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Jewish Review of Books Third Annual Conference: A Day of Exceptional Insights

Despite the blistering, single-digit cold, 300 participants gathered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Sunday, January 14, to hear presentations from renowned presenters. Hosted by The Jewish Review of Books, a quarterly print publication with an active online presence, the Third Annual Conference afforded its attendees the opportunity to contemplate a diverse array of key issues facing American and Israeli Jewry today.

The keynote address, which was combined with an elegant luncheon in the glass-enclosed ballroom of the museum, was delivered by Dr. Daniel Gordis on the compelling topic “American Jews and Israel—the History of a Relationship.” Addressing the “problem” of the deepening gulf between American and Israeli Jews, Gordis posited that this is not at all a new issue, rather one that can be traced to the genesis of the early American Liberal Zionist organization established to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish state in the early 1900s. At that time, the mission of this Zionist organization was to find an alternate home for the Jewish people outside of the United States. Early American Zionists never conceived of an Israel that would be a progressive, successful and modern country.

Israel today, as a thriving modern state where Jews are a majority and whose government and laws are still promoting time-honored Jewish values, is somewhat of an enigma to American Jews. Gordis posed a difficult question to his audience: “In 50 years hence, during which Israel will have contributed to the technological and economic advancement of the world community while maintaining its Jewish foundational beliefs and practices, what will be the unique imprint of American Jewry on the world stage?”

In sessions prior to and following the keynote address, presenters and their interviewers delivered insightful and provocative talks that provided much room for thought. Professor Ruth Wisse analyzed themes and motives in the writings of early 20th century author Mendele Mocher Seforim and his art of criticizing fellow Jews of his era. Professor Deborah Lipstadt spoke about preparing Jewish students for life on liberal arts campuses. Dr. Jeffrey Rosen, acclaimed expert in the history of the US Supreme Court and author of an award-winning biography of Justice Louis D. Brandeis, was interviewed by Roger Hertog, recipient of the Medal of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Their discussion revealed Justice Brandeis’ evolution from a totally unaffiliated Jew to an ardent American Zionist who was instrumental in influencing President Woodrow Wilson to encourage the British government to issue the historic Balfour Declaration 100 years ago.

The culminating session was a brilliant analysis of the current Middle East situation by General Amos Yadlin and Elliot Abrams.The two experts, having been intricately involved in their country’s decision-making policies regarding the Middle East, shared their inside views of the future of the region, the inherent threats and dangers, and the underlying policies of both American and Israeli leaders. Their presentation elicited a vibrant exchange with audience members.

The panel of scholars included Gordis, senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem; Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, and previously an adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan; General Yadlin, executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, and formerly deputy commander of the Israeli Air Force; Peter Berkowitz, Taube senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University; Lipstadt, Dorot professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University; Wisse, professor of Yiddish and Comparative Literature at Harvard University; Rosen, professor of law at George Washington University and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Interviewing the scholars were Eric Cohen, executive director of the Tikvah Fund, co-sponsors of the conference; Hertog, president of the Hertog Foundation and chairman of the Tikvah Fund; and Abraham Socher, founding editor of The Jewish Review Books.

To learn more about upcoming events and publications of The Jewish Review of Books, contact Malka Groden at jewishreviewof books.com or call 646-218-9026.

To learn more about the Tikvah Fund’s Summer Fellowships and Institutes for high school, college and graduate students, contact [email protected] or call  212-796-1672.

By Pearl and Moshe Markovitz

 

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