Celebrating 20 Years of Gender Studies
TAU and Jewish women’s group launched first BA program of its type in the Middle East
Tel Aviv University this week alongside the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) are marking 20 years of partnership and the co-founding of the first-ever gender studies program in the Middle East.
Established in 2001, the NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program at The Shirley and Leslie Porter School of Cultural Studies, at the Entin Faculty of Humanities was the first - and remains the only - BA degree program on gender studies in Israel. The Program has since expanded to offer MA and PhD tracks. To date, it boasts approximately 600 alumni.
Changing Society, Changing Lives
In light of its two-decade anniversary, the Program’s head Prof. Daphna Hacker, from the Buchmann Faculty of Law, explains: “It’s a degree but it’s not only about intellectual theories, it’s about our own lives - our private most intimate relations, our political choices, our engagement in social activism. Once you’re exposed to feminist theories and gender studies, most likely your perspective will change not only on society, but on your own life.”
Addressing the 20-year milestone, TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat lauded the Program and its founders, thanking NCJW for the endowment that made the Program possible. Additionally, he hailed the Program for its role in producing agents for social change, including graduates who have become educators, journalists, scholars, entrepreneurs and social activists.
“We can see the important impact of the Program not just on its graduates and teachers, but also on the wider Tel Aviv University community,” he said in recorded remarks. “We’re seeing more women professors in the top management, as vice presidents, deans and heads of schools – and also a greater representation of women scientists and students in STEM fields.”
NCJW President Dana Gershon recognized the occasion as both a celebration of all the partnership with TAU has accomplished and to take stock of all the work left to do to achieve gender equity in Israel and the world.
“As the partnership continues, we hope to see an expansion of gender studies in Israel, with more people embracing feminism and diversity to accurately reflect the lives of women, children and families in the Middle East,” she said. “This partnership has already had a profound impact on working toward this goal.”
Noting the powerful connections the TAU-NCJW partnership enables, Sheila Katz, CEO of the NCJW, highlighted its transformative impact. “Through our partnership with Tel Aviv University, we have been able to identify and train a whole generation of feminist leaders in Israel who can take on the region’s toughest challenges,” she said.
The Confluence of Academia and Activism
Prof. Hacker sees the gender studies Program’s classrooms as microcosms of the type of pluralistic setting needed to further swing the pendulum toward gender equity in Israel. “Gender studies teach us how to open our eyes to reality,” she says. “Feminism, since it was established, has been about the connection between academic knowledge and activism for social change.”
A conference hosted by the NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program (Photo: Tanya Gurov)
The Program’s influence is evident in its impact on the lives of its students. For instance, it has provided PhD researcher and lecturer Estee Rieder-Indursky an inroad to academia she wouldn’t have thought possible 20 years ago. As a Haredi social activist, Rieder-Indursky is making strides giving voice to women previously unheard from in academic research. In 2020, she won the Dan David Prize for Doctoral Students for her research on discourses of Haredi women who study the Talmud.
Going forward, Hacker’s hopes to broaden awareness of the gender studies Program to draw new students and future social leaders. This includes adding to its ranks more men, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, ultra-Orthodox women, and Arab Israeli students.
“Everyone should be included in the conversation and the research. Since we are shaping our research through our experiences and personal backgrounds, it’s crucial we have diversity among our students and faculty,” Hacker stresses.
Extending Academic Knowledge Beyond Campus
In addition to the gender studies Program at TAU, the partnership between the University and NCJW - the oldest Jewish women's volunteer organization in the U.S. - has borne additional projects. Now hosting its 2nd cohort, “Connecting for Impact: Strengthening the Feminist Ecosystem in Israel” is one of the partnership’s most recent achievements extending academic knowledge beyond the walls of traditional university campus settings.
Both Hacker and Katz noted the unique value the TAU-NCJW collaboration offers by facilitating rich knowledge sharing between scholars, lobbyists, activist and community leaders from both the U.S. and Israel.
“By collaborating across lines of difference, whether that be national borders or divisions in Israeli society, the next generation of feminist leaders can have a more inclusive understanding of feminism and truly work toward a better world for women, children and families,” said Katz.
An online event Thursday (June 17) celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program at TAU featured a panel of leaders exploring the state of gender equity in Israel. Along with NCJW President Dana Gershon and Prof. Hacker, guest speakers included Israeli Cabinet Minister Merav Michaeli, Director of Arab Community program at Yad Hanadiv Foundation Dr. Safa Abu-Rabia, and Rieder-Indursky. Former NCJW president, Florida State Senator Nan Rich, moderated the event.
Watch the event here: