Tag: Impact

New Perspectives on Tackling Human Trafficking

Prof. Hila Shamir is among TAU scholars fighting modern slavery.

In light of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, we caught up with Prof. Hila Shamir to discuss her trailblazing legal research aimed at combating human trafficking in Israel and around the globe. 

According to the latest estimates, over 40 million people are victims of modern slavery in which individuals perform labor or services under highly exploitative conditions. Their vulnerability to exploitation is often the result of poverty, exclusion or migratory status.  

While trafficking is generally thought of as the exploitation in the sex industry, Shamir is among scholars helping to expand the understanding of the phenomenon to include severe forms of labor market exploitation in other labor sectors. For example, this includes the exploitation of workers in industries such as domestic and care work, construction, agriculture, mining, and fishing who are forced to work in inhumane conditions. Such circumstances include working for long hours, in physically unsafe work environments with little to no pay, and with limitations on their liberties and freedom of movement.  

Top-Down Approach 

“While it is possible to effectively combat human trafficking, to do so requires a willingness to address structural elements, such as restrictive migration regimes and harmful labor market regulation,” says Shamir.  

 

She heads the TraffLab research group at the Buchmann Faculty of Law. Her interdisciplinary team includes students and researchers as well as lawyers from TAU’s Workers’ Rights Clinic, where she serves as the academic advisor. The Clinic supports Shamir’s research through the cases it represents in court. 

Shamir won a competitive grant from the EU’s European Research Council for TraffLab’s research. She was the first legal scholar in Israel to win the ERC Starting Grant for outstanding early-career researchers. The ERC also nominated her lab as a finalist for its 2022 Public Engagement with Research Award for its activity building bridges between research and policymaking. 

Prof. Hila Shamir. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Haaretz)

New Legal Tools 

Shamir’s research seeks to formulate new legal tools to fight human trafficking with labor-based strategies alongside traditional approaches focused on criminal law, border control, and human rights. These strategies target the underlying economic, social and legal structures of labor markets prone to severely exploitative practices.  

With her work, Shamir aims to transform the way trafficking is researched and, as a result, the way anti-trafficking policy is devised. 

While this is no simple feat, she remains optimistic: “There are examples around the world showing us that this can be done if we are willing to move beyond criminalization and expand anti-trafficking toolkit towards strengthening the bargaining power and improving the rights of the most vulnerable workers.”  

She explains that migrant and non-citizen workers are among those most vulnerable to labor trafficking, often due to their legal or social status and institutionalized corruption among employers. 

Impacting the National Debate 

In a significant project, Shamir’s team devised a comprehensive policy plan that proposes alternative recommendations to Israel’s current national plan on trafficking. Shamir recently presented the strategy suggestion to various Israeli government stakeholders and Knesset committees, and held a public roundtable about the plan with the UN Rapporteur on trafficking. The project also led her team to submit several branch-off policy papers over the past year to Israeli policymakers overseeing foreign workers’ rights and related topics. 

Going forward, Shamir is pushing full force ahead with her research as well as public and policy engagement on trafficking. This includes several recent and impending publications based on her research on Israel, modern slavery in global value chains, and bilateral labor agreements, which are among the types of structural frameworks that affect the recruitment practices and labor conditions that can lead to trafficking. 

Opening Gates and Scaling Mountains

The TAU women breaking convention in the Jewish world.

By Lisa Kremer

A young girl, captivated by her family’s lively Talmud discussion around the Shabbat table, is prohibited from studying Talmud at school. A frightened girl squeezes her eyes shut as she dunks her body into the ritual bath so that she will be officially recognized as Jewish. A Hassidic high school teacher steals into university lectures and does not tell a soul when she enrolls in a master’s program. A young ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) woman interviews heads of state, writing under a male byline for her political column in a Haredi newspaper, just happy to be published.

These seminal experiences of youth combined with relentless intellectual curiosity drive TAU’s Prof. Vered Noam, MA student Daria Tass, Senior Lecturer Dr. Nechumi Yaffe, and PhD candidate Estee Rieder-Indursky to achieve academic fulfillment. They come from different backgrounds and places. Yet their common ability to overcome the frameworks that might limit them; to break convention; and to forge new academic perspectives led them to find a home at TAU.

Opening the gates of Jewish learning

Prof. Vered Noam. Photo: Muki Schwartz

Prof. Vered Noam, outgoing Head of TAU’s Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archeology, was awarded the 2020 Israel Prize in Talmudic research—the first woman to be recognized in this subject that women have traditionally been prohibited from studying. “In my family the Talmud [rabbinical discourse on Jewish law and tradition] was a living, breathing part of the atmosphere. It was a way that people I loved connected with one another, and I wanted to participate. But the beit midrash, the Jewish study hall, was closed to girls. I chose academia because I wanted the gates of Jewish learning to open for me, and I knew they wouldn’t in a traditional way.”  

Noam’s scholarly work on rabbinic and Second Temple literature and the early halachic period is renowned in academic circles worldwide, yet the Israel Prize committee also noted her tireless efforts to unlock Talmudic literature for all Israelis. For example, she created a virtual beit midrash—the “Yomi” Facebook group—where learners from different backgrounds discuss a daily Talmudic page in a friendly and non-hierarchical atmosphere.

Her inclusive vision has been colored by her many years at TAU’s Entin Faculty of Humanities. She explains: “I am happy that I teach at the most Israeli university—with students from across the spectrum of the population—at the center of Israeli life.”  She is particularly proud of Ofakim, the Rosenberg School’s program that trains outstanding students to teach Jewish culture in secular high schools, which was founded and supported by the Posen Foundation. “Ofakim alumni are leaders in Jewish philosophy education, presenting high-level Jewish studies in a pluralistic way.”

Noam believes her first love, the Talmud, encapsulates an open approach to Jewish texts and tradition. Similarly, Noam insists that her accomplishments should not be appraised from a gender-centered perspective; the Talmud should belong to everyone. “Male scholars are free to speak of their research without referring to their gender all the time.”

“Talmud is a charming world brimming with color, humor, and logic. It grants freedom to create bold new ideas and a discussion linking generations across time and place,” she concludes.

A Talmudic tale about continuity and change

 

Moses ascends Mount Sinai, but God is not ready: He is adorning the Torah’s Hebrew letters with crowns for Rabbi Akiva, who will be born generations later and interpret the Torah through his understanding of these crowns. Moses wishes to meet this great rabbi, so God directs him to “walk backwards” into the future.

Moses finds himself in a study hall. Disoriented, he doesn’t understand a word of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching, but his ears perk up and he settles in comfortably when Rabbi Akiva says, “This is Halacha from Moses of Sinai.”

Babylonian Talmud, Tractacte Menachot 29B

“Moses represents written Torah, and Rabbi Akiva oral Torah, or Talmud,” explains Prof. Vered Noam. “This tale shows that Jewish culture has the freedom to change, and the courage to admit change is possible when continuity and ancient texts are honored.”

The personal is powerful

Daria Tass is a recent graduate of TAU’s Ofakim program. Tass’s family immigrated to Israel when she was four years old. Like many post-Soviet Jews, she had to undergo a conversion process.

“I never had a place to process being Russian in Israel—the emotions you feel when you hear you are not Jewish enough, not Israeli enough. ​

Daria Tass. Photo: Yoram Reshef

My mother decided for me to go through the conversion process. To protect a collective identity, we do need guard posts and gateways, but the process was hurtful and in no way spiritual. I was so terrified standing in the mikveh—the purifying ritual bath.” Tass continues, “Ofakim helped me understand my connection to Judaism, and realize I could and should talk about these things. I can use my personal Jewish history to reach out to secular students and communicate Jewish culture in a way that will speak to them.”

Tass’s feelings reflect the experiences of many Jews from the former USSR, who were persecuted for being Jewish in their birth countries, and then upon arrival in Israel were not considered Jewish.  

Starting this academic year, Tass will be teaching at a Tel Aviv high school and continuing at TAU as a master’s student in ancient history, specializing in Persia. While both of her parents and her grandmother hold master’s degrees, having grown up as a new immigrant in a peripheral town, Tass does not take her career in academia for granted. Similarly, her choice of topic for graduate research comes from a personal place. “I am interested in purity as a concept in ancient times. Obviously, my research connects to my experience of being regarded as somehow unclean or not Jewish enough, as well as my experience as a woman, the idea of the mikveh, and aspects of purity relating to women. Female historians bring a different perspective to the study of history; it’s not just about chronicling famous battles. I have been inspired by both men and women scholars at TAU, but in the women, I can see my future self.”

The essence of human dynamics

Senior Lecturer Dr. Nechumi Yaffe gazes out her window at TAU’s Department of Public Policy and feels thankful. Yaffe is the first Haredi woman on tenure-track at an Israeli university, and for her, the green academic village reflects the possibilities before her.​

Dr. Nechumi Yaffe. Photo: Yoram Reshef

Yaffe studies poverty in the Haredi community, and “how psychological mechanisms, social norms, and rabbinic authority play a role in creating and perpetuating poverty.” Yaffe seeks to give her MA students, who come to TAU’s Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences with strong opinions formed by years in public and private sectors, “a completely different narrative for thinking about poverty, and how it interacts with psychology, sociology, and public policy.”

Yaffe continues, “My students had to swallow hard when they saw me—I mean I wear a sheitel [wig, for modesty.] Many hold assumptions about the poor as being unmotivated and lacking character, making poor decisions, and leading unbalanced lifestyles. Yet those in poverty are trapped by social structures. And so I present how the burden of change should fall on social systems, rather than on the individual. I have not had one class end on time, as my students ask question after question. They hold leadership positions, and this knowledge can change their professional decision-making and have real-world impact.”

Growing up on her father’s coattails on the men’s side of the synagogue, she was often told that she would have made a great rabbi if she were a boy. Yet finding an outlet for her intellectual curiosity was challenging. As a history teacher armed with a BA, she was tasked with rewriting the curriculum and textbook for Haredi high schools in Israel. To do so, she accessed the National Library on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem. “I saw students studying, read fliers about courses and lectures, and knew I had to become part of what was happening—I even snuck into classes,” she laughs. Yaffe chose an interdisciplinary degree to grant her broad knowledge.

She began MA studies in conflict resolution without telling anyone—including her husband, who was surprised to find a tuition receipt in the mail. “I didn’t know political psychology existed,” Yaffe says. “But I was interested in group dynamics and power structures, something I became aware of as a child when my parents divorced and my siblings and I dealt with the reaction of the community and our school. We were judged for something we had not done, and we knew that was wrong.”

After earning an MA and PhD at Hebrew University, Yaffe moved her family to Brooklyn, New York, for her postdoc at Princeton University. There, she worked at the research center of Nobel Prize winner Prof. Daniel Kahneman, together with Eldar Shafir, the center’s director, and MacArthur Prize Winner Betsy Levy Paluck—both of whom she continues to collaborate with today.

Transitioning her family back to Jerusalem, she found her daughter in a similar position to hers after her parents’ divorce: a persona non grata due to Yaffe’s occupation. “People in the community are nicer than anticipated about my career,” Yaffe continues, “But the system is meaner. It took a long time to find a good school that would accept my daughter.”

Yaffe has tirelessly pursued what she wants—to expand her intellectual universe and remain within the folds of her community. These two desires may seem at odds, but Nechumi Yaffe insists she is simply being herself: A Hassidic woman with intense curiosity and intellectual ability. “It is not a contradiction for me to be in academia,” she explains. “Hassidism looks at the essence, the inner reason for why things happen. My scientific work discovering the essence of human dynamics is another form of Hassidism.” 

Scaling the beautiful mountain of academia

Estee Rieder-Indursky. Photo: Yoram Reshef

Estee Rieder-Indursky is completing a PhD in the Gender Studies Program at the Porter School of Cultural Studies, Entin Faculty of Humanities. She is the 2020 recipient of the Dan David Prize for Doctoral Students for her research on discourses of Haredi women who study the Talmud. “As a Haredi woman, I never considered that women would learn Talmud,” says Rieder-Indursky. “Now, I have interviewed over 30 for my research.” In fact, many things have come to pass that Rieder-Indursky could not have imagined earlier in her life.

​Rieder-Indursky married in her early twenties and quickly separated, a young son in tow.  She worked as a journalist, “interviewing experts and heads of state and writing about politics for Haredi newspapers under a male byline, because it is a ‘men’s subject.’ It didn’t even occur to me to question that—I was happy to be working, published, and able to support my son.”

“Growing up, I had a public library card, which was rare in our community. I was a voracious reader, which I guess taught me to write. Later, when I interviewed academic experts for work, I loved visiting campuses and would come early and leave late just to soak it all in,” says Rieder-Indursky. After she was granted a Jewish divorce, she remarried at age 38 and began undergraduate studies in government at IDC Herzliya. “I was debating about the Haredi community with a professor and he said, ‘If you want to be taken seriously, you need a doctorate.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I am going to be you.’” And she meant it.  

At around the same time, she experienced a feminist awakening when she was invited to a meeting of Haredi women in a Bnei Brak basement. “We shared our experiences. I listened to myself tell my story, and I listened to others’ stories about being a wife, a mother, a woman in our community. By the time I climbed the steps out of that basement, I was a feminist.”

“I am interested in uncovering the theoretical structure of Haredi feminism. I want to give voice to women who have not been heard from before in academic research.” She is a board member of Itach Maaci–Women Lawyers for Social Justice, and took part in the No Voice, No Vote campaign—a political movement for Haredi women’s representation. She was an active member of a coalition that petitioned the Supreme Court and, in 2018, achieved a historic correction: Haredi political parties can no longer bar women from their ranks de jure.

Her MA thesis on Haredi women and political activity was published in a prize-winning Hebrew book, Invisible Women. Rieder-Indursky’s book—and her unique perspective in Israeli academia—made waves. In addition, former TAU President Joseph Klafter advised with her on integrating Haredim into academia.

Now, alongside her doctoral research, she teaches two TAU courses, “Media, Activism, and Multiculturalism through a Feminist Prism” and “Women in Politics—the Personal is Political.” “Students have told me that my courses transform the way they think and speak,” Rieder-Indursky says. “If you had told me twenty years ago that I would be pursuing a PhD and teaching at Tel Aviv University, I could never have believed it. Back then academia was a beautiful mountain that I never knew I would have the chance to climb.”

featured image: Photo: Yoram Reshef. 

Academic First Responders

How TAU sparked a learning revolution in the wake of COVID-19.

By Idit Nirel

When COVID-19 broke in Israel in mid-March and the country shut down, Tel Aviv University (TAU) decided to continue teaching all courses online—almost overnight.

While many professors and students struggled to adapt, Prof. Guy Mundlak was ready.  

Prof. Guy Mundlak

​Prof. Guy Mundlak. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Mundlak, who teaches both at the Buchmann Faculty of Law and the Department of Labor Studies of the Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, made the change to online teaching 4 years ago. One of his courses, “Labor Law,” is a hybrid course; students study theoretical materials on their own through online videos of lectures, and the in-person sessions are dedicated to discussions and analyzing the latest case studies. Mundlak’s motivation to go digital preceded COVID-19 and stemmed from a different reason:

“Teaching this course for over 20 years, I couldn’t reinvent the wheel and find new ways to teach the same material every time,” he says. Making the course digital refreshed it.

Mundlak sees online learning not as a constraint, but as an opportunity: “The format allows students to learn the general concepts at their own pace, and I can focus my classroom lessons on what interests us here and now, without worrying if I’ve covered all of the material in time for the exam,” he explains. “This approach leaves me more room for spontaneity, for dealing with matters of the hour, and for diving deep into topics with the students. As a result, I don’t just lecture to my students; I engage and involve them in issues that touch their everyday lives—which is the best way to learn.”

With the pandemic and lockdown crushing the economy, Mundlak’s course became especially relevant to his students in the spring of 2020. He dedicated his classes—taught via Zoom—to employment issues that emerged during the Corona pandemic, such as the ramifications of layoffs and furloughs. Because most of his students had been working as waiters or in other hourly jobs to finance their studies, these subjects were not just academic theory, but reality, for many of them.

Coronavirus Pushes Learning Online

Dr. Tal Soffer. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Providing Prof. Mundlak with digital tools for online teaching was Dr. Tal Soffer, Director of Virtual TAU, the unit responsible for enhancing the University’s digital teaching capacity and resources.  According to her, “online courses or integrating digital methods into other courses allow for learning that is customized to students’ needs.” At the same time, “online learning can provide students with skills for lifelong learning, which are crucial for success in today’s labor market—such as time management and the ability to learn independently.”

As Coronavirus spread in Israel and lockdown appeared imminent, Soffer and her team were already working around the clock to facilitate the shift to online studies. It was a success. More than 90,000 live online lessons took place over the spring semester, in addition to thousands of lessons recorded for independent study. All in all, online learning during the lockdown accounted for more than 50,000 hours and 10 Terabits in digital volume.

 

TAU student Michal Ferenz. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Soffer and her team set up a technical support hotline for online learning; they received as many as 700 calls per day. In addition to assisting professors in overcoming the technicalities of online teaching, the team also created more than 50 video guides showing lecturers how to use online learning tools to make lessons more engaging.

The team also conducted large-scale surveys among 7,000 students and 750 faculty members. They found that a vast majority of students wanted to incorporate online learning into their studies in the future.

Like other universities around the world, TAU also faced the new challenge of conducting online exams and evaluations. Spring semester exams were conducted from home with supervisors overseeing students through Zoom.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, TAU is introducing a pilot computerized authentication system for online exams. The new technology will secure online exams by verifying students’ identity and monitoring their presence and activities during the exam. Although this is a big step forward, Soffer is aware that in the long run adopting more of these technologies may be intrusive. Instead of relying on anti-cheating applications, Soffer says, the University should also encourage alternative evaluation methods, such as essays and group projects.

“The Corona crisis profoundly disrupted higher education and forced it to make the transition to the digital world—and, in a way, I believe this is exactly the kind of disruption that was needed. The question is, how do we move forward from here?” Soffer says.

Innovating on all Levels

“Universities all around the world understood a long time ago that they have to transform learning and to enhance their online and digital tools,” says Yuval Shreibman, Director of TAU Online – Innovative Learning Center.  The Center started producing online courses long before Corona to make academia more accessible through technology.

“COVID-19 caused us to leap forward and address problems that we could previously overlook. At the same time, it shows us that we need to make complementary classroom learning more active and engaging.”

Given the volatile reality and constantly changing regulations, TAU prepared for all possible scenarios for the new academic year. While it intended to offer first-year students the option to physically attend classes, studies were conducted online for the duration of the first semester. In response, Virtual TAU has launched an unprecedented effort to arm lecturers with versatile presentation tools and introduce additional courses that are fully online.


Virtual TAU Team. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Admissions to the University are also going online, with a new admissions track based on participation and success in specific online courses chosen by each faculty. The new track is currently intended for candidates who, because of COVID-19, could not take standardized university admissions tests. Yet, it also provides greater access to the University for young Israelis from disadvantaged backgrounds or outlying communities, who otherwise might not be able to study at TAU.

In the fall of 2021, TAU plans to launch a new fully online international MBA program, the first of its kind to be offered by an Israeli university. It will combine video courses that students will watch independently, with personal guidance from teaching staff, online study forums and projects. Based on the same high entrance requirements as the regular MBA programs at TAU’s Coller School of Management—recently ranked as the 13th school in the world for producing VC-backed entrepreneurs—the program is expected to attract ambitious students from across the globe.

COVID-19 underlined the importance of online learning at TAU so much that President Ariel Porat created a new position to oversee educational innovation; Prof. Liat Kishon-Rabin became Dean of Innovation in Learning and Teaching in July. “TAU has always prided itself as a leader in educational innovation, but the Corona pandemic has highlighted the need to focus on this field even more,” says Prof. Porat. “I trust that Prof. Kishon-Rabin will build on our existing achievements and lead us through the post-Corona era with vision and success.”

Read about Minducate, an innovation and learning center at TAU. 

Providing Critical Support during Online Learning

Alberto Meschiany. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi.

Despite the positive insights gleaned about online learning, TAU must take into account students who struggled with remote learning as it prepares for a new academic year in the shadow of COVID-19. Alberto Meschiany, Head of the Psychological Services Unit at TAU’s Student Services Division, says that at the beginning of the crisis, his unit experienced a 15% rise in requests for psychological support.

“For many students, the anxiety resulting from the pandemic itself and its economic implications was coupled with the stress of having to study and take exams from home,” he says. “For students who live in the dorms or come from lower socio-economic levels this was exceptionally difficult. Many of them don’t have a quiet place to study. Some live in remote towns that don’t have the Internet network to support continuous online studies.”

Yet, according to Meschiany, it isn’t only the logistical and technological barriers that made the shift to online learning difficult for many TAU students. “Distance from other students can create feelings of alienation and loneliness. All the technology in the world cannot replace the support that students get from their peers,” he says. “In addition, the lack of a personal lecturer-student relationship has a negative effect on academic development. The ability to knock on a lecturer’s door and ask a question or discuss a topic spontaneously is lost with online learning.”

Meschiany believes that as the University adopts more online learning methods, it should make an effort to tailor them to accommodate students with various difficulties. “They will need our active help,” he says.

The Student Viewpoint

Looking back at lessons learned from the “first wave” of online learning, there is no question that TAU can learn the most from its students. Jonathan Berkheim, a master’s student in chemistry and spokesperson for TAU’s Student Union when the pandemic started, experienced the lockdown and its aftermath from several perspectives.

As a senior member of the Student Union, he fielded numerous calls from students who struggled to study within the new framework. Even students who fared well felt shortchanged, according to Berkheim. “The social interaction, class discussions and campus life are crucial parts of the package that students expect from university studies.” 

Jonathan Berkheim. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi.

At the same time, Berkheim says that the unusual circumstances broke traditional, hierarchical barriers between students and professors. They found themselves communicating directly on WhatsApp groups, saw each other’s homes during Zoom sessions, and shared similar experiences of life during the lockdown. “I hope that the University will embrace this new paradigm for student-professor relations in the future.”

In addition, as a teaching assistant, he experienced distance learning from the other side of the virtual podium: “Something gets lost in translation. Students get distracted more easily. It was hard for me to know if they really understood what I was teaching.”

Finally, as a student himself, he found that watching recorded lessons at his own pace was convenient. “Face-to-face learning in the classroom is crucial, but combining it with independent online studies will have great benefits for students,” Berkheim concludes.

Among TAU students studying remotely are also hundreds of international students from over 100 countries, who are enrolled in over 60 English-led academic programs offered by TAU International. In the midst of the crisis, TAU International launched an online summer course, titled: “COVID-19: From Crisis to Opportunity,” which attracted more than 80 participants from Asia, South America, North America and Europe.

Read about how TAU Impact, the University’s flagship community service program, adapted to the pandemic.
 

As TAU heads toward another academic year, it is clear that life with COVID-19 has become the new normal. All players involved in online learning understand that TAU must embrace the advantages moving forward.

“Until recently, when I was presenting my own field of research—which deals with future trends in the labor market and predicts that people would increasingly shift to working from home—people would tell me that it sounds too futuristic,” says Prof. Mundlak. “Now it is has become a reality. The future is here.”

Featured image: TAU Life Sciences Prof. Nir Ohad films a remote lecture at the TAU Online studio. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Social Work Student Sees Light in Unexpected Places

For Glaser Scholar Lea Tamanyo, making positive change starts with helping individuals.

By Melanie Takefman

TAU graduate student Lea Tamanyo isn’t afraid of challenges; she’s had to overcome many herself, both in her personal life and academic career.

