A couple weeks back, the 11th grade mifgash students from Gann Academy in Waltham and the Ironi Hey school in Haifa had the opportunity to visit the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. The Schusterman Center is a renowned research center that is dedicated to the holistic study of Israeli society. The Center is unique in the academic world, as unlike the majority of other universities that include Israel in broader Middle Eastern Studies departments, the Center examines Israel on its own terms. To this effect, the Center brings together students and researchers of diverse backgrounds, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims, akin to the diverse makeup of Israel itself.

While at the Center, the students had the opportunity to meet and learn from Dr. Rachel Fish, Associate Director of the Schusterman Center. Given the different backgrounds of the students, both American and Israeli, Professor Fish began the discussion with students by going over a brief history of Zionism, and the notion of there being multiple Zionisms, within which political Zionism dedicated to the Jewish nation-state in the Land of Israel was just one avenue amongst many.

The mifgash students learned about the namesake of the university, Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, who espoused a balance between universalism and particularism in seeing Zionism as being completely in sync with being a patriotic American. The students were keen to learn that just as they have conversations in Israel about the nature of Zionism and the character of the Jewish nation-state, these are conversations that have also been taking place in the United States for the last century. This discussion brought up many good questions, such as: How do American Jews enact their Zionism while living in the Diaspora? How one be a Zionist and not want to make aliyah? How much does Zionism contribute to Jewish identity in the diaspora, and specifically in America?

As one Israeli mifgash student mentioned at the closing of the session, “It’s really interesting that we learn new perspectives about Zionism here in America, it puts living in Israel in a new perspective. I didn’t think that someone could be Zionist outside of Israel.” This observation truly speaks to the way in which the mifgash experience exposes students to new ideas and ways of “doing” Jewish in different communities. Boston-Haifa Connection is proud to partner with great organizations like Gann Academy, Ironi Hey, and the Schusterman Center in fostering meaningful exchange experiences that reinforce the bridges between our unique communities.