By Lauren Mehler-Clark Hoya Staff Writer

Visiting Israeli Professor Yossi Shain delivered the 2000 Aaron and Cecile Goldman Visiting Israeli Professorship Lecture last night. He incited a primarily academic audience to consider the growing emphasis on identity politics in his lecture, “The Battle for Jewish Identity.” A Kosher reception followed the program, providing an opportunity for casual discussion of Shain’s provocative speech.

University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., welcomed Shain to the podium, introducing him as an intellectual bridge to understanding Jewish identity. He emphasized the significance of the Goldman Professorship program in preserving a university environment “that fosters interfaith and intercultural dialogue.” Referring specifically to last December’s vandalism of the Jewish Student Association’s menorah, O’Donovan stressed that “Graced with a strong JSA, this has been a year when students have rallied against intolerance.” He praised Shain for his intellectual contributions: “Thank you for giving us something to celebrate.”

Shain enthusiastically took the podium, exclaiming, “Thanks for all of this kind praise. I feel like a Bar Mitzvhah boy today!” He introduced the crux of his lecture: the relationship between Israeli Jews and Judaism, and American Jews and the Israeli State. Although much international attention has been directed towards issues such as Israeli/Palestinian relations, Shain emphasized, “We have to tend to our own garden. I am going to speak about Jewish identity and the battle for Jewish identity. This is a battle between Israeli-ness and Jewish-ness – a tale of two cities – between modernity and fundamentalism.” Shain devoted the majority of his speech to exploring the reasons for this dichotomy and the potential consequences of the Diaspora’s intervention in Israel. “I want to specifically to connect the battle for Jewish identity with the Diaspora. This is a moment when the Diaspora can play a major role,” referring to Jewish communities outside of Israel.

According to Shain, as American Jews heighten their relationship to Israel through such programs as Birthright, an organization which unites American children with their Jewish roots in Israel, they are contributing to a new trend of Israeli multiculturalism. “Reform and Conservative Jews feel that unless they make a dent in Israeli Society they will lose their authority in America,” said Shain. This flux of liberalism in Israel is challenging what Shain perceives as a previously “cozy relationship between Orthodox Jews and the Israeli State.” However, Shain noted that although he has “seen an outpour of support for progressive Judaism from Conservative and Reform Jews,” the extent to which American liberal reforms can be brought to Israel is limited. “You are not going to discuss Gay rights now in Israel,” he said.

Shain also suggested that the relationship between liberal and Orthodox traditions is becoming increasingly reciprocal, as Orthodox traditions exported from Israel centralize in American Jewish culture.

Renae Ditmer, a Ph.D. government student, long-time patron of the Goldman Lectures and a friend of Shain commented on his unique approach to the issue of identity. “I thought he was very provocative. Most lectures revolve around recent historical issues, but he focussed on how influence is traded [between Orthodox and liberal Jews]. It was interesting to hear him say that American Jews think they may be more Jewish than Israelis at this point,” she said.

However, reflecting on the question of Jewish identity in America, Georgetown resident and JSA patron Michele April said she “considers herself first an American and then a Jewish person.”

Sarah Goldstein (COL ’03) found Shain’s approach to Jewish identity very stimulating. “I thought it was interesting how he discussed Reform and Conservative Jews coming to Israel as a way for secular Israeli Jews to respond to the Orthodox Jews … and how he stressed the concept that Jews in Israel don’t need religion as much as Americans because they have the Israeli culture,” she said.

Heath Einstein, a Jewish Georgetown graduate student completing his MA in Public Policy this May, responded to the lecture in saying, “I think as young people, whether it be religion or anything else, we are constantly in search of our own identities.”

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