For example, as an undergraduate student in social work, she chose to gain practical experience in one of the most difficult and complex subfields at the outset—mental health. “This area is considered hard-core in social work, but when I first started I wanted to explore different fields so I took the plunge.”  

As she enters her second year of a master’s degree at TAU’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work, Tamanyo realizes that this field, despite its complexities, is her calling in life.

Even before becoming a social worker, Tamanyo, a recipient of the Herbert and Sharon Glaser Foundation scholarship, worked at an assisted living facility for men who suffer from mental illnesses. Many of them have had particularly difficult lives. At first, it wasn’t easy, she says, but slowly she became absorbed in their lives. She developed an especially strong relationship with three of her clients. “I quickly understood that their diseases don’t define them. They have so much more to them than that.

“I was drawn by the fact that I could be the one to make a positive change, that I could help them lead their best lives. I felt like I had reached the right place,” she says, the emotion patent in her voice. “The work fulfills me and gratifies me immensely.”

Now, armed with an undergraduate degree in social work, she works part-time at the same facility, alongside pursuing graduate studies at TAU.

Tamanyo’s interest in social work was sparked during her post-high school national service at Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel. “The way all the different professionals interacted to help the children captivated me,” she says. She chose social work because she likes the idea of “helping people help themselves.”

Tamanyo herself, the seventh of eight children, is no stranger to adversity. Her parents immigrated to Israel in 1991 from Ethiopia and were sent to live in a caravan compound in northern Israel. Lea says that it was difficult for them to learn Hebrew, acclimate to the Israeli mentality, and earn a living. Her father is fully disabled, and her mother works as a caretaker for the elderly, the only job she could get without an education.

“My siblings and I studied by the skin of our teeth,” said Lea. “Our parents couldn’t help us with schoolwork, and there was no money for private tutors or extra-curricular courses. I learned how to be self-reliant and teach myself.”

Despite her parents’ modest means, they instilled in their children a strong sense of purpose, perseverance, and the value of education. “They want us to succeed professionally, so that we will have what they didn’t.”

Lea says her parents encountered a lot of ignorance, on the part of veteran Israelis, about their culture. “Sometimes, it’s simply a lack of awareness, not something intentional, because when you’re not familiar with something, it can appear strange… At the end of the day, we are all immigrants, and we have to accept the other. Everyone brings with them a different color.”

Although Lea herself hasn’t encountered the difficulties her parents did, it’s clear that their experiences have shaped her identity and professional path. Seeing the best in every person, beyond their background or social identity, is something that guides her.

Herbert and Sharon Glaser

Doron Kochavi and Tammy Glaser Kochavi

“Lea is a very talented, ambitious and forward-looking young woman, who is committed to contributing to the country through her professional skills,” says Doron Kochavi, a TAU Governor, who, with his wife, fellow TAU Governor Tammy Glaser Kochavi, selected Lea as one of the recipients of the Herbert and Sharon Glaser Foundation Scholarship. 

​​“We believe that the way to create positive change in this country is to support individuals, like Lea, who want to strengthen the melting pot in which we live. In this respect, social workers play a vital role because they help the weakest members of society overcome challenges and realize their potential.”

“I am grateful to the Herbert and Sharon Glaser Foundation, and the Kochavi family for my scholarship because it frees me from financial worries and allows me to focus on my studies,” says Tamanyo. “Especially now in the era of Corona, when there is less work, it is truly a blessing.”

featured image: Glaser Scholar Lea Tamanyo. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi. 

Accelerating Jewish-Arab Entrepreneurship

TAU’s jumpTAU program helps bicultural teams found start-ups and friendships.

By Lindsey Zemler

“If you put a law student, a medical student, a social sciences student and an engineer in a room—it’s not the start of a joke. It’s the start of a creative idea,” says Yair Sakov, Managing Director of TAU’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and its accelerator program, jumpTAU. 

The four-month program provides a framework for teams of TAU students and recent alumni to develop a business or social venture. In 2020, the Center, which promotes the integration of diverse communities into Israel’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, focused on bringing together Arab and Jewish students. 

Although Arab society constitutes more than 20% of Israel’s population, relations between Arab citizens and the Jewish majority are often characterized by ignorance, prejudice and fear. The same is true on Israeli campuses: “Connections between Jews and Arabs are happening in the workplace,” Sakov says, “but in academia we don’t see it enough.”

According to jumpTAU participant Lena Polevoi, a Jewish biomedical engineering student, having Jews and Arabs working together gave her team unique insights into developing a product. She acted as CEO of a student group developing a digital platform called Chatty, which aims to reduce loneliness among the elderly. “We discovered that loneliness is less prevalent among Arab seniors because they generally live with their families, while Jewish seniors do not,” she says.

 

Lena Polevoi. Photo: Yael Tzur.

