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The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU Hosts First Annual Influencer Award at Sony Pictures Studios
9/19/2016

Homeland executive producer and TAU alum Gideon Raff honored at September 14th reception

Gideon Raff and Steve TischThe Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University gave its first annual Influencer Award at a reception at 6:30 pm on September 14, 2016 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The recipient was writer, director, producer, Emmy Award-winner and TAU alum Gideon Raff, the man famous for bringing Homeland to the United States. The evening’s emcee was award winning, critically acclaimed actor/producer Jason Isaacs.

The reception also celebrated the vision and generosity of film producer and philanthropist Steve Tisch, who made a transformative $10,000,000 gift to the School in 2015.

“The Influencer Award Reception serves as an opportunity to celebrate the power of the film and television industry in general and to acknowledge the impactful work of some of the outstanding individuals in the business,” said Steve Tisch. “Gideon Raff is most deserving of this recognition and I’m proud that he will be the inaugural recipient of the Influencer Award. Ultimately I hope that these awards will inspire film students around the world to tell stories that help break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding.”

“We’re very excited to celebrate the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the first-ever Influencer Award Reception. Steve Tisch’s support of Tel Aviv University has allowed us to redefine the way students study film and television,” said Gail Reiss, President and CEO, American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “We’re also very pleased to honor Gideon Raff, a proud Tel Aviv University alum, who has made such significant contributions to the world’s film and television industry. Our goal for the evening was to let people feel for themselves the kind of passion and excitement that Steve Tisch and Gideon Raff felt the first time they walked into a filmmaking class at Tel Aviv University. We all screened some short films by current and former Tel Aviv University students.”

See photos from the event

First Annual Influencer Award Honoree

Gideon Raff is the Executive Producer of Homeland, which was adapted from his highest-rated Israeli TV drama of all time, Prisoners of War, and won the Emmy in 2012 and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2012 and 2013. Raff received a primetime Emmy award for his writing. The show has been nominated for the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.

Some of Raff’s other acclaimed credits include creating the TV drama series Tyrant and co creating Dig, an event series on USA starring Jason Isaacs as an FBI agent investigating a murder of a female archeologist in Jerusalem.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive the inaugural Influencer Award,” said Raff. “Tel Aviv University gave me so many opportunities that have led to a career that I could have only dreamed about. And now, thanks in large part to my good friend, Steve Tisch, and his significant contribution to the university, I know many other young Israeli filmmakers are going to get their big break, too.

“Steve and I share a passion for storytelling and I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to do that throughout my career. I was born and raised in Jerusalem and the high stakes of living there fascinate me. The stories can be very moving. Prisoners of War was a small Israeli show intended for a small market. Yet, it found its way into 30 countries in its original form and we’re remaking it in so many markets – Russia, India, South Korea etc.”

Influencer Award Emcee

The evening’s emcee was Jason Isaacs, who has won or been nominated for Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, International Emmy, Critics’ Circle, Critics’ Choice, Blockbuster and Satellite awards. He spent nearly a year working closely with Gideon Raff, starring in the 10-part USA mini-series Dig. Probably best known to an entire generation as the sinister Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, Isaac’s enormous range of movie work encompasses The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Green Zone, Armageddon, Peter Pan, Friends With Money, Event Horizon, End Of The Affair, Fury, Good and more. His US TV work includes Showtime’s Peabody Award-winning series Brotherhood, BAFTA-nominated series Case Histories on PBS, NBC’s Awake and The West Wing, HBO’s Entourage and, of course, USA’s Dig.

Isaacs will soon appear in the new Netflix series The OA, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin an is taking time out from shooting Hotel Mumbai in India to host the 2016 Influencer Award reception.

Influencer Award Co-Chairs

Tel Aviv University also announced an impressive list of co-chairs who hosted the Influencer Awards event. The list includes media industry icons Gail Berman and Bill Masters, Jonathan Littman, Rick Rosen, Chris Silbermann, Ari Folman, Eytan Fox, Brett Ratner, Alon Shtruzman, and our emcee host Jason Isaacs.

The star-studded co-chairs hail from all aspects of the entertainment industry.

