While organizations at many colleges and universities are calling for speakers from Israel to be banned, a group of educators from the Jewish state will be at Towson University in early February to take part in a symposium called “Combating Bigotry, Celebrating Diversity and Protecting Democracy.”
The Feb. 8 program is being organized by Towson University professor Hana Bor, a native Israeli who has lived in Baltimore for nearly 40 years, as an outgrowth of her collaborations with Tamar Ketko, head of humanities and social sciences at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts in Tel Aviv.
As Bor explained, “I take students to Israel every couple of years for a study-abroad program and not all of them are Jewish, so I collaborated with Tamar on programs. We started thinking about enhancing ideas of democracy and diversity in education, and how to enhance the dialogue among colleagues.”
“We really felt that at this time — both in Israel and here in the United States — the whole issue of diversity and democracy is being challenged day in and day out,” said Bor, noting that how to handle these discussions can be difficult for both students and faculty.
To add insight into the discussions, Bor and Ketko, along with Khalid Arar, a professor of educational leadership and policy at Texas State University, collaborated on “Enhancing Values of Dignity, Democracy and Diversity in Higher Education,” an academic book that includes writings from American and Israeli educators on creating equitable and moral higher education. The book was released late last year by educational publisher Routledge.
Though not a rehash of the book, the daylong symposium will share some of the same themes and ideas. Some of the topics include “Standing Against Bigotry and Educating for Humanity: Challenges and Dilemmas for Current Days” and “Displaced but Not Forgotten: Higher Education Support for Refugees and Forced Migrants.”
“Being interesting in studying the Israeli reality, it turns out that subjects that are at the heart of our academic work at Kibbutzim College are tangential in their socio-political and educational importance with campuses outside the State of Israel, like North Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland and more. We also formed a shared group of American-Israeli experts from Wagner College in New York, led by Professor Nimrod Aloni and Professor Lori Weintrob,” explained Ketko.
Furthermore, as it has already been said, “we developed an active partnership with a research-team in Towson University, including student visits and shared courses, led by Professor Hana Bor.”
Another expression of this successful partnership, added Ketko, is “a co-authored book we have published together just lately by Routledge, Enhancing Values of Dignity, Democracy and Diversity in Higher Education. The book includes many issues related to the topics of our symposium and reviews current crises in democracy and human dignity.”
So, she said, “presenting at Towson and being invited as a partner and not as a guest lecturer only, means a lot to me personally and professionally as well.”
One of the speakers set to address the audience is Bernd Wollschlaeger, a German-born medical doctor who discovered at the age of 14 that his father was a Nazi Party officer.
After years of researching religion, Wollschlaeger went on to convert to Judaism. He even joined the Israel Defense Forces as a medical officer, and now educates about hate and bigotry. Currently a practicing physician, he lives in Miami.
‘It’s the start of ongoing discussions’
Bor said she had no trouble getting Towson to support the symposium. In fact, the university was already focusing on the importance of democracy and diversity, and had made it a schoolwide priority this year.
“We know that many universities will not have a topic like this or not allow a talk on antisemitism or allow Israelis to talk. It is very controversial, so just the fact that we are doing this symposium and bringing in lecturers from Israel is already kind of its own event,” she said, adding that “it’s really important to engage students in conversation and think about these issues.”
Though not a main focus, the program will include some discussion about Holocaust education, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism nationwide, and as studies show that many American teenagers don’t know what Auschwitz was or how many Jews were killed during the years of World War II and the Shoah. It is especially relevant in light of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.
Bor noted that more than 20 states currently make Holocaust education mandatory, yet “we don’t have a lot of teachers qualified to teach about it. It’s also very different when you teach it to Jewish students and non-Jewish students. Do you teach it as a universal issue? Teach it along with lessons of other genocides? Teach it as a way to combat antisemitism?”
To that end, she said, plans are in the works at Towson University’s College of Liberal Arts to offer a certificate program in Holocaust education for teachers.
As for the Feb. 8 talk, while it is being presented for educators and students, the public can benefit as well.
“I think the topic is very relevant, and if you enjoy a good talk that’s based in research and academics, and want to be able to talk to your friends, your family and as a citizen to discuss everything that’s happening in America today with democracy,” said Bor, this is a good place to start. “The idea of the symposium is to give academic content and examples, and to present ideas for people to think about. It’s the start, hopefully, of ongoing discussions.”
“Combating Bigotry, Celebrating Diversity and Protecting Democracy” will take place at Towson University’s South Campus Pavilion, starting at 1:15 p.m. It is sponsored by the Baltimore Hebrew Institute; Towson University’s College of Liberal Arts, College of Education, Albert S. Cook Library and Department of Family Studies and Community Development; and the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning at Beth El Congregation.
Learn more and register for the event at: https://www.towson.edu/cla/centers/baltimorehebrewinstitute/events.html.