide, from the already-too-high number of 17 in 2017 to a shocking number of 24 in 2018, with a month until the year ends, according to a report published by WIZO, (Women International Zionist Organization), on November 25, just one day before the bodies of Yara and Silvana were found. The same report highlights the following findings:

  • In the past decade, 192 women have been murdered in Israel
  • About half of the women murdered in the past two years had filed complaints with the police
  • More than 13,000 women have been treated for abuse in battered women’s centers across Israel
  • In total, 200,000 battered women live in Israel along with a half a million children who witnessed their abuse
  • The police open an average of 50 domestic violence cases each day.

This data indicates a troubling situation, especially if we consider the general problem of underreporting, often the case regarding violence against women.

Several women’s rights groups voiced concern that a plan recently pushed forward by Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan to relax the country’s restrictions on gun licenses will exacerbate the problem. This policy is especially concerning in light of the fact that since 2002, the off-duty arms of private security firms have taken at least 33 innocent lives in Israel as documented by Isha.org.  A coalition of women’s rights organization filed a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, challenging the legality of this policy.

Not only has the current government pushed forth a policy that might put women’s lives in danger, but also refrained from implementing the protective policy from an interministerial committee whose recommendations were approved in 2017 by the cabinet.  Though the recommendations were endorsed, they were not funded or implemented. A recent initiative led by the opposition parties to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the issue of violence against women was not supported by the Coalition. After massive public condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to initiate yet another ministerial committee to look into the matter, ironically led by Erdan. The issue of femicide has turned divisive, voted on along party lines. The government does not seem sufficiently committed to do anything substantive to prevent the victimization of additional women.

Femicide and the Double Standard on Women’s Rights and Agency

This recent increase in femicide should also be considered in the context of dramatic changes in the prevalence of women’s rights in Israel. While Israel is committed to gender equality in its Proclamation of Independence, and in a long series of laws, gender equality has not been reached. There are several structural barriers to obtaining gender equality in Israel. Two examples include the jurisdiction of religious courts over issues of marriage and divorce and that equality is not an explicit constitutional principle. The Israeli legal system has two basic laws covering human rights issues: Basic Law Human Dignity and Liberty (1992) and Freedom of Occupation (1992, amended in 1994) make up the human rights charter in Israeli constitutional law. Both do not include an explicit reference to the idea of equality in general, or gender equality in particular.

Credit: Elana Sztokman

These structural barriers to gender equality translate to the daily experiences of Israeli women. Just last week, the Israeli High Court of Justice upheld a Rabbinical Court decision denying property rights of a woman over the joint apartment where she had lived for decades because she committed adultery. A few days later, the Israeli Council on Higher Education approved a plan to hold separate campuses for men and women, allegedly in order to meet the demands of Ultra-orthodox men, who would not agree to study alongside women, or from women professors. The overall trend, referenced in a Haaretz editorial, is even more concerning as segregation and marginalization of women becomes more widespread in academia and public schools, public office, public space, and in family life. It conveys a message which is received loud and clear by the perpetrators of femicide: a message about the inferiority of women to men, the lack of actual commitment to women’s rights and liberties, and the vulnerability of women in absence of meaningful protections from the state.

The Response of the Civil Society

Today many employers, including municipalities, major corporations, and civil society organization announced their support of the strike. While this support of corporations is impressive, it should also be understood as an attempt of various employers to gain legitimacy by supporting this cause and co-opting the struggle.

While it remains to be seen what impact the strike will actually have on the fight against femicide or the broader battle for women’s rights in Israel, it represents an impressive effort to fight back to preserve and regain women’s rights. Today, take a moment to think about Yara Ayoub and Silvana Tsegai, and the other victims of femicide, who received no state support for their attempt to navigate the harsh reality of their violent lives.


Dr. Tally Kritzman-Amir is an Israel Institute Visiting Associate Professor, Harvard Department of Sociology, and a Senior Lecturer at the College of Law and Business, Israel. She is a 2018 GCRL Scholar-in-Residence at the HBI.


Breaking Boundaries in the U.S. and Israel

By Randa Abbas and Sherri P. Pataki

How do you create greater cross-cultural understanding and challenge negative preconceptions of the “other” between our communities?

This is the question we began to address when we met at an academic conference in Israel almost 10 years ago. Today, our project, “Breaking Boundaries” is creating meaningful, in-depth international dialogue between U.S. and Israeli faculty and students in both middle schools and colleges, in both Arab and Jewish schools in Israel.

In Israel, the participating middle school teachers include Mdalale Azam from Abu Snan and Margie Bendror from Ma’ale Tzvia. In the U.S., it is Ira Pataki from the Sharpsville Area School District in Sharpsville, PA. In Israel, most Arab and Jewish students go to separate schools based on family decisions related to their children’s native language, traditions, holidays, and school proximity.  Whereas the majority population of Israel is Jewish, approximately 20 percent of Israeli citizens are a part of the Arab minority population that includes Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Bedouin, as well as other small minority groups.

Students began Breaking Boundaries by sharing their “hopes and fears” for the project. Using Linoit.com, a free service that enables students to make interactive online posters together, students expressed fear of saying the wrong thing or having difficulty communicating because of language. They expressed hope of making new friends and learning more about other cultures.  One U.S. student wrote in a final reflection on Breaking Boundaries, Countries are afraid of other countries and they shouldn’t be.  When we started this project, the Israeli students were afraid of us, and we were afraid of them, but once we got started we realized we were scared for nothing.”

To create a framework to guide discussion, the students in Breaking Boundaries read the young adult novel, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, about a community struggling with its differences. In one activity, students explained why certain quotes were important to them.  One Israeli student wrote, We can’t just assume things about others, when we don’t even know them, and I go by that, I don’t judge anyone before I get to know him, because I know it’s a wrong thing to do, so I remember my friends, the true ones, for their support, kindness and goodwill, and the memories of them outlast forever.”

At the conclusion of the project, students created poster collages to represent their experience with Breaking Boundaries.  All of the posters were translated and written in Arabic, English, and Hebrew demonstrating mutual respect for each community and their first language.  In a description of their collage, one group of American students wrote, “We … show our flag on the collage and their flag on the collage because they both represent how inside of our countries there are small communities and inside the communities are everyday people just like us.” Another group explained, “There is a silver globe… that represents the fact that even though we are thousands of miles away, we are still connected by our values, our commitment, and our passion to achieve a greater understanding of the world.”

During the pilot year, more than 70 eighth grade students and eight college students actively participated in Breaking Boundaries.  The college mentors included both Arab and Jewish undergraduates from the Arab Academic College and Western Galilee College, and from Westminster College, a small, private liberal arts college in northwestern Pennsylvania where the population is predominantly Christian.

As demonstrated in the writing of students and teacher reflections, the impact of Breaking Boundaries during the first year appears to be broad and deep.  We have also begun to analyze quantitative and qualitative pre- and post-test data for program assessment. One of the middle school teachers in Israel wrote, “The Breaking Boundaries Project offers an opportunity for our small school to meet and mix with schools representing different cultures, and to learn to know each other better. Even within Israel – although geographically (we) are not very far apart – in  terms of knowledge of the other and an understanding of similarities and challenges, we are each quite isolated. … It also indicates our school’s interest and readiness to engage with others, and hopefully offer something positive into the future of Israel.”  

Similarly, as written by one of the Israeli college students participating in Breaking Boundaries and pursuing a degree in education, “Every corner in this big beautiful world we live in, has the potential to become an enjoyable, powerful and natural place for learning. We just need to bring the people together, no matter their religion, location or age. I hope and believe this project will help us all to embrace cultural differences by talking to people from different backgrounds, in Israel and outside of Israel.”    

These words echo our own thoughts as we reach out across our communities and hope to create opportunities for meaningful engagement and greater understanding of the other.  This goal is reflected throughout our research, teaching, and work with students, and is a shared vision we will work towards throughout our professional careers.

In our work together and in our role as educators, we are often reminded of how little our own communities know about one another, and we are sadly reminded of the consequences, both locally and globally, when personal or political decisions are made based on stereotypes or other misconceptions.  Our work to achieve greater understanding of the “other,” particularly between Israeli Arab and Jewish communities and the U.S., includes multiple age groups beginning with 13-year-old children and continuing through the young adults we work with in our own institutions of higher education.

We wish to express our sincere thanks for the support of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, the Thomases Family Endowment, and the Frances and Lillian Schermer Trust.  Their support enabled us to develop Breaking Boundaries and will allow us to expand and continue Breaking Boundaries in the current academic year.  We are also extremely grateful for the middle school teachers who shared our vision and co-created Breaking Boundaries with us, and the students on both sides of the ocean who responded enthusiastically and with an open heart to break the boundaries of distance, ethnicity, and misconceptions between our communities.

