Posts Tagged Shalem College
Opinions are divided over the future of the printed book. Many believe it is destined to disappear. Already anyone with an iPad in a coffee shop has instant access to several million volumes—a massive library at one’s fingertips. It isn’t hard to imagine the printed book going the way of the cuneiform tablet.
But a book-filled library is fundamental to a college. To be surrounded by books is to feel part of the scholarly chain of transmission that links us to generations past. And it’s not just a matter of nostalgic ambience. There are vast numbers of books that aren’t yet freely available electronically, and that aren’t yet out of copyright. Between the older books in the Internet Archive, and the more recent offerings available through Amazon and other digital publishers, there are decades worth of books that just can’t be had without going to a library. Google Books will change that too, but it hasn’t yet. And when it comes to books in non-European languages, print still reigns.
So from the outset, my colleagues and I resolved that the new Shalem College in Jerusalem would have a respectable library on opening day, October 6, 2013. The core of that library has been provided to us thanks to the generosity of the great historian of Islam, Bernard Lewis.
Bernard Lewis needs no introduction to my readers. In addition to his own prodigious output of authored books on Islamic and Middle Eastern history, Bernard was an avid collector. His personal library, at the time he moved out of his Princeton home two years ago, came to 18,000 volumes. It was then that he sent his library to Tel Aviv University, to which he had promised it many years ago.
But he did so with a proviso: any book in his collection already possessed by Tel Aviv University’s library was to be passed on to the library of the fledgling Shalem College. And so the new college library has come into possession of many thousands of volumes, most dealing with the history of Islam and the Middle East, but also with many other aspects of medieval and modern history. It’s a splendid start for the library, especially as one of the first accredited degree programs in the new college is in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.
For me, the arrival in Jerusalem of so large a part of Bernard’s library closes a circle. I was his student in Princeton in the late 1970s, when he held a dual appointment at the university and the Institute for Advanced Study. He had one of the largest offices at the Institute, and it was packed tight with his books. A few months after we met, Bernard invited me to the Institute, and proposed that I catalogue incoming offprints for a per-hour wage. (In the pre-internet age, scholars would send printed copies of their articles to one another, a method of dissemination that now seems as remote from us as the carrier pigeon.) He gave me the key to his office, and on evenings and weekends I would enter Aladdin’s cave, seat myself at his desk, and ponder what it must be like to be the most renowned historian of Islam in the world.
I also came to know his library quite well. I much preferred his office to the deepest basement floor of Firestone Library, where the university’s own Middle East collection resided, so I would bring my own work to his desk. And once every week or so, we would have lunch or tea, followed by a stroll in the Institute’s woods. We would then repair to his office, where he would select a shelf and begin a running commentary on the books it held—their relative place in the field, a bit of lore about the authors, and his take on the dedications. In those days, everyone sent everything to Bernard, and practically all of the books carried handwritten dedications. I recall some of his comments to this day. He once took in hand a book by his contemporary, the French Marxist (and rabidly anti-Israel) scholar Maxime Rodinson (who also happened to be Jewish). The dedication was quite admiring, which surprised me, given his politics. Bernard smiled with satisfaction: “He’s a scoundrel,” he said of Rodinson, “but I like him.”
When Bernard retired in 1986, he transformed the master bedroom of his home into a magnificent, light-filled library. His desk faced a wall of glass overlooking the grounds, and massive wooden bookshelves stood perpendicular to the walls. Even this addition didn’t suffice to contain the entire library, and the basement of the house was outfitted with shelves to handle the overflow. In a few of the bedrooms, every flat surface was likewise occupied by still more books. (Some sense of the library at his Princeton home is preserved by BookTV, which interviewed him there ten years ago.)
I feel privileged to have known Bernard’s library in both of its Princeton settings, but its two Israeli settings also do it justice. In January, Bernard visited Shalem College at my invitation, so that he could see the campus and especially the library: a two-tiered structure, featuring a large atrium-like gallery that provides ample room for books and for study. He selected the design of an ex libris plate to be placed in each volume, and I said some grateful words about his remarkable gift.
Now that we are deep into the digital age, few scholars will ever build so large a personal library. Bernard amassed his collection during the explosion of scholarly publishing that followed the Second World War, and before the advent of the Internet and ebook. Scholars in future won’t leave great collections behind, and in the libraries we do have, shelves will gradually yield to screens.
But scholars and students will always find inspiration in the physical book, for as the word “volume” suggests, the full appreciation of a scholarly achievement is much enhanced by an encounter with its heft. Book design is also evidence for past conventions that provide context for text, and the elegance of a well-designed book will always evoke pleasure. Bernard Lewis has given Shalem College a voluminous gift. When it is combined with the immense contribution represented by his scholarship, it secures his place in the pantheon of those who have nurtured the life of the mind in Jerusalem.
Sunday morning, the Israeli cabinet, in its weekly meeting, approved the recommendation of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, that Shalem College be accredited to enroll students for the Bachelor of Arts degree in the humanities. A new institution of higher education is born. I am president-designate of the new college, which will open its doors to its first class in October 2013, in Jerusalem.
I will have more to say about this in the coming weeks and months. For now, I would like to direct you, my Hebrew readers, to the new website of Shalem College, which has just gone live. There you’ll find plenty of information about Shalem College, which will bring the classic curriculum of the liberal arts to Israel for the first time. From philosophy to art, from Bible to physics, students at Shalem College will acquire a deep understanding of the human endeavor and the Jewish tradition in all their aspects. Students initially will have a choice of two degrees (majors), both combined with the same extensive Core Curriculum: the Interdisciplinary Program of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, and Middle East and Islamic Studies. These programs represent the end product of a deep and thoughtful interaction between our scholars and the academic committees and staff of the Council for Higher Education. We are beholden to the Council for its constructive and professional input, which improved virtually every aspect of our plan.
All the credit for this remarkable achievement goes to my colleagues—I myself have remained “on deck” for these past four years (this year, as a visiting professor in America), while they have done the painstaking work of gaining accreditation, raising funds, finding a campus (a beautiful building in Kiryat Moriah, pictured), recruiting faculty, and much more. The leader of this monumental effort has been Dr. Daniel Polisar, the most indefatigable man I have ever known. With wisdom and grit, and a steady sense of purpose, he has forged ahead through crises and tribulations to this day—his day.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with him has been an outstanding team of board members, scholars and administrators, each one an accomplished expert in a field of crucial importance to the future operation of Shalem College. We have also enjoyed the trust of generous donors, who maintained us unstintingly during the long gestation and who have provided the wherewithal for the first years of the College. I will have much more to say about the vital contribution made by all of these colleagues and friends, who deserve to be named, and who count as pioneers and founders. Until then, I applaud their brilliant performance, and I congratulate them on their triumph.
The work is finished, and the work has just begun.
The following article, by Abe Selig, appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 22, 2010, under the headline “$5m. donation makes Shalem College vision a reality.” I’m quoted and I’m delighted.
The creation of the country’s first liberal arts college took a step closer to becoming a reality on Sunday, with the announcement of a $5 million donation from the Chicago-based Conduit Foundation to Shalem College, which is being spearheaded by the Shalem Center’s Martin Kramer.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last October, Kramer, who has been named the institution’s President-designate, laid out his vision for the college, which he agreed would be, “setting out to create a cadre of future leaders who see opportunities; a new elite that puts the collective good first.”
“I am a great admirer of Israel’s universities,” Kramer said during the interview. “But they are focused on competing to enter the rankings of the top 50 universities in the world. That leads them to bolster the hard sciences and emphasize faculty research while essentially demoting the humanities and teaching, which count for less in rankings.” Shalem College, on the other hand, will focus primarily on the humanities and social sciences, and take a broad approach towards its curriculum and admissions policies.
While the prospect of creating Israel’s first liberal arts college has received overwhelming support both domestically and abroad, financial backing for the venture, especially against the backdrop of the ongoing global financial crisis, had been a daunting prospect—until now.
The donation provided by the Conduit Foundation will allow for the college’s establishment and ideally, will help initiate additional funding from other sources.
“Our donation was made in order to provide the feed capital needed to establish Israel’s first liberal arts college,” Betsy Brill, the Conduit Foundation’s executive director, told the Post on Sunday. “But it was also given as a means to inspire other donors,” she said. “It shows that we believe in the viability of the college, and also, that we believe this is the right investment at the right time.”
Furthermore, Brill added, the foundation also saw Shalem College as “an answer to the challenges that Israel faces coupled with the need for leadership. And it provides an exciting opportunity for the Conduit Foundation to get involved,” she continued. “We believe [the curriculum that will be offered by Shalem College] will be an effective mix that will equip the next generation in Israel with the tools and breadth of knowledge to become more effective leaders.”
“A liberal arts education grounds a student in a perspective that is very different than a technical one,” she continued. “It lends a kind of holistic exposure and provides a perfect medium and platform for future leaders. If you look at the background of leaders on the world stage, many of them have had this kind of liberal arts component in their background.”
Therefore, Brill said the Conduit Foundation saw the donation as an “investment for the future,” remarking that it “reflects our foundation’s vision, which is the continuity of the Jewish people and the sustainability of Israel as a Jewish state.”
“We see this as a perfectly aligned investment,” she said.
Shalem College President-designate Kramer, echoed Brill’s sentiments, saying on Sunday that the Conduit Foundation had “rock-solid confidence in Shalem’s proven ability to turn big ideas into living realities.” “But it’s more than that,” he continued. “They really know Israel and its most pressing needs. They are a model of the discerning Israel-centered philanthropist—a select class of people who understand that no nation is better than its undergraduate schools, and who recognize a superb liberal arts education as the gold standard.”
“At this moment, promising young Israelis just can’t get that education in Israel,” he said. “Thanks to this donor and the founders who will follow them, Shalem College will set that gold standard in Israel. Thoughtful philanthropists are doing more than writing checks; they’re joining us in writing Israel’s history to come.”
I’ve been tapped to serve as the president-designate of Shalem College, Israel’s first liberal arts college, which will go from plan to reality over the next three years. Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, interviewed me about the College for the Friday magazine. Here is that interview, which ran under the headline: “A progressive first from a conservative think tank.”
Ask Martin Kramer if spearheading the country’s first liberal arts college isn’t a daunting – maybe unachievable – goal in these hard times, and he invokes the name of his old friend Prof. Zvi Yavetz.
The venerable historian, Kramer tells me, was part of a small group of scholars who helped to found Tel Aviv University, ex nihilo, in the 1950s. They gave their lectures in makeshift classrooms in Abu Kabir. As Kramer heard it, the vision of creating a world-class university, on a par with the already-existing Hebrew University of Jerusalem, that would teach everything from music to physics was hashed out by Yavetz and his contemporaries as they worked away “in miserable shacks.” Kramer quotes Yavetz: “Students who were later to become great professors sat on first graders’ chairs.”
Relative to Yavetz, Kramer has certain advantages. All he is trying to do is bring to fruition a small liberal arts college that, if everything goes according to plan, will one day have an enrollment of 1,000 students. And he is doing it at the behest of Jerusalem’s powerhouse Shalem Center.
EJ: Where did the idea of a college come from?
Kramer: The idea has been an aspiration of Shalem since the center’s inception. In a way, the Shalem Center was the interim framework established until a kind of critical mass and reputation were achieved that would allow this step.
THE 55-year-old president-designate of Shalem College, who spent 25 years at Tel Aviv University as a scholar of Middle East Studies, has made a name for himself outside academia as well, with the publication of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America – a book which argued that many Middle East departments on US campuses had abandoned serious scholarship to become trendy bastions of shoddy research and anti-Western bias.
When Edward Said, the late Columbia University English professor who became an indefatigable advocate of the Palestinian Arab cause, challenged the scholarship of Bernard Lewis, Kramer’s dissertation adviser and the doyen of Western Middle East experts, Kramer went on the offensive. He initiated a campaign to depoliticize and re-professionalize university Middle East Studies departments wherever they had fallen under the ideological sway of Said’s followers.
A native of Silver Spring, Maryland, Kramer first visited Israel on a summer program in 1970. He returned to study at Tel Aviv University between 1971 and 1973 where Itamar Rabinovich – who went on to become TAU president – took him under his wing. Kramer returned to the States to complete his BA at Princeton, an MA at Columbia and a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies back at Princeton.
The Shalem-Princeton connection runs deep. The center was founded 15 years ago by a group of Princetonians, among them Yoram Hazony and Daniel Polisar. Over the years other Princeton grads, including Michael Oren – and now Kramer – gravitated to Shalem. Original financial backing for Shalem came from philanthropists Ronald Lauder and the late Zalman Bernstein. The Tikvah Fund, Bernstein’s creation, remains the center’s leading supporter.
Separately, Sheldon Adelson provided initial support for Natan Sharansky’s institute within Shalem.
By 1981, Kramer had made aliya and, with backing from Rabinovich, joined the TAU faculty. He spent 25 years at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, eventually becoming its director. Kramer has been a visiting scholar at Harvard, Brandeis, Cornell and other prestigious institutions abroad. He is also a former editor of the Middle East Quarterly and maintains a long-standing relationship with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Kramer lives in Ra’anana with his wife of 31 years, Sandra, a physical therapist whom he first met in high school – “though we didn’t start dating until much later,” he said. The couple has three children.
Kramer and I met over a lunch of bagels and tuna at the Shalem Center’s posh offices in Jerusalem’s trendy Emek Refaim neighborhood. Joining us was Cambridge-educated Suzanne Balaban, Shalem’s vice president for communications.
WHEN HE first came to Tel Aviv University in the early ’70s, Kramer reminisced, Middle East specialists were held in especially high esteem.
“In those days, you didn’t have Israeli academics, journalists and diplomats traveling about the Arab world,” he said. Scholars who were fluent in Arabic – he named Shimon Shamir, Rabinovich and Haim Shaked as examples – became iconic figures. Israeli newspapers featured their interpretations of events in the Arab world.
Paradoxically, Kramer lamented, the ability of Israeli Middle East experts to illuminate what was happening in Arab and Muslim civilization diminished even as more of them began to travel to neighboring countries – in part because the newer generation of experts was more narrowly educated. Remedying this now-endemic pedagogical deficiency is one of the motivations driving Shalem College.
“We are not talking about creating an alternative education system,” Kramer explained, “but of providing an additional option.”
He cited his personal experience: “In my first year at Tel Aviv University, with a dual major in Middle Eastern Studies and East Africa, I had no Jewish history, no Western philosophy; I studied Swahili and I studied Christianity in Egypt and Ethiopia – which were required courses. Later, when I arrived in Princeton, I discovered my cohorts had spent this time broadening their knowledge base.”
SIMILARLY, an often myopic educational experience, Kramer argued, has created a generation of Israeli leaders who may know how to get things done, but have forgotten why they should bother.
In contrast, the country’s founding generation had a more rounded intellectual experience and was thus well-versed in Jewish and world history, said Kramer. “Go visit David Ben-Gurion’s personal library in Tel Aviv and you can get an idea of the range of his knowledge and reading. Israelis were being called upon to make sacrifices. And they needed leaders who could explain where they had been and where they were going.”
Kramer paused and unfolded a handwritten quotation that he’d copied from an interview given by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to Haaretz and read it to me: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights [among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria], then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
Kramer appeared quietly incensed. He said, “I thought to myself, well, certainly the early Zionist leaders knew that there was a tremendous demographic disadvantage. They were very much tilting against reality on the ground, and yet they didn’t despair. Because they knew something, I think, through their reading of history that perhaps this particular leader didn’t know. That history is not a straight line.”
He refolded the paper.
Israel’s founders “would have rejected the idea that our fate is a function of whether the Palestinian Arabs organize a state – ‘If they fail, we’re finished.’ Our founders had an understanding of the twists and turns of world and of Jewish history, and in the ways they intersected, and in the unexpected opportunities that history provides.”
EJ: But is Olmert wrong?
Kramer: His more linear reading comes from a shallower understanding of the human condition. Maybe it makes sense to a lawyer, but I think leadership requires people who are prepared to see the opportunities and not to see only the dead ends.
EJ: And with the new liberal arts college, you are setting out to create a cadre of future leaders who see opportunities; a new elite that puts the collective good first?
Kramer: That is a fair characterization.
For the challenges ahead, said Kramer, Israel needs a skilled military, a strong economic base and highly trained technocrats. Leaders of Israel’s hi-tech sector recognized the need to produce thousands of engineers a year, Kramer noted, “and the system geared up to do just that.”
“But where are we going to produce that cadre of 100, 150, 250 people a year with a holistic view, who will be prepared for any eventuality and the sense of responsibility in going forward?” Kramer asked.
“I am a great admirer of Israel’s universities,” he allowed. But they are focused, he said, on competing to enter the rankings of the top 50 universities in the world. That leads them to bolster the hard sciences and emphasize faculty research while essentially demoting the humanities and teaching, which count for less in rankings.
With the energies of university administrations invested elsewhere, “there tends to be less attention paid to what goes on in the humanities and social sciences until someone in one of the departments writes an outrageous op-ed in some American newspaper that casts Israel in a bad light and attracts negative attention onto their university,” said Kramer.
TO PREPARE its students for leadership, Kramer told me, Shalem College will take a holistic approach in its curriculum and admissions policies. The language of instruction will be Hebrew, though students will be expected to be articulate in English, too. Kramer is not certain whether applicants will need to take the dreaded psychometric exam, but he’s adamant that it will not be the primary selection criterion: “We will look at the applicant’s entire record.” Following the US model, about two-thirds of the student body will receive some form of scholarship.
Whether they specialize in Middle East Studies or in a combined program in philosophy, political theory and religion – other majors will be added over time – all students will be expected to master the same core curriculum that Kramer considers essential for a “learned person” aspiring to leadership of this country. It will run the gamut from Plato to Keynes, from the Hebrew Bible to Hobbes.
Though Israeli universities are now also adopting the core-courses principle into their existing curriculum, Kramer insisted that Shalem’s requirements would be the “most extensive and comprehensive” in the country. Their content “will also be unique, and reflect what Shalem values in Jewish and other traditions.”
To accomplish its mission, the college will be demanding the devotion of its enrollees for four years, compared to the usual three-year commitment required of undergraduates at Israeli universities.
EJ: To get off the ground, Shalem College will need to be accredited by The Israel Council for Higher Education. You are proposing to create an unabashedly Zionist institution. Israel’s intelligentsia is riddled with post-Zionists. Do you anticipate any problems?
Kramer: Ours is not a political project that is in some way different from the enterprise of the State of Israel itself. I was struck that the president of Ben-Gurion University recently felt it necessary to assert that her institution is “proudly Zionist.” So I take it that it will not be counted as a strike against us that we see ourselves as a Zionist institution, too.
EJ: But might not the college be seen as too right-wing?
Kramer: There is no doubt that various departments in various Israeli universities are not in line with the country’s mainstream. But I think we are where the mainstream is in Israel today. Zionism isn’t Left or Right. It’s a commitment to Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. We plan to bring together outstanding scholars who share that commitment.
KRAMER’S vision is of a college that puts teaching “first and foremost.” Faculty will be top-notch, he promised, but the publish-or-perish obsession that dominates research universities will be banished from Shalem.
“The heart of any educational institution is its faculty. It’s not the buildings. The students graduate. But what gives a university or college its flavor is the faculty. We have a core of people who will be making appointments, who have shared values and who know how to respect the best scholarship,” said Kramer.
EJ: Shared values?
Kramer: We’ve seen that value-free scholarship has infiltrated from the sciences – where it makes some sense – into the humanities and social sciences, where it is corrosive. Shalem will be looking for faculty whose values commit them to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel – the vessel for Jewish survival.
Yet this will not be a school for the indoctrination of Zionism. When you look at our curriculum, you see that we don’t actually come to the history of Israel until the second semester of the fourth year. Why? Because we think that the Zionist conclusion emerges only from the full reading of Jewish history and Western history and philosophy.
EJ: Will you be inviting scholars who disagree with the Shalem worldview to join the faculty?
Here Balaban interjected. “When I joined Shalem, I noticed that there was a glass door. On one side sat Natan Sharansky and Moshe Ya’alon, and on the other sat Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren. They profoundly disagreed over the Gaza disengagement. But they were all welcome under our roof. A.B. Yehoshua has written for Shalem publications. Our culture is one of collegiality even when there is disagreement. There aren’t many intellectual havens like that.”
Kramer: I would note, too, that Yosef Gorny of Tel Aviv University, my former colleague, is chair of the appointments committee of our academic council. He’s an iconic figure in Labor Zionism and its historiography.
Every institution molds its faculty. Not long ago, Columbia University established a chair in Israel studies. Two leading Palestinians were put on the search committee. Why? Because it was understood that while there could be a chair in Israel Studies at Columbia, it could not be held by someone who would negate the Palestinian narrative.
EJ: Would you say that’s outrageous?
Kramer: I would say that is Columbia. Shalem College, I can assure you, will not become yet another home to scholars who have made their reputations by negating the Zionist and Israeli narrative.
KRAMER hopes Shalem’s graduates will become leaders in journalism, politics, academia, the security establishment and the business world – “whatever their choice, they will be equipped well beyond their cohorts.”
Balaban sees the college’s role as a form of continued nation-building.
“The swamps have been drained,” she said. “But in terms of the intellectual infrastructure of the country, there is still much to be done.”
EJ: Where is the money for the college coming from?
Kramer: Well, the money will not come from the State of Israel. We will not ask for the usual per-student allocation. It will come from private sources in America, Europe and Israel.
EJ: Want to name names?
Kramer: We will name names when donors permit us to do so. We have a number of donors at a million dollars and above – including the Klarman family foundation of Boston and George and Pamela Rohr of New York.
EJ: But are you confident you’ll have enough money?
Kramer: Yes, once we receive accreditation from Israel’s Council For Higher Education. We expect to open our doors in 2012. We are just launching a campaign which will take us through our first four years of college operations and also help create an endowment. We are obviously closer to the beginning than the end. I have absolute and total confidence this will happen.
EJ: Who is the father of the liberal arts college idea?
Kramer and Balaban agreed that the concept should be credited to Hazony, Polisar, Ofir Haivry and Josh Weinstein.
SHALEM has always operated on the battleground of ideas, melding Diaspora creativity and money with an Israeli stubbornness that, said Kramer, does not accept failure as an option. It is this track record, Kramer told me, that persuaded him to take on an assignment that seeks a different path for Israeli higher education.
Photo of Martin Kramer by Ariel Jerozolimski