The USC Initiative for Israeli Arts and Humanities hopes to continue drawing students’ attention to the cultural aspects of Israel in its second season, beginning this fall.
The program aims to broaden discussions on Israel and Judaism by introducing noted Israeli artists to campus.
According to Professor Ruth Weisberg of the Roski School of Fine Arts, Israel’s art scene is large compared to its physical size. Weisberg and other artists have ventured to Israel in the past, and she said that although many programs exist to study Israel through a geopolitical lens, there is little academic activity focused on its cultural side.
“Artists express themselves, but they also express with cultural underpinnings,” Weisberg said.
Israeli art encompasses everything from dance to painting to printmaking, but Weisberg noted recurring elements that make it distinctive, such as an “interest in the land, the history of the Middle East and Jewish history.”
Sarah Benor, interim director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, who is based at Hebrew Union College but also works with USC, is enthusiastic about the new program.
“It’s a wonderful initiative. Ruth Weisberg is the perfect person to create this and bring it to USC,” Benor said.
According to Benor, the program is open to all students, regardless of race or ethnicity.
“[The program] is not just for those with Jewish heritage or for those who are Jewish in religion,” Benor said. “[Jewish studies] is a fascinating field with a rich history, specifically when seen through these programs [that] take another angle.”
The Jewish studies department has also been expanding its class offerings. This semester’s classes include “Jewish Magic in the Ancient World” and “Gender and Judaism.”
To accompany these new classes, the initiative puts on a variety of events throughout the year. It has already hosted the likes of Israeli author Mier Shalev and artist Mira Maylor. The initiative’s next events are a show highlighting the choreography of Barak Marshall and the dance troupe BODYTRAFFIC, and an exchange printmaking exhibition featuring Irena Gordon, a curator of the Jerusalem Printmaking Workshop, this September at the Pacific Design Center.
The program, which is sponsored through the Roski School of Fine Arts, is organized by a steering committee of various faculty members from Dornsife, the School of Cinematic Arts, the Fisher Museum, the Thornton School of Music and Hebrew Union College.
Weisberg said that she hopes the program will continue to receive attention from those interested in art in general, not just those interested in Judaic studies.
“I find that the students in the various art schools are interested both in their own medium, but also there’s also a wonderful interest that’s been nourished by Visions and Voices,” Weisberg said. “There’s more sophistication about arts in general across the different disciplines.”