Dr. Randa Abbas, a 2018 HBI Scholar-in-Residence, is the Vice President and Academic Dean at the Arab Academic College in Haifa and a lecturer at Western Galilee College in Akko, Israel, where she works with Israeli students training to become teachers in Israel.  She was the first Druze woman to receive her Ph.D from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Dr. Sherri Pataki is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA where she teaches courses in social psychology, research methods, and peace studies.  

HBI Launches Latin American Project with Anne Frank Event

WALTHAM – HBI’s two-day launch of the Project on Latin American Jewish & Gender Studies (LAJGS) began with a dramatic reading of Marjorie Agosín’s Anne: An Imagining of the Life of Anne Frank at the JCC of Greater Boston and followed the next day with programs in two Jewish day schools.

Credit: Josh Luckens

“The events highlighted the ongoing relevance of Anne Frank in Latin America “as a reminder of the enduring power of art, narrative, and truth as resistance to systemic instances of dehumanization,” said Dalia Wassner, director of the LAJGS, a project with the mission to study and explore of Jewish life and gender in Latin America and among Latin American Jews worldwide.

In her opening remarks, HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe noted that in a week that saw the anti-semitic slaughter of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on a Shabbat devoted to welcoming the stranger and refugee in our midst, we are reminded “that we must be ever vigilant to identify and respond to those who would demonize some groups in society, who would divide us and who would facilitate anti-semitic violence against us.”  In the re-telling of the story of Anne Frank for children, Marjorie Agosín and Francisca Yáñez, offered guidance and insight into addressing this complex and delicate task of explaining terror and violence to children, Joffe noted.

Credit: Josh Luckens

The evening opened with a performance by Nisha Sajnani, director of Drama Therapy at NYU, accompanied on piano by Jan Zimmerman. Artwork from Argentine artist Sandra Mayo displayed on stage and on the way into the auditorium complemented the themes of the evening by connecting the Holocaust and periods of dictatorship in the Southern Cone. The program as a whole urged the audience to consider the ongoing impact and salience of Anne Frank in Latin America.

Francesca Colletti, New England Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves, a co-sponsor of the event, related the program to our times. Anne’s words were resonant to so many issues of our time – displacement of children and families, injustice and even death in the face of discrimination and hate.  But the words also speak to us of resilience and hope.”

The launch of the LAJGS  project was made possible by a gift of $50,000 to HBI from former HBI director, Professor Emerita Shulamit Reinharz and former Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz.  Shulamit Reinharz explained that the focus of their philanthropy is to fund projects that embody an important innovation on issues related to Jewish life and social justice and are led by a dynamic individual. The LAJGS project, led by Wassner, is a “perfect fit for these goals,”  said Shulamit Reinharz.

Wassner added, “Recent events in our country and around the world have highlighted the importance of promoting greater understanding of minority identities, including those of Jews, women, and immigrants. With their generous support, Shula and Jehuda Reinharz have made a foundational investment in LAJGS’s mission to generate innovative research and culture that explores the role of gender and Judaism in Latin America, and that understands Latin American Jewry as an important part of the global Jewish story.”

Credit: Gann Academy

The following day, Nov. 2,  Wassner, Agosín and Yáñez held workshops at Gann Academy and Solomon Schechter Day School. Yáñez spoke to Lily Rabinoff-Goldman’s creative writing class at Gann. She told the students that her country had suffered a coup d’etat in 1973 that ousted the democratically elected Salvador Allende, instituting instead a military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet that would last 17 years. She recalled the feelings of insecurity and fear she felt as a little girl who became a refugee.

In preparation for their departure, her parents asked her to pack her most beloved belongings. She recalled choosing a favorite doll, but mostly paper cutouts of beautiful color images. As she boarded the plane, her suitcase flew open causing her paper cutouts to blow away. At that moment, her family was being escorted at gunpoint, allowed to escape only due to a moment of international cooperation. Certain her cutouts would be lost, Yáñez told of her surprise when her father, mother, and brother each turned and descended the plane’s stairs, set on retrieving the youngest family member’s prized possessions. At that moment, she understood what love looked like.

Wassner thanked the event’s co-sponsors, JCC of Greater Boston, Facing History & Ourselves, Gann Academy, Hadassah Boston, Jewish Women’s Archive and Temple Beth Zion of Brookline. Earlier in the week, Yáñez spoke in Agosín’s class at Wellesley and also at Emerson College.

To learn more about the LAJGS and other upcoming HBI programs and events, visit this web page.  

The Lives of Jessie Sampter

Editor’s Note: This is one of an occasional series that looks at research sponsored by HBI through the annual Research Awards program.