Polevoi adds that she entered the program ready to learn as much as possible before graduating, especially in the field of digital marketing.

Similarly, Arab-Israeli Osaid Watted, a second-year mechanical engineering student, applied to jumpTAU to cultivate his entrepreneurial skills. He also wished to forge connections to the Jewish business world. Watted was part of the team that launched Game On, an online social platform for amateur athletes to find sports games to compete in. The team members’ different fields of study enhanced the business development process, he says.

The jumpTAU novice entrepreneurs received guidance from industry veterans and executives with decades of experience. All of the program’s volunteer mentors are TAU alumni. Most important, the mentors provided an entry point into the business world, which was a major advantage, especially for the Arab students; finding a job, for example, says Watted, would otherwise be very difficult for him, who has no experience or contacts in Israel’s business community.

Osaid Watted. Photo: Yael Tzur.

Osaid Watted. Photo: Yael Tzur.

In addition to networking opportunities, the program, funded by the U.S. Embassy and USAID’s Conflict Mitigation and Management (CMM) Program, provided additional benefits to participants, says Sakov. 

Jewish students gained a rare window into the Arab market through their Arab peers, a huge market opportunity locally and globally, he says.

Polevoi emerged from the program with new knowledge and skills and a refined direction in life. The experience led her to take a job in a solar energy venture upon graduation from TAU. She also became good friends with her Arab teammate and says that participation in the accelerator was an opportunity to get to know a new culture first-hand. 

For Watted, the experience provided enormous personal and professional benefits; “the entrepreneurial sense in me just grew, and I became more confident in my abilities, like how to actually build a start-up—it’s just priceless.” He now plans to start his own company, based on the values he was raised on: to provide an egalitarian and empowering work environment for disadvantaged groups within the Arab community, including Arab women. 

“Respecting each other and working with each other creates a feeling of tolerance,” said Watted. 

By the program’s end, two out of eight teams had raised investment funding for their start-ups to continue beyond the accelerator. Yet, to Sakov, securing funding is but “the icing on the cake.” 

“Professional collaboration is where humanity begins,” concludes Sakov. “When you work with someone, you trust them. All of a sudden, the label that says Jewish or Arab disappears, and you see the person behind it.”

featured image: jumpTAU students. Photo: Yael Tzur.

2020 Kadar Ceremony Celebrates Pioneering Spirit and Hard Work

In its sixth year, the Kadar Family Award continues to nurture research and excellence in teaching at TAU.

Four outstanding junior and senior TAU faculty members on campus were presented with the 2020 Kadar Family Award for Outstanding Research at a special online event as part of the 2020 Board of Governors meeting. The winners, Prof. Tal Ellenbogen (Engineering), Prof. Ilit Ferber (Humanities), Prof. Ishay Rosen-Zvi (Humanities) and Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro (Medicine), were selected from multiple candidates who went through a rigorous review process.

Nadav Kadar, TAU alumnus, recently elected member of the TAU Board of Governors and co-founder of the Naomi Foundation, delivered remarks at the virtual event. Also present were Prof. Yoav Henis, outgoing VP for Research and Development and Chairman of the award committee; TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat; and outgoing TAU Rector Prof. Yaron Oz.

“My family joins me in congratulating the 2020 recipients of the award. Thank you for your magnificent contributions in your respective fields,” said Nadav Kadar on behalf of the Kadar family during the ceremony. “Our award honors outstanding research and scholarship in the sciences and the humanities and celebrates the pioneering spirit and hard work necessary to change the world. My mother, Naomi Prawer Kadar, taught Yiddish at schools and institutions of higher learning around the world including the International Yiddish Summer Program at TAU. We are proud to support Tel Aviv University as a hub of innovation.”

Prof. Henis, chair of the event, gave special thanks to the Kadar family for supporting the award for the sixth year in a row. “We truly hope that this important tradition will continue.”

“The Kadar Award has become the most prestigious research award at TAU,” said President Porat at the ceremony. “In order to become prestigious, an award must meet two conditions: candidates must be high quality, and the selection committee members must be distinguished scholars who are able to make judgments outside their field. The committee has done a wonderful job year after year.”

The Kadar Family Award is funded by the Naomi Foundation, which honors the memory of Naomi Prawer Kadar PhD, a lifelong educator and the late wife of physician, educator and innovator Dr. Avraham Kadar, a TAU graduate and benefactor. Naomi and Avraham Kadar’s three children, Nadav Kadar, Einat Kadar Kricheli, and Maya Kadar Kovalsky, are alumni of TAU and active board members of the Foundation alongside their father.

The 2020 Kadar Family Award laureates:

Prof. Tal Ellenbogen is the Head of the Laboratory for Nanoscale Electro-Optics at the School of Electrical Engineering within the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering. He studies light-matter interactions in the atmosphere to develop and improve optical technologies. Ellenbogen strives to influence industry and humanity by improving technologies that are used everywhere; mobile phones, camera lenses, computer screens, car scanners, and more.

