New Brandeis Guide Aims to Deliver the Real Deal on Israel
You might expect the cover of an Israel research guide to feature the Western Wall or another iconic Jewish site. But the new digital Research Guide to Israel Studies highlights Haifa’s golden-domed Baha’i Temple and its surrounding gardens, the city stretching below to the Mediterranean.
That panoramic view is precisely what the guide espouses, both in terms of the breadth of resources and perspectives, according to Jonathan Sarna, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. “We’re not about advocacy. We’re about scholarship,” said Sarna, who also is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History in the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis.
Brandeis faculty members collaborated with scholars from around the world to create the first curated free guide that directs global audiences to the most reliable and valuable sites in the “Wild West” of the Internet, said Sarna. “Nothing is more important than helping students today understand the differences between reliable and unreliable information; fake news and what they can trust.”
For beginners, including students who might encounter anti-Zionism if they return to college campuses in person this fall, the guide recommends specific books and websites as well as an up-to-date list of research material on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
More advanced researchers will find links to major scholarly databases and search indexes, and families at home can create their own film series and other cultural events based on the directory of Israeli art, architecture, film, television, music, photography, visual and performing arts.
While the guide was in discussion prior to the pandemic, the onset of the coronavirus hastened and reshaped work on it, as faculty responded to the rapid need for online research as more students completed course work remotely. The directory points largely to sites, including the Library of Congress and the Israel National Library, that are in the public domain and feature primary sources and English-language documents. Legal opinions from Israeli courts, economic statistics that show staggering growth and visuals like those of different Zionist flags flown in the pre-state period open a prismatic lens on Israeli society.
Unlike printed books, the guide will be continuously updated.
“Instead of reading what someone else says was said, read the original documents yourself!” Sarna encouraged. “Build an argument brick by brick based on reliable data. We are part of the digital revolution. It is transforming and democratizing all knowledge.”