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Yediaut Recaps from the Center for Israel Studies and Jewish Studies Program

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

Israeli Cuisine Conference

By Jordana Meyer

From eggplant carpaccio to schnitzel, panelists at our November conference “Israeli Cuisine as a Reflection of Israeli Society” delved deep into the flavors and aromas of Israeli cuisine from biblical times to today. The two-day conference brought together scholars, food writers, and celebrity chefs from across the U.S. and Israel and was co-sponsored by the Center for Israel Studies (CIS), Jewish Studies Program (JSP), and the School of International Service (SIS)Conflict Cuisine initiative.

Israeli chefs Lior Lev Sercarz and Einat Admony, with Yahil Zaban from Tel Aviv University

For Mitchell Davis, Chief Strategy Officer of the James Beard Foundation, who moderated the panel on modern Israeli food culture, the first order of business was a seemingly simple, but ultimately essential, question: What is Israeli Cuisine? “Israeli cuisine is my Iranian mother marrying my Yemenite father and cooking for our Moroccan and Ashkenazi neighbors,” responded Israeli celebrity chef, author and New York restaurateur Einat Admony. “Israeli cuisine is Shabbat morning jahnun and kugel!”

Childhood recollection and “okhel bayit” (food of the home), as Admony put it, figured prominently into the panelists’ discussions. During the following panel on Israeli-Arab Food Politics moderated by SIS Professor Johanna Mendelsohn-Forman, Palestinian-Israeli chef and restaurateur Osama Dalal vividly recalled the intoxicating scents of his grandmother’s cooking in Acre, an aroma that infused her home with the taste of onions, even compelling Dalal and his cousins to lick the walls. His experiences gathering the freshest food from local markets and fishing for dinner from the sea, then cooking at his grandmother’s side strongly influences his award-winning cooking today.

Michael Solomonov, chef/restaurateur

But not all of the discourse was rooted in delicious childhood memories. As food and art scholar Yael Raviv pointed out, “We would love to use food to bring people together, but it’s also a powerful tool for keeping people apart, defining identity.”

The question of food as a proxy for political identity struck a chord with speakers on both panels, who discussed the importance of cuisine in the creation of a state, as well as its importance in the absence of one. The questions of authenticity and invention, nationalism, culinary appropriation and political identity were, like Israeli cuisine itself, left semi-defined. It was the youngest panelist, Osama Dalal, who left the audience with a dash of double-edged wisdom. “The most important thing is to sit around the table. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat, but sit at the table.” Hundreds of students and community members did just that as they enjoyed a delicious Israeli lunch in AU’s new Constitution Hall. The day concluded with a showing of the film, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, and discussion with the film’s director and producer, Roger Sherman and Dorothy Kalins, led by food writer and conference consultant Susan Barocas.

The Israeli Cuisine conference opened the evening before with a roundtable discussion for AU students and Friends of the Center, held at the AU Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. Moderated by Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor of the Washington Post, the event featured five outstanding Israeli celebrity chefs: Admony, Dalal, Michael Solomonov (James Beard’s 2017 Outstanding Chef of the Year, author and restaurateur), Lior Lev Sercarz (spice specialist and author) and Tom Franz (chef and past winner of Israel’s Master Chef). A delicious dessert reception featured some of the chefs’ recipes, including donuts made by Solomonov at his Philadelphia Federal Donuts location. Guests at the museum were able to view new acquisitions to the Rothfeld Collection of Contemporary Art, donated by benefactor Donald Rothfeld, who was in attendance. The Israeli cuisine conference was made possible through the support of the Knapp Family Foundation.

The Arab Population in Israel

By Jordana Meyer

“The status of Israeli Arabs is a test of Israel’s democracy,” remarked Rabbi Sid Schwarz, as he opened the final plenary of “The Arab Population in Israel 1948 to Today” conference. Held in February, the conference spotlighted keynote speakers Tamir Sorek of the University of Florida and Mohammed Wattad of Zefat Academic College of Law, and featured a day of

plenaries and specialized breakout sessions. The event was co-sponsored by AU’s Center for Israel Studies, Arab World Studies Program, Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, and the Greater Washington Forum on Israeli Arab Issues (of which Schwarz was founding co-chair) and brought together an expert group of scholars and activists to discuss the changing agendas and aspirations of Israel’s Arab population.

Boaz Atzili, Laura Cutler and Mohammed Wattad

From the ballot box, to economic integration, from one and two-state solutions to school systems, the speakers spoke passionately about the issues of shared society and national identity. The issue of identity struck a chord with keynote speaker Wattad, who reflected on the complexities of Israeli national and Jewish identity. “I want a Palestinian state to be established as an Arab and democratic state,” Wattad explained, “and for that to happen, Israel also must exist - as a Jewish and democratic state.” The conference was made possible through the support of the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation and the participation of many community partners.

The United States and The Israel-Palestine Peace Process

By Jordana Meyer

On March 26, the AU Center for Israel Studies joined with the Mohamed S. Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace to co-host an even highlighting the strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics of U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over the last few decades. The panel brought together an array of former negotiators, advisers, and participants in peace talks, each tasked with representing their respective era.

The plenary was moderated by SIS Professor Anthony Wanis-St. John and featured panelists William B. Quandt, former member of both Presidents Nixon’s and Carter’s National Security Councils and insider to the Camp David Accords; Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. and chief negotiator with Syria during the Oslo Process; Ghaith al-Omari, former advisor to the Palestinian Authority’s negotiators during the 1991-2001 permanent-status talks; and Leila Hilal, former legal adviser to Palestinian negotiators in the aftermath of the Second Intifada.

The discussion quickly progressed into an animated debate about state-centric versus people-centric diplomacy with Ambassador Rabinovich advocating for top-down peace negotiations. “Leadership matters the most,” contended Ambassador Rabinovich as al-Omari nodded in agreement. “The people will follow.”

But not everyone was convinced. “If you’re going to make peace you have to make peace between the peoples,” insisted Hilal, “you have to build a constituency for peace.” The panelists concluded by offering advice to future U.S. administrations on how to interact with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Reflecting on the failures of the permanent-status talks in which he took part, al-Omari cautioned future U.S. leaders. “Failing so often delegitimizes the peace process. Under current conditions, if you try, you will fail, so do not try.” Quandt offered a more hopeful reflection. “In ten days we wrote twenty-six drafts of the proposed [Camp David] compromise,” he recalled. “There were moments where it looked like it was falling apart...But until you get right to the finish line, you never know you’re there.”

Bridging the Israeli-Diaspora Divide

By Jordana Meyer

From BDS to Birthright walk-offs, much has been made of the growing schism between American Jews and Israel. American University and the University of Haifa Ruderman Program in American Jewish Studies, which offers the only Israeli Master’s degree in American Jewish studies, are dedicated to bridging that divide. AU Professor Pamela Nadell and University of Haifa Professor Gur Alroey teamed up to lead 24 Ruderman master’s students on a U.S. summer study tour. The students traveled from New York to Philadelphia to Washington, DC, meeting with leaders of the American Jewish community including religious denominations, and the Pew Foundation, political leaders, advocacy groups, and Jewish figures in journalism, theater, film, and museums. The University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program in American Jewish Studies was established in 2013 with funding from the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation.

Bridging the Israeli-Diaspora Divide

By Center for Israel Studies

In November American-born Israeli writer Haim Watzman became the latest literary figure to address the American University community, in a program co-sponsored by CIS, JSP, and AU’s Department of Literature. Professor Lauren Strauss interviewed Watzman about his multi-faceted career: as translator of some of Israel’s most important writers, including Tom Segev, Amos Oz, and David Grossman, as author of a memoir and of a recently-published collection of short stories, and as a journalist and blogger. Watzman treated the crowd to a reading from one of his stories, intriguingly titled “Israeli Soldiers, Sudanese Refugees, and a Talmudic Debate,” before taking questions and signing copies of his latest book for audience members. Read more on Student Israelity.

Jackson Pincus (SIS '19) with Romanian Ambassador H.E. George Cristian Major

Global Israel Embassy Events

By Center for Israel Studies

CIS’s popular “Global Israel” series continued this year with events highlighting the Israel-Africa relationship, Israeli-Romanian relations, and the ties between Israel and Cyprus. The events, held respectively at the African Union Mission, the Embassy of Romania, and the Embassy of Cyprus, featured discussions between multiple foreign ambassadors and CIS professors, after which attendees enjoyed traditional African, Romanian, and Cypriot cuisines. Global Israel events are restricted to AU students, faculty and Friends of the Center for Israel Studies.

Dan Shapiro Delivers Perlmutter Address

By Center for Israel Studies

On January 22nd, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro delivered this year’s Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture. Shapiro, who spoke to a crowd of about 250 people, served as America’s top diplomat to Israel under President Obama and emphasized the durability of the U.S.-Israel alliance, saying, “we shouldn’t be scared of occasional daylight between us.” He continued, “It doesn’t worry me as long as we have leaders who are committed to the fundamentals of the partnership and how to manage through our differences avoiding acrimony and finding a common path. I hope our current and future leaders will be wise enough to continue that approach.” Saul Newman, SPA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, appreciated Shapiro’s thoughtful and balanced” presentation. “His strategic, yet mildly passionate analysis of the situation was very refreshing,” remarked Newman. The lecture, sponsored by the AU School of Public Affairs and the Center for Israel Studies, is named after longtime political advisor to the Israeli government and SPA professor of political science, Amos Perlmutter.

Cameron Cushner Receives Israel Writing Prize

By Center for Israel Studies

Congratulations to Cameron Cushner, SIS’18, whose personal essay “What About the Arabs?” received CIS’s Sklarew Israel Writing Prize for the best paper or poem related to Israel. The essay, initially written for the AU student blog “Student Israelity,” addresses the exclusion of its Arab citizens from American Jews’ perceptions of modern Israel. “When I would speak with American Jews about Israel, there was always a factor of forgetting about a fifth of the population,” recalled Cushner, whose own background includes both Jewish ancestry and Arab Christian roots in Haifa. “If we make a conscious effort to recognize Arab Israeli citizens’ contributions to society, it could help towards a better future.” Cameron will be attending a master’s program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University in 2018-19. The annually awarded Sklarew Israel Writing Prize was created in 2008 by literature Professor Emerita Myra Sklarew in honor of Benjamin and Eva Wolpe Reinkel and in memory of Harry Reinkel and Janice Eanet.

Copied from the Center for Israel Studies and Jewish Studies Program 2018 newsletter, the Yediaut.

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