 

 

Prof. Ilit Ferber is a member of the School of Philosophy, Linguistics and Science Studies at the Entin Faculty of Humanities. Her research examines the relationship between human communication and painful emotions such as melancholy, loss and anxiety. These emotions, generally perceived as negative, can cause language communication to collapse, making it difficult to express pain. Ferber believes, however, that painful emotions can open up a new world of communicating these feelings without words.

 

 

Prof. Ishay Rosen-Zvi belongs to the Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archaeology at the Entin Faculty of Humanities.  He specializes in Talmudic literature and culture and has researched and written on the Midrash and Mishnah, as well as on issues of self-formation and collective identity in Second-Temple Judaism and rabbinic literature. He is a recipient of the Alon Fellowship and serves as a mentor for numerous master’s and PhD students.

 

 

Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro is the Chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine. Her research focuses on the interactions between cancer calls and their microenvironments, including tumor progression and angiogenesis. For the past five years, she has worked on using the immune system to attack cancer cells using nanotechnology. In 2020, her team pivoted their work to find a COVID-19 nano-vaccine, and plan to translate research findings into clinical trials soon. She has published close to 100 scientific articles and registered numerous patents.

 

 

Enemies: A Love Story

TAU’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies is global authority on modern Iran and Iranian Jews.

By Melanie Takefman

Even though they have been enemies in official channels for decades, Iranians and Israelis have a mutual fascination with each other.

“Young Iranians are very intrigued by Israelis and are eager to contact them through social media,” says Dr. Liora Hendelman-Baavur, the new director of TAU’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies and a historian of Iranian women and media in the 20th century. “They want to know what is beyond the image of the ‘Zionist enemy’ as presented by Iranian sources.”

In parallel, the popularity of Teheran, a critically-acclaimed TV series about a Mossad agent in Iran, attests to the complex perception of Iran in Israel; Israelis view Iran as a threat but many are also nostalgic for the good relations the two countries enjoyed until 1979.

At TAU, this interest goes beyond curiosity. Now, in its 15th year, TAU’s Alliance Center is the region’s leading hub for academic research on Iran outside of Iran itself.

With the Iranian-Israeli conflict constantly in the news, the Center is more relevant than ever.

No group encapsulates the precariousness of this relationship more than Iran’s 20,000-member Jewish community, says Hendelman-Baavur. Recent Iranian legislation enshrined its boycott of Israel and underscored local Jews’ status as a minority at risk. The law makes it illegal for Iranians to meet with Israelis, a hard blow to Iranian Jews who until now could meet Israeli relatives in a third country.

Because Iranian Jews are a main focus of the Alliance Center’s research, a photo exhibit documenting the community entitled “Trapped Minority” was planned to celebrate the Center’s 15th anniversary. Although the exhibit was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19, some of the photos by Iranian exile Hasan Sarbakhshian are published exclusively here.

Founded in 2005, the Center was the vision of TAU governor and honorary doctor Lord David Alliance of the UK as well as David and Laura Merage of the USA and TAU Prof. Emeritus David Menashri. United in their fondness for their birth land’s language, culture and history, they dreamt of establishing a center that would generate new insights into Iran.

Fifteen years later, their vision has become a reality.

The Center has cultivated a generation of Iran scholars who work in think tanks, major media, diplomacy, security institutions and other related fields. Hendelman-Baavur and her colleagues Prof. Meir Litvak (former director of the Center) and Dr. Miriam Nissimov are highly sought-after experts in international academic forums. The Center has published and co-sponsored 20 books and has hosted dozens of conferences, workshops and other events in its short existence. Moreover, it has become a keeper of Iranian Jewish heritage under the auspices of the Habib Levy Program for Iranian Jewish History and its sizable archive as well as the Program for the Study of Iranian Jews in Israel under the auspices of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York.

The Center also publishes the ACIS Iran-Pulse, a digital newsletter regularly cited by top international organizations.

The unusual situation of being an expert on a place she has never visited and probably never will doesn’t faze Hendelman-Baavur. On the contrary, she says it has made her a more thorough scholar. She often checks multiple sources and cross-references information. Because she cannot contact her Iranian colleagues, she has developed a robust network of Iran scholars around the world with whom she can collaborate. She follows Iranian Twitter and Telegram feeds and Persian-language news apps religiously.  

Similarly, the Center attracts international students from the region and beyond, including the United States and Turkey. This, Hendelman-Baavur says, is proof of its continuing relevance. Looking forward, she sees TAU strengthening its role as a global authority on Iran’s modern history and Iranian Jewry, specifically because of this unique perspective.

Fetured image: Dr. Liora Hendelman-Baavur, the new director of TAU’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi

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