By Jeffrey F. Barken and
HAIFA—Jay Ruderman has
observed for years that when American Jewish leaders visit Israel or when
Israeli leaders visit the United States, the conversation is “always about
Israel” and how the Jewish state relates to Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and
Click photo to download. Caption: Amos Shapira, president of the University of Haifa, speaks at the university’s 41st Board of Governors meeting in June 2013. Shapira says the new Ruderman Program for
American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa “will create a new generation
of educated and engaged citizens who share a deeper understanding of the
American relationship.” Credit: University of Haifa Communications and Media Relations.
“What’s happening in the
American Jewish community?” and how those events impact future support for
Israel never seem to enter the conversation, according to Ruderman, who worked
for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in both New England
and Jerusalem and is now president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
The Ruderman Foundation,
which prioritizes Israel-diaspora relations, has already tackled this issue by
sponsoring U.S. trips for two delegations of Israeli Members of Knesset, and by
launching a caucus designed to improve Knesset members’ understanding of the
American Jewish community. Now, the foundation is further addressing knowledge
gaps in the next generation of Israeli leaders through its funding of the new
Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa. The
formation of the program, which will be the first of its kind in Israel, was
revealed exclusively to JNS.org.
Click photo to download. Caption: The University of Haifa. Credit: Michael Privorotsky via Wikimedia Commons.
“Israeli universities have
all sorts of programs studying Asia, Africa and the Arab world, but no one is
studying the American Jewish community, which is probably the most important
community affecting the future of Israel,” Jay Ruderman says. “The idea is that
over the course of time you have a cadre of Israelis who’ve gotten a Master’s
in the American Jewish community, and that they will help Israel shape this
Headquartered in Israel and
Boston—which has a sister-city partnership with Haifa—the Ruderman Foundation
made an initial $1 million contribution to the new program, an amount that was matched
by the University of Haifa. Starting this fall, a class of 21 graduate students
will embark on the one-year, seven-course program, which will survey
Jewish-American immigration history, modern foreign policy, and governmental
structures, as well as gender issues and the religious makeup of U.S. Jewish
“The key to understanding
American Jewry is first to understand American society,” Prof. Gur Alroey,
chair of the School of History at the University of Haifa and director of the
new program, tells JNS.org.