Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University


Yael Aronoff - MSU Jewish Studies Director

I am enthusiastic about starting my five-year tenure as Director of Jewish Studies. I am looking forward to working with faculty, staff, students, MSU administrators, the Board of Directors, and community members to strengthen our Jewish Studies program. We continue to offer co-curricular lectures, research seminars, and films in coordination with other units on campus, to fundraise for the development of a new endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies, to host our Visiting Serling Israeli Scholars, and to build the number of students minoring in Jewish Studies as well as faculty whom are affiliated with Jewish Studies. This fall alone we are sponsoring thirteen lectures, many of them are co-sponsored with at least one of eight other units. I am excited that Professor Alon Tal, a leading environmental historian and activist from Ben-Gurion University, will be offering two classes at James Madison College this spring as the Serling Visiting Israel Scholar.

I would like to express my immense appreciation for Kenneth Waltzer’s exemplary job as director for the last decade. Under his leadership, the Jewish Studies Program has grown and flourished. He helped develop three new positions: the Michael and Elaine Serling and Friends Chair in Israel Studies, which I occupy; the Serling Israeli Visiting Scholar position; and a Jewish Studies position in Religious Studies, which Benjamin Pollock has filled with distinction. Ken helped get Schusterman Visiting Israeli Fellows to MSU and initiated study abroad programs to Israel. I have been lucky to have worked closely with Ken for the past eight years on most programming related to Israel, and for the past year on all Jewish Studies programming. I appreciate his continued willingness to support Jewish Studies in his retirement.

I would also like to thank Ellen Rothfeld, who retired this past May, after eighteen years of teaching Hebrew at MSU with dedication. She also successfully coordinated our annual Israeli Film Festival for the past ten years. We will sorely miss Ellen and hope to see her in many of our events. We mourn the passing of George Peters, affiliated Jewish Studies faculty, who was a supportive colleague, a student of modern German Jewry, and a friend of the program.

I would like to welcome Ariana Metzel, who will be teaching first-year Hebrew for us. Ariana graduated from MSU and was a Jewish Studies specialist. She worked for the Anti-Defamation League in Michigan and on projects that aim to improve Jewish-Muslim relations, and earned her Masters in Conflict Resolution from IDC Herzliya. We face the challenge of declining enrollment in Hebrew, but Professor Marc Bernstein and Ms. Metzel will be working to recruit more students.

It is with sorrow and empathy that we followed the Israeli-Hamas war this past summer. Hamas fired over 4,500 rockets at Israeli civilian targets, forcing many people to leave their homes and others to make frequent trips to bomb shelters. Seventy Israelis lost their lives due to the war. Since Hamas often fires rockets from and stores the rockets in civilian areas, builds tunnels into Israel from civilian areas, and does not wear a distinguishing uniform while fighting, the Palestinian toll has been heavy. Israeli actions took 2,000 Palestinians lives, and Israel estimates that approximately half were militants. Our hearts go out to Israelis and to Palestinian civilians who have suffered, and we hope for a long-term truce and eventually an agreement to bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Due to the tragic war this summer, our study abroad program was prematurely aborted by MSU for safety concerns. We will be petitioning the MSU risk committee to re-instate our study abroad programs in Israel and for MSU students studying independently at Israeli universities. Given the tragic events this summer, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is likely to capitalize on mischaracterizations of Israeli actions (exaggerating civilian deaths beyond the already tragic number and portraying them as intentional on Israel’s part), in order to gain momentum. The movement’s goals of cutting interactions with Israel and Israelis would impede the ability of Jewish Studies to promote the study of the only Jewish majority country in the world. Professor Carey Nelson’s lecture, “Bait and Switch: The Meaning of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” will be held November 20, 7:00-8:30 pm, in Club Spartan, Case Hall.

I look forward to an intellectually stimulating year and to seeing you at all our events.


Monday, October 27th (4 pm in Wells B342) - Haya Bar-Itzhak will be giving a talk, “Women in Times of Persecution in Jewish East European Legends.” Haya Bar-Itzhak is a professor of literature and folklore. She served as Chair of the Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, serves as Head of Folklore Studies, and the Academic Director of the Israel Folktale Archives at the University of Haifa. The focus of her research is Jewish folk literature with an emphasis on the ethnographic and poetic aspects. She published extensively on settlement, immigration and ethnicity in Israel;  Jewish folk literature in Eastern Europe; and women in Jewish folklore.

Friday, November 14th (10-11:30 am in Wells C-742) – Professor Benjamin Pollock will be giving a talk and leading a discussion Friday, November 14th at 10am Benjamin Pollock will give a talk and lead a discussion as part of the Jewish Son his newly published book entitled, “Writing about Franz Rosenzweig ‘s Life and Thought.”

Thursday, November 20 (7-9 pm in Case Hall) - Cary Nelson, Professor Emeritus of English at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the former President of the American Association of University Professors, will speak on “Bait and Switch: The Purpose of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”     He is currently co-editing a book with Gabriel Brahm, eds., The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.    He is also author of Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2014) No University is an Island (2011) and of Manifesto of a Tenured Radical (1997).

Friday, December 5th (10-11:30 in Wells C-742) - Professor Yael Aronoff will give a talk and lead a discussion on her newly published book, “The Political Psychology of Israeli Prime Ministers: When Hard-Liners Opt for Peace.”