The 10th Anniversary Spotlight Series highlights alumni, faculty, students and friends of the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies who are agents of change in their communities and careers and have contributed to the vibrancy of the Institute.
“I was really involved at Hillel and participated in a few different Israel-focused groups, but what I liked about the Institute was that it was agnostic. It was a way for me and my peers to engage with the topic of Israel and Jewish Studies in an academic way, which included listening to debates from people of opposing viewpoints. I really valued this willingness to hear multiple sides, as during that same time I had joined an Israel group on campus and ended up leaving because I felt like they were too dogmatic. I wanted to learn first before forming opinions, and the Institute gave me a safe space to do just that. I was able to learn and ask questions and in a really holistic and nuanced way.” Read more.
“My freshman year of undergrad I started attending a lot of Institute events. At that point, there weren’t as many opportunities for student engagement because the Undergraduate Fellows Program didn’t exist yet. I took a class on Comparative Constitutional Law with a visiting law school professor from Hebrew University, Barack Medina. Through this course, I connected with Institute staff, who let me know about the Undergraduate Fellows Program they were hoping to start. I applied and started as a Fellow my sophomore year.” Read more.
“Before becoming an Undergraduate Fellow, I had no experience in the realm of Israel Studies or Israeli culture. As a Fellow, I’ve gained a powerful foundation through programming and seminars with visiting professors and Israeli scholars. I can now engage with a higher brow of intellectual confidence. I don’t turn away from conversations that seem challenging because I now feel I have something to respond with. I wholly attribute this to the Institute and all the programming I’ve been fortunate to be involved in.” Read more.
“I’ve always felt a strong connection to the other Undergraduate Fellows and the faculty of the Institute. Everyone has been warm and inclusive. It’s been a great place to come home for the last two years. One of my biggest regrets in my Cal experience was not joining the Institute earlier because it really provides a wonderful community on campus for all students affiliated with the Institute. We were exposed to world-class thinkers, received mentorship, and had such an amazing community that always supported us.” Read more.
“I’ve really loved the intimate conversations that fellows often have with professors during our fellowship meetings. The Institute regularly sponsors visiting professors from Israel from a variety of academic fields, so it’s really interesting to hear about ideas I wouldn’t normally encounter in my classes. It’s also such a cool thing to be able to ask professors questions about their work in a comfortable and casual environment. I don’t think I could have gotten these types of opportunities anywhere else.” Read more.
“The Institute provided me with the resources and community I needed to take advantage of my time as a visiting professor at Berkeley. I was able to start teaching within one week of arriving from Israel because of the tremendous support that I received from the Institute and its network of scholars. The Institute facilitated an amazing community of all the visiting scholars from Israel that were at UC Berkeley during the time(s) that I was there. The Institute provided an avenue for us to interact, have an academic and personal exchange, and to become friends. Having this community was invaluable to my time at Berkeley.” Read more.
“The Institute is doing essential work on Berkeley’s campus, as it provides a space for students to learn about all aspects of Israeli society and Jewish law. The model of the Institute is a very different model than Israel Studies on most campuses. Most campuses began with endowed chairs in Israel Studies—positions that are relatively siloed from other parts of the campus and therefore tend to draw a self-selecting audience. What the Institute has done is introduce Israel-related courses and faculty into different departments and programs throughout the University, which broadens the impact of the work that they do. They sometimes bring Israeli scholars whose work doesn’t primarily focus on Israel and who still are connecting students, teaching students, showing them that Israelis can come here and teach any number of things that are not necessarily about Zionism or the Conflict, which is, for better or worse, what many people’s association with Israel so often is.” Read more.
“Before arriving, I had heard a lot about UC Berkeley and its relationship to Israel and Palestine. I was happily surprised that in my experience, the people that I met were coming to events or my classes to actually listen, widen their perspectives, and make informed decisions about their beliefs. I think this type of open dialogue is immensely important and that we need to be able to have these kinds of conversations, no matter how difficult they may be. The Institute is instrumental in bringing diverse voices and narratives about Israel to Berkeley’s campus. By providing a wide variety of programming and taking a nuanced approach to these issues, the Institute opens the door for students and community members to make informed decisions about their beliefs.” Read more.
“While we were at Cal, there wasn’t much opportunity for Jewish involvement. There was Hillel and there were Jewish fraternities and sororities, but no avenue to interact with Jewish thought in an academic context. We are very proud to be among the first supporters of the Institute, as it provides an opportunity to students that we never had ourselves.” Read More.
“The Institute provided me with a strong community of people who had similar interests to my own. Getting to know the other fellows was a great experience, and I really enjoyed the space for nuanced discussion about Israel and Jewish law topics that we would often have in our meetings. I really appreciated the breadth of speakers we were able to learn from. The Institute did a really good job at holding an open space for all of us to be able to engage and learn about those topics.” Read more.
“I cherished my time as an Institute Fellow because it taught me how to be an intellectually curious and active participant of the academic community. One of my favorite parts of the Institute’s fellowship were the mid-morning coffee conversations that would take place in the Berkeley Law cafe. I loved being able to discuss politics, religion, and everything in between with students who shared my interests, who quickly became some of my closest friends.” Read more.