I am delighted to welcome you to the University of Illinois for the 37th Association of Israel Studies annual conference—even if it is only virtually.
For 14 years the University has been home to the Israel Studies Project (ISP), housed in the Program in Jewish Culture & Society. Through the resources of the ISP we have strategically implemented a robust array of Israel Studies programming across campus, including organizing visits from prominent cultural figures, developing conferences and workshops, and offering multiple courses within the Program in Jewish Culture & Society. Through this programming, we estimate that over the last 10 years more than 2,000 people participated, including over 700 students completing semester-long coursework. This work has enabled us to promote greater understanding of and engagement with Israeli culture and society, in all of its complexities. The hosting of the international organization’s annual conference is the next step in our efforts to advance the University of Illinois’s role in the study of Israel.
This year’s conference theme “Pluralistic Israel: Women, Minorities, and Diversity” recognizes efforts we began in 2013 to focus on bringing a diverse range of Israeli voices to campus and celebrating the work of Israeli women, Arabs, Ethiopians, Palestinians and Mizrahi writers and scholars. In 2019, we hosted a taskforce on the situation of women in Israel Studies, launching a major initiative for the AIS which has led to a new mentoring program and the creation of a women’s caucus. Drawing on these particular strengths within our own community, we envisaged a conference that explores diverse communities in Israel, including religious minorities (Christian, Muslim, Bahai and Druze), ethnic minorities and women. These hopes have been realized in a rich and inclusive conference program.
In addition to the hundreds of conference papers, presentations and roundtables on these themes, you will find program highlights that address these topics. We draw your attention to our plenary “Women, Activism and Israeli Law” on the ways women are using the law to advocate for women’s rights across traditional divisions in Israeli society, fighting against gender based violence, discrimination and inequity featuring journalists Dahlia Lithwick and Allison Sommer and scholar-activists Amal Elsana Alh’jooj and Ruth Halperin- Kaddari
The opening night events include a conversation with the former United States of America Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who grew up in Urbana-Champaign, and whose father Michael Shapiro was a faculty member in the Department of English for many years, and served as co-founder and inaugural director of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society. He will be in conversation with Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution.
Look out for a musical performance by Mira Awad and Guy Mintus. We are also screening Awad’s 8-episode television series Muna. We conclude the conference with a dance party/workshop for non-dancers with Gaga practitioner Omri Drumlevich.
Keynote Dany Bahar will speak about Israel’s response to COVID and the success of its swift vaccination program. His respondent Rebecca Smith was part of the University of Illinois taskforce on COVID, which served as a model for universities across the United States.
There is also a full film program available 6-13 June through the conference platform, and conversations with filmmakers and directors throughout the three days of the conference including Awad, Ethiopian filmmaker Esti Almo Wexler, and feminist filmmakers and activists Smadar Zamir and Lior Elefant. Also look out for our wellness corner where you will be able to follow Ariana Starkman as she leads us through some light yoga. Feel free to engage her anytime through the on demand video.
And don’t forget to check out our exhibition space where you can find information about the latest publications by AIS members, resources available to faculty from Israel—or teaching Israel Studies, and a dedicated channel for tech support where you can test your equipment or ask for instructional support for navigating the program platform and managing zoom functionalities.
We look forward to sharing this exciting conference with you!
Rachel S. Harris
AIS Conference Chair 2021
Editor in Chief Journal of Jewish Identities
Associate Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture
The Program in Jewish Culture & Society
The Program in Comparative and World Literature
The University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign