Gary Gilbert, associate professor of religious studies, was awarded a fellowship to attend the Summer Institute for Israel Studies, hosted by Brandeis University's Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.
The program invited faculty from universities around the world to participate in a two-week seminar series at Brandeis, followed by a nine-day program in Israel. The seminars at Brandeis, taught by distinguished Israel Studies scholars, focused on topics such as Israel's society, history, politics, economics, culture, foreign affairs, and diplomacy. In Israel, the participants met with Supreme Court justices, leading economists, contemporary writers, and other community leaders, such as Ramez Jarayse, the mayor of Nazareth.
Gilbert says the encounter with the leader of the largest Arab city in Israel contributed significantly to his experience. "It underscored the diversity of Israeli society and the difficulties in trying to sustain a Jewish and democratic state," he says.
The itinerary included a visit to select cultural and historical sites such as the Old City in Jerusalem; Degania, the first kibbutz; and the Yitzhak Rabin Museum in Tel Aviv. When the program concluded, Gilbert stayed on to visit ancient sites, cities, synagogues, and catacombs that are more directly related to his research on Jewish antiquity. This was his fifth time in the country. "Every time I travel to Israel, I gain a better appreciation and understanding of the nation, its people, and its historical, political, and social complexities."
The Schusterman program was developed to help participants design courses in Israel studies for their home universities. The requirements include creating new curricula for courses they plan to teach at their campuses.
In addition to this exchange between professors, Gilbert says academic programs like this one allow him to meet with academics, politicians, and artists who have personal connections and an analytical understanding of the complex historical, political, economic, and cultural issues that have shaped the history of Israel.
The program strengthened Gilbert's perception of the country as a whole.
"Whether we were dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the status of minorities within Israel, ethnic divisions in Israeli society, current developments in literature and film, or mundane matters such as street construction, I came to a better appreciation of the complex history of the country and the divisive issues that shape the national identity and policies," he says.
Gilbert will bring this understanding to his new course: RLST 135: Jerusalem, reflecting on the city's history and its associations as a sacred cityone with a complex past and conflicted present. Brittany Pineros '11