Celebrating 50 years of Israeli cultureBy Shula Neuman
Fifty years ago, the world was recovering from one of the most devastating wars in history. Millions of people had died on the battlefields of Western Europe, Northern Africa and the Pacific Islands. Millions more had lost their lives through the atrocities of Hitler, who sought to obliterate the entire race of the Jewish people.
The Jews who did survive were displaced, and their rich cultural heritage was threatened. Yet the end of World War II coincided with the zenith of the Zionist struggles to re-establish a Jewish homeland. On April 30, 1948, the Jewish people declared their independence from British rule, giving birth to Israel-and with it, the resolve to re-create Jewish culture.
To celebrate Israeli culture, Michael Fishbane, the Nathan Cummings Professor in Jewish Studies, and Menachem Brinker, the Henry Crown Professor in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, have organized the conference "50 Years of Hebrew Culture in Israel: A Retrospective," to be held Sunday, April 19, through Tuesday, April 21.
"This is the first conference to provide a complete intellectual retrospective on what has been achieved in Jewish culture in Israel during the past half-century," Fishbane said.
Twenty scholars, politicians, journalists and artists from around the world will attend the conference to share their views on such topics as Israeli language and literature, society and law, music and theater, and law and politics. Participants include Dan Meridor, a member of the Knesset; Itmar Rabinovitz, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and currently a professor at Tel Aviv University; Arthur Hertzberg, former president of the American Jewish Congress; Ari Shavit of Ha'aretz newspaper; and Idith Zertal of the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
"The 50th anniversary of Israel marks a point of enormous accomplishment and achievement," said Joel Kraemer, Professor of Jewish Studies in the Divinity School. "Israel has one of the world's finest symphony orchestras. A very large percentage of Israeli literature is translated into English. Israel's main writers are read all over the world. This is not just a small provincial country, but a world class country that contains a thriving culture."
The opening session of the conference, "The First Fifty Years of Israel," will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at the Art Institute of Chicago. The featured speakers will be Hertzberg of the American Jewish Congress and Shlomo Avineri of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. All subsequent discussions will be at the University.
Literature, history, journalism and the arts will be the focus of the daytime sessions, from 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Monday, April 20, held in Swift Hall. An evening session, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Law School Auditorium, will feature poetry. On Tuesday, April 21, language, law, society and music will be the topics of the daytime sessions at Swift Hall, and the evening session, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Law School, will be devoted to the future of Israel as a state in the Middle East.
"50 Years of Hebrew Culture in Israel: A Retrospective" is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Chicago, the Chicago Humanities Institute, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel-Cultural Department and the Art Institute of Chicago.