Gail Berman is one of the few media executives to hold the top posts at both a major film studio and a broadcast television network. She was named President of Paramount Pictures in March 2005. Before joining Paramount, Ms. Berman served from 2000 to 2005 as President of Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. She took the network to the top of the ratings for the first time in its history, developing gigantic hits such as American Idol, 24, House, Arrested Development, Bones, and Family Guy. Berman is currently CEO of The Jackal Group.

Bill Masters, the husband of Gail Berman, is a well-known comedy writer and producer, whose work includes Caroline in the City, Grace Under Fire, Greetings From Home and Raising Dad.

Jonathan Littman, an Emmy-award winning producer, is an executive at Jerry Bruckheimer Television. Some of his credits include CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race.

Rick Rosen, founder and head of the Television Department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, has also made his mark in the television industry. As an agent his clients include Dick Wolf (Law & Order), Linwood Boomer (Malcolm in the Middle) and Gideon Raff.

ICM Partners Founding Partner Chris Silbermann will also be co-chairing the event. Silbermann’s agency has represented hit shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Grey’s Anatomy, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Modern Family.

TAU alum Ari Folman is a critically acclaimed, Israeli based film director, screenwriter and film score composer, best known for directing the animated documentary film Waltz With Bashir, as well as directing the live-action/animated film The Congress. He currently plans to direct an animated drama film based on the life of Anne Frank during the Holocaust.

Eytan Fox, also from Israel and also a TAU alum, is a film director known for his groundbreaking film Yossi and Jagger, as well as Walk on Water and The Bubble.

Brett Ratner is a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He started his career as a music video director working with Russell Simmons, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Madonna. He is currently at the top of his field as a major motion picture director and producer with credits including the Rush Hour film series, The Family Man, Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand and Tower Heist.

Alon Shtruzman is a media executive and television producer. He is CEO of Keshet International, Keshet Media Group’s global distribution and production arm. As one of the founders of the Israeli multi-channel industry, Shtruzman commissioned the original In Treatment and introduced the country’s first video-on-demand service.

The Tel Aviv University School of Film and Television

The renowned Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University is Israel’s leading institution of film and television studies, ranked by The Hollywood Reporter among the Top 15 International Film Schools for the third year in a row.

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world including The Montreal Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome Independent Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. An enrolled TAU film student has been nominated for a 2016 Student Academy award.

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

Mr. Tisch's gift has allowed the School's academic programs to significantly expand, most recently with the launch of a new Digital Media Studies program that introduces students to advanced media production technology. The Production and Directing Studies program has expanded from three to four years, offering a deeper and more gradual development of knowledge and professional skills. The Film Studies program has also grown to offer students a broader curriculum and the opportunity to explore innovative new teaching methods.

New scholarships have enabled students from all walks of life to attend the School, which has quickly become a global magnet for film and television.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, the only person with both an Academy Award® and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award® as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie, The Burning Bed, to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise’s career.

Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, American History X, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Equalizer.

Tisch has long been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. Tisch is on the Boards of The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University, and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014, Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986 by TAU Film & TV students, the prestigious Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival is now the largest in the world.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University’s renowned Department of Film and Television into The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculums, attract and expand top level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations, and bring further international collaborations.

Photo caption (left to right): Gideon Raff and Steve Tisch.

Graduate of Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU Awarded Student Oscar® for Best Foreign Documentary
8/31/2016

Maya Sarfaty's The Most Beautiful Woman is first Israeli documentary to win a Student Academy Award

Maya Sarfaty, a graduate of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, won the Student Academy Award for Best Foreign Documentary on Monday, August 29, for her film The Most Beautiful Woman. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Sarfaty would be receiving a gold medal for her film and that she can submit her film for the Hollywood Oscar race later this year.

Sarfaty, a native of Netanya, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the Tisch School of Film and Television. Her work is the first Israeli documentary and the second Israeli film to win a Student Oscar. The first, Paris on Water (2014), was also written and directed by a TAU graduate, Hadas Ayalon.

The Most Beautiful Woman tells the true story of Helena and Rosinka Citronova, sisters who were deported from their native Slovakia to Auschwitz together with Rosinka's two children. Once in the death camp, Helena captured the amorous attentions of SS officer and camp guard Franz Wunsch, who ultimately saved her and her sister from certain death in the gas chambers. Tragically, Rosinka's two children were not spared.

