The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel


The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel

The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel engages in the interdisciplinary study of the history, cultures, language(s), identities, and religion of the Jewish people. While our program encompasses the historical and geographic breadth of Jewish experiences, our particular strengths are in five key areas: American Jewish history, culture, and literature; European Jewish History and Holocaust Studies; Hebrew; Israel Studies; and Judaism and Jewish Philosophy.

A hallmark of our program is the close interaction of faculty, students and community members. The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel offers a 20 credit undergraduate minor in Jewish Studies that allows students to explore, in interdisciplinary and flexible ways, Jewish history, culture, and identity, to learn Hebrew, and to study Judaism and Jewish thought. Students work closely with faculty mentors, who provide guidance both on academic development and professional opportunities. Our students have opportunities to engage in substantive research projects in class or as guided independent studies as well as senior theses and to participate in faculty-led study abroad programs in Israel. The result is a collegial, supportive community of students and faculty who form lasting relationships.

The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel also supports and highlights the scholarly work of Jewish Studies faculty at MSU, developing a nationally recognized program that fits with the aspirations of a 21st-century global university. We have 6 core Jewish Studies faculty and 22 affiliated faculty from ten departments and colleges across the university. We support faculty professional development and achievement in Jewish Studies, including research and study travel, travel to professional meetings, and support for publication.ichigan, and the State of Michigan.

The Undergraduate Jewish Studies Minor
The Jewish Studies Minor offers a rich interdisciplinary program that introduces undergraduates to the history, cultures, language(s), identities, religion, and civilization of the Jewish people. Students can choose from among our varied and flexible course offerings (listed below), for a minimum of twenty (20) credits, which can be taken while fulfilling the requirements for a major in nearly any field at MSU. Our minor centers on our strengths in American Jewish History and Culture, European Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Hebrew, Israel Studies, and Judaism and Jewish Philosophy. We emphasize close collaboration with and advising from faculty, and offer rich opportunities for undergraduate research. These curricular components are enhanced by our many co-curricular lectures and films designed to enhance classroom experiences and research.


Friday, January 17, 10:00-11:30 AM followed by catered lunch for participants | Wells Hall B-342
Jonathan Netanyahu lecture, “The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” Dr. Susie Linfield will lecture on her new book, The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky (Yale University Press, 201. The book is the winner of the Jewish Book Council distinction, formerly known as the Natan Book Award. Susie Linfield has been a professor in the journalism department of New York University since 1995. A former editor at the Washington Post and the Village Voice, she has written for a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, the Nation, Dissent, and the New Republic.


Monday, January 27, 7:00-8:30 PM | Residential College of Arts and Humanities Theater (Basement of C-20 Snyder Phillips, 362 Bogue St, East Lansing, MI 4882
Hebreo: The Search for Salomone Rossi
An evening in collaboration with the College of Music, devoted to the music of Salomone Rossi (ca. 1570-163. Rossi is the leading Jewish composer of the late Italian Renaissance, who is most famous for his Songs of Solomon, a beautiful collection of originally composed music for Hebrew psalms and prayers. The evening will include the 45-minute documentary Hebreo by Joseph Rochlitz, followed by a musical performance and Q&A with singers from the Israeli vocal ensemble  Profeti della Quinta who are featured in the film: Doron Shleifer, Roman Melish, Lior Leibovici, Jacob Lawrence, Loïc Paulin, Elam Rotem, and Ori Harmelin.


Thursday, February 6, 7:00- 8:30 PM | Wells Hall B-342
Yiddish Between Worlds
Dr. Margot B. Valles (MSU) will chair a panel bringing together three scholars of Yiddish who are 2019-2020 Frankel Institute Fellows exploring the theme of “Yiddish Matters” at the University of Michigan. Dr. Dov-Ber Kerler (Dr. Alice Field Cohn Chair in Yiddish Studies at Indiana University) is a contemporary Yiddish poet and ethnographer who is currently exploring the relationship between Yiddish poetry and the status of Yiddish today.  Dr. Jack Kugelmass (Professor of Anthropology and the Melton Legislative Professor at the University of Florida) is a cultural anthropologist who studies Jewish identity and ethnography, particularly through travel narratives.  Dr. Eli Rosenblatt (Northwestern University) works on racial politics and Ashkenazi identity through Yiddish literature. Together the panelists will explore Yiddish writing and culture in diverse contexts.


Monday, February 10, 7:00-8:30 PM followed by reception | The Kellogg Center Auditorium
Annual Rabin/Brill Lecture, “Holocaust by Bullets: Model for the Modern Genocide”
Father Patrick Desbois, Yahad-In Unum and Georgetown University. Meticulous Nazi records of Jews killed in the death camps identify fewer than half of the Holocaust’s victims. When, were and how were the other victims killed? Father Patrick Desbois has sought and found the answers to these questions. Father Desbois’ books will be available for purchase and signing. Father Patrick Desbois is founder and president of Yahad – In Unum, an organization dedicated to locating the sites of mass graves of Jewish victims of the Nazi mobile-killing units in the former Soviet Union. He is Braman Endowed Professor of the Forensic Study of the Holocaust at the Center for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University.


Monday, February 17, 8:00-9:30 PM followed by reception | The Kellogg Center Auditorium
Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece: The Fate of Salonica ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’”
Dr. Devin E. Naar, University of Washington
From 1492 until the twentieth century, the city of Salonica–once part of the Ottoman Empire and today the second biggest city in Greece–was home to the largest community of Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews in the world. This talk focuses on how this once-thriving Jewish community grappled with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of modern Greece prior to the devastation of the Holocaust. Dr. Devin E. Naar is Isaac Alhadeff Professor of Sephardic Studies and Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Washington. His book, Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece, won a National Jewish Book Award and the grand prize from the Modern Greek Studies Association. Complimentary copies of Dr. Naar’s book will be available at the Serling Institute for those who would like to read it before the lecture.


Wednesday, March 11, 7:30-9:00 PM| James Madison College Library, 332 Case Hall
Third Time’s the Charm? Analyzing the Israeli Election
Dr. Yael Aronoff, Serling Institute and James Madison College, MSU


Thursday, March 12, 7:00-8:30 PM | Wells Hall B-342
The Moon Is Down… Unsung Tales of Rescue and Resistance under Norway’s Nazi Occupation
Dr. Sten H. Vermund, Dean, Yale School of Public Health Dr. Madeleine Lenski, Specialist, MSU Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Professors Vermund and Lenski will discuss the experience of Norway under Nazi occupation by examining the life and legacy of Odd Nansen. Dr. Vermund will discuss Nansen’s diary from the Grini concentration camp outside of Oslo, which is one of the only surviving diaries from a Norwegian concentration camp. Dr. Lenski will discuss the rescue organization “Nansenhjelpen,” which Nansen established in 1936 to provide assistance to Jewish and political refugees from Nazi tyranny, and its extraordinary rescue of hundreds of Jews from Prague.


Sunday-Monday, March 15, 1:00-9:00 PM, March 16 7:00-8:45 PM| Wells Hall B-122
15th Annual MSU Israeli Film Festival
Featuring  Yael Katzir, award-winning Israeli documentary filmmaker and professor

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Yael Katzir will introduce and lead a discussion of each film.

