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Steven Fine
Churgin Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University

Why am I Coming? The Jewish Studies Scholars Solidarity Trip to Israel

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The Jewish Studies Scholars Solidarity Trip to Israel in Crisis, January 2-4, 2024

Helpless, bewildered and constantly on the edge of tears.  Helpless to do anything meaningful after the horrors of October 7.  Helpless to respond to the antiIsrael, antisemitic onslaught on our campuses, helpless to support colleagues and their students under siege. 

For a moment, I even felt helpless to support my Yeshiva University students– to help them understand our changed world, to support–and sometimes mourn– their lost friends and cousins, to help them to quickly learn the history of Israel, and why (as we said in May 1967), “Israel Must Live.”

My frozen moment lasted for a day or two— though the tears have never stopped.  It was time to reboot— my Yeshiva College course on the Arch of Titus became a bootcamp in Israeli history, my goal to create hundreds of “little Herzls” who have seen the worst, and are ready to move.  Our students have not disappointed— with thoughtful learning, soulful reflection, demonstrations, articles, drives of all kinds, and life changing missions to “build and be built” in the process.

Next, our Jewish studies colleagues.  How could we, Jewish Studies faculty at Yeshiva University, the largest Jewish institution outside of Israel— support our colleagues?  On so many campuses, Jewish Sstudies faculty who are committed to Judaism, the Jewish people and to our sovereign state are under attack, some  hiding, others cowering. From the safety of YU, how could we help?

In those early days, a group of us came together.  Our first step is  The  Jewish Studies Scholars Solidarity Trip to Israel in Crisis.  This project is a grassroots response by academic Jewish Studies scholars of all communal allegiances to the Hamas War.  Specialists in Jewish Studies, many of whom are under fire on their university campuses, have come together with scholars who teach in the national Jewish institutions.  

This project originated with Yeshiva University faculty, quickly joined by colleagues from Hebrew Union College and Jewish Theological Seminary.  We have since been joined by scholars from Catholic Theological Union, Rutgers, Washington University, Notre Dame, Cleveland State, Emory, Reed College and many more. We are committed to nurturing and creating a community of academics committed to Israel and Zionism for the benefit of our global and local Jewish communities. 

We organized our project with the dedicated help of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, with support from our institutions.  It is heartwarming that Conservative, Reform and Orthodox congregations and communal organizations from around the country quickly joined in to help. This is Klal Yisrael forging new bonds at a moment of crisis, a wonder to watch.

The Jewish Studies Scholars Solidarity Trip to Israel in Crisis has as its first goal visiting Israeli academic institutions, scholars and students who are affected by this war, and using their expertise as Jewish scholars as part of the war effort. This trip is the first step, however, in a larger project to bring together scholars of Jewish Studies as a community, to create a fellowship and to seed future projects. 

Our project, beginning with this trip, is intended to support and unify a broad Jewish Studies consensus that sees itself as integral to the Jewish community and not outside of it.  We represent a broad range of opinions about Israeli government policy— but are united in our commitment to Israel.  This bonding project will create a mission-driven group of scholars. 

We expect many sprouts to germinate from this trip, both between us and with Israeli colleagues and institutions.   We anticipate that each of us will bring this experience back to our campuses and that considerable scholarship, programming and conversations will result.

We will visit with scholars at Ahva College in Ashdod and Sapir College in Sderot, both in the front lines of the current war we will see the devastation with our own eyes, and also visit the heroic Kibbutz Yad Mordecai.  We will meet with scholars at Bar Ilan and Tel Aviv University, visit “Captives Square,” and host a reception at the new National Library of Israel as we learn about their experiences, traumas and plans for a better future.   We will visit the new Israel Antiquities Authority campus, and learn about the work of archaeologists at war.   Most of all, we will be together in Israel, building for the day after.

It is time to regroup, reorganize and prepare for a brighter future for Jews and Judaism in the academy and on campus— now with eyes wide open.  We have no time to be either helpless or frozen. We as a community of scholars committed to Israel— in all of its diversity— need one another, American Jewry needs our collective voice, and our Israeli colleagues need us.

Our members, twenty-three in all, are en route to Israel.  Stay tuned for reports from the ground. 

About the Author
Steven Fine is a cultural historian, specializing in Jewish history in the Greco-Roman period. He focuses upon the literature, art and archaeology of ancient Judaism, and the ways that modern scholars have interpreted Jewish antiquity. His most recent book is: -The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Harvard UP, 2016).- Fine is the Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, director of the YU Center for Israel Studies, the Arch of Titus Project, and the YU Samaritan Israelites Project.