BY JANET MANDELSTAM
A new center at Indiana University aims to demonstrate that there is more to America’s relationship with Israel than the often-polarizing political issues in the news.
“Part of our mission is to transcend politics through a cultural and scholarly exchange with Israel,” says Jason Mokhtarian, 40, director of the Olamot Center. “There is a lot of value to Israeli culture regardless of one’s politics.”
Established in 2017 as part of the Borns Jewish Studies Program at IU, the center takes a two-pronged approach: bringing Israeli scholars to Bloomington and translating Israeli books from Hebrew to English.
“There aren’t many opportunities for Israelis to come to the United States to teach,” Mokhtarian says. This spring’s visiting scholar is Tamir Karkason, who is completing a doctorate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is teaching two undergraduate courses: Zionism and the State of Israel and Israel: History, Society, Culture.
There are currently four translated books under contract with IU Press and six more in the works. “There’s a lot happening in Jewish studies in Israel,” says Mokhtarian, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies with a particular interest in the Jews of ancient Persia. The books, he says, “range from ancient Judaism to Holocaust studies and represent the best and brightest of Israeli scholarship.” The series is edited by Mokhtarian and founding Olamot director Noam Zadoff. Without the translations, most of the books, which Mokhtarian says contain “groundbreaking research,” would not be accessible to Americans.
The cultural side of the exchange included a February visit to IU Cinema from award-winning Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher, who spent five days in Bloomington and delivered a free public lecture.
The exchange works both ways. This summer Mokhtarian will lead a group of IU undergraduate students on a one-week trip to Jerusalem. He says he’s hoping to establish a formal partnership with an Israeli university that would allow IU faculty to study and teach in Israel.
While the Olamot Center is only in its second year, Mokhtarian says he has a broad vision for its future: to go beyond Jewish studies and allow Israel and IU “to come together to do research projects, share grants, and exchange culture.”
For more information, visit olamot.indiana.edu.