By Violet Fearon

Sarah Imhoff first encountered Zionist writer and educator Jessie Sampter at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. She was initially focused on Sampter’s best-known work: A Course on Zionism. Published in 1915 as a 95-page book promoting Zionism to an American audience, A Course on Zionism was funded by the Hadassah Women’s Institute, and was re-published and expanded upon in subsequent years. A 1933 version called Modern Palestine: A Symposium had grown to over 400 pages, and included a foreword by Albert Einstein. “Jessie Sampter, I figured, would be a clear example of a typical American Zionist,” writes Imhoff. “She turned out to be anything but.”

Courtesy of Archives of Givat Brenner

Imhoff first intended to write just an article on Sampter, but “the more I read, the more I wanted to write a whole book.” The resulting work, A Queer, Crippled Zionism: The Lives of Jessie Sampter, is unusual not just in its contents, but in its structure. Rather than a traditional birth-to-death narrative, Imhoff calls her book’s genre “weird biography” in five chapters, Sampter’s life is told through a variety of different lenses, all exploring in different ways “a Zionist whose embodied experiences did not conform to Zionist ideals” and, more generally, asserting that “this conflict between embodiment and religious thought was far from unique in American religious experience.“

Imhoff’s multifaceted style of narrative suits her subject. Born in late 19th century New York City, Sampter was raised in a family of secular, second-generation German Jews; contracting polio at age 13 left her physically disabled for the rest of her life. She wrote of same sex attractions, though she did not define herself as a lesbian; she embraced Judaism, but was influenced by “theosophy, ‘Eastern’ religions, Ouija boards, and palmists”; she considered herself both an internationalist and a Zionist. In short, she lived a “category-defying life,” as Imhoff put it a life that does not suit a single, linear narrative.

The first chapter focuses on Sampter’s life in the context of American religion, challenging scholarly notions that “blurry lines between religions . . . is a contemporary phenomenon, born of the 1960s or postmodernism.“ Instead, Imhoff suggests that even in Sampter’s time, religious ideas and rituals intermingled and influenced each other, and that people did not “[have] one single religious identity to the exclusion of all others.”

The second chapter focuses on disability and the body, and how these themes interact with Zionism and religion.  “In-depth biographical attention to a women—and especially to a disabled woman—is crucial to a fuller understanding of Zionism,” writes Imhoff. Sampter’s disability starkly contrasts with Muskeljudentum ideals, and those Zionist pioneers who “praised productive bodies that worked, built, and farmed.”

Imhoff argues that examining the field of disability studies is important to Jewish history, “not merely because some Jews are disabled, but more broadly because it helps to theorize bodies with greater nuance.” In Sampter’s life and works, she grappled repeatedly with the idea of breaking down the mind-body dichotomy. “Even for the able-bodied,” Imhoff writes, “the mind-body dichotomy is never truly a stark distinction. And all the times that bodies fail to live up to norms, whether Zionist or not, can make us feel less than normal.”

The third chapter “tells Sampter’s story as a queer story,” centering on “queer kinship and queer desire.” Sampter never called herself a lesbian, but she lived in a long term domestic partnership with a woman, and “wrote of homoerotic longings.” This presents a difficulty not unique to Sampter the challenge for scholars to do “historical justice” to sexuality without using identities that the historical figures in question did not classify themselves with. Imhoff suggests that in Sampter’s case, ‘’’queer’ is a better analytical fit . . . Sampter’s biography offers a chance for us to theorize how we translate an embodied past into something legible and relevant in the present.”

The fourth chapter is about political movements, exploring how Sampter “could make sense of the gaps between the ideal and the real . . . a narrative about how someone could simultaneously espouse nationalism and internationalism, Zionism and democracy”. Lastly, the fifth chapter is “about Sampter’s afterlives” the effects her life had on others, from mid-century memorial volumes of her work, to the enduring legacy of her children’s songs, to a billboard quoting her beside a highway in India.

Sampter led her life with fierce determination and enormous dedication to her ideals. Unusually, she did not only move to Palestine, but gave up her American citizenship. She published works in Hebrew, a language she learned later in life; her writings span poetry, journalism, and philosophy. The Lives of Jessie Sampter illustrates “a life of commitment but also conflict, clarity punctuated by moments of opacity, a whole picture whose don’t pieces always fit together perfectly—in short, a compelling real life.”  




Violet Fearon, a sophomore and Humanities Fellow, is the HBI student blogger. 

Sarah Imhoff is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University. She writes about religion and the body with a particular interest in gender, sexuality, and American religion. She is author of Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism (Indiana University Press, 2017).  She received a 2017 HBI Research Award for the work profiled in this blog.

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