Ma’abarot (2019)
Director: Dina Zvi Riklis
Israel. Language: Hebrew
Ma’abarot is the first documentary project to tell the story of the Israeli transit camps. The transit camps were a controversial enterprise, housing hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from different parts of the world and transitioning them into becoming part of Israeli society – a process with mixed, and sometimes traumatic, results that continue to shape Israeli culture and politics today. The film features rare archival materials and testimonies of former residents.
SUNDAY MARCH 15th| Wells Hall B-122| 1:00-3:15

Tel Aviv On Fire (2019)
Director: Sameh Zoabi
Israel. Languages: Arabic, Hebrew
Salam, a young Palestinian man, becomes a writer for a popular soap opera after a chance meeting with an Israeli check point commander. His creative career is on the rise – until the soldier and the show’s financial backers disagree about how the show should end. Salam is caught in the middle.
A sharp, insightful story about the power of storytelling itself, in the context of competing narratives of conflict and peace.
Venice Film Festival, Best Actor: Kais Nashif; Ophir Award (Israeli Academy Awards) Best Original Screenplay.
SUNDAY MARCH 15th| Wells Hall B-122| 3:30-5:45

5:45 pm: Complimentary dinner for festival attendees, catered by Woody’s Oasis
Mediterranean Deli, after Tel Aviv On Fire

The Spy (2019)- 2 Episodes
Directors: Gideon Raff and Max Perry
Language: English
The Spy is a miniseries based on the life of Eli Cohen, Israel’s top Mossad spy, who is portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen (no relation). Eli Cohen became part of an Israeli spy network in Egypt, which was subsequently uncovered. He fled to Israel in 1956. In 1960, facing an increasingly tense border situation with Syria, Israeli intelligence recruited him to make connections and gather information in Syria. The Spy depicts Cohen’s transformation into a Mossad operative in this daring tale of espionage.

SUNDAY MARCH 15th| Wells Hall B-122| 6:30-9:00
The Albanian Code (2019)
Documentary by Yael Katzir
Albania. Languages: Albanian, Hebrew, English
The Albanian Code is a documentary feature about the little-known saga of the thousands of Jewish refugees saved in Albania during WWII, due to the courage and humanity of the Albanian people–mostly Muslims. Most of the rescuers are no longer living, therefore it is urgent to document for posterity both saviors and saved and to leave a legacy for future generations. Premiered in Albania in the presence of the President. Screened in Paris at the Memorial de la Shoah and in Manhattan at the JCC.
MONDAY MARCH 16th| Wells Hall B-119| 7:00-8:45


Friday, April 3, 9AM-5PM | James Madison College Library, 332 Case Hall
Annual Serling Institute Undergraduate Research Conference
Featuring student research presentations and a keynote address by Marissa Cloutier, Senior Compliance Specialist, U.S. Department of State. Marissa, an alumna of the Serling Institute, will discuss her experiences working on national security and foreign policy in the U.S. State Department over lunch. The conference and lunch are free and open to the public.


Tuesday, April 14, 6:30-8:00PM | MSU Hillel Jewish Studies Center (360 Charles St. East Lansing, MI)
Student Forum on Antisemitism
Forum for students to share and/or hear from fellow students about experiences of antisemitism at MSU. Hillel Staff and Serling faculty will be at the forum. Complimentary dinner provided to participants.


Monday, April 20, 7:00-8:30 PM | Wells Hall B-342
“The Phantom of the Guillotine: Dealing with the Legacies of Mass Violence after the French Revolution”
Dr. Ronen Steinberg, Department of History, MSU
Dr. Steinberg will discuss his new book, The Afterlives of the Terror: Facing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Post-Revolutionary France (Cornell University Press, 201. Complimentary copies of his book will be available in the Serling Institute starting on January 6.


Join MSU in Israel! Contact Yael at The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel for more information.



Serling Institute Professor Kirsten Fermaglich received the Saul Viener Book Prize in Spring 2019. The prize is awarded biannually and is given to original works in English that focus on American Jewish History. Prof. Fermaglich’s won the prize for her book, A Rosenberg By Any Other Name: A History of Jewish Name Changing in America.


“Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece: The Fate of Salonica ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’”
Monday, February 17, 8:00-9:30 PM followed by reception | The Kellogg Center Auditorium
Dr. Devin E. Naar, University of Washington


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