The film first made waves last year when it won grants from the David Perlov Film Fund, the Rabinowitz Tel-Aviv Foundation, Gesher Israel and the Bernstein Family Foundation.

This year the Academy selected 17 student nominees out of a record number of entries — 1,749 films submitted by US students and 95 films from colleges and universities in other countries — in seven categories. The nominees will be flown to Los Angeles a week before the September 22 award ceremony for seven days of studio activities and networking events.

Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU Announces First Annual Influencer Award at Sony Pictures Studios
8/25/2016

Homeland Executive Producer and TAU Alum Gideon Raff to be honored at September 14th reception

Photo: Gideon RaffThe Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University will give its first annual Influencer Award at a reception at 6:30 pm on September 14, 2016, at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The recipient is writer, director, producer, Emmy Award-winner and TAU alum Gideon Raff, the man famous for bringing Homeland to the United States. The evening’s emcee is award winning, critically acclaimed actor/producer Jason Isaacs.

The reception will also celebrate the vision and generosity of film producer and philanthropist Steve Tisch, who made a transformative $10,000,000 gift to the School in 2015.

“The Influencer Award Reception will serve as an opportunity to celebrate the power of the film and television industry in general and to acknowledge the impactful work of some of the outstanding individuals in the business,” said Steve Tisch. “Gideon Raff is most deserving of this recognition and I’m proud that he will be the inaugural recipient of the Influencer Award. Ultimately I hope that these awards will inspire film students around the world to tell stories that help break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding.”

“We’re very excited to celebrate the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the first-ever Influencer Award Reception. Steve Tisch’s support of Tel Aviv University has allowed us to redefine the way students study film and television,” said Gail Reiss, President and CEO, American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “We’re also very pleased to honor Gideon Raff, a proud Tel Aviv University alum, who has made such significant contributions to the world’s film and television industry. Our goal for the evening is to let people feel for themselves the kind of passion and excitement that Steve Tisch and Gideon Raff felt the first time they walked into a filmmaking class at Tel Aviv University. We'll also screen some short films by current and former Tel Aviv University students.”

First Annual Influencer Award Honoree

Gideon Raff is the Executive Producer of Homeland, which was adapted from his highest-rated Israeli TV drama of all time, Prisoners of War, and won the Emmy in 2012 and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2012 and 2013. Raff received a primetime Emmy Award for his writing. The show has been nominated for the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.

Some of Raff’s other acclaimed credits include creating the TV drama series Tyrant and co-creating Dig, an event series on USA starring Jason Isaacs as an FBI agent investigating a murder of a female archeologist in Jerusalem.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive the inaugural Influencer Award,” said Raff. “Tel Aviv University gave me so many opportunities that have led to a career that I could have only dreamed about. And now, thanks in large part to my good friend, Steve Tisch, and his significant contribution to the university, I know many other young Israeli filmmakers are going to get their big break, too.

“Steve and I share a passion for storytelling and I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to do that throughout my career. I was born and raised in Jerusalem and the high stakes of living there fascinate me. The stories can be very moving. Prisoners of War was a small Israeli show intended for a small market. Yet, it found its way into 30 countries in its original form and we’re remaking it in so many markets – Russia, India, South Korea etc.”

Influencer Award Emcee

The evening’s emcee is Jason Isaacs, who has won or been nominated for Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, International Emmy, Critics’ Circle, Critics’ Choice, Blockbuster and Satellite awards. He spent nearly a year working closely with Gideon Raff, starring in the 10-part USA mini-series Dig. Probably best known to an entire generation as the sinister Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, Isaacs' enormous range of movie work encompasses The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Green Zone, Armageddon, Peter Pan, Friends with Money, Event Horizon, End of the Affair, Fury, Good and more. His US TV work includes Showtime’s Peabody Award-winning series Brotherhood, BAFTA-nominated series Case Histories on PBS, NBC’s Awake and The West Wing, HBO’s Entourage and, of course, USA’s Dig.

Isaacs will soon appear in the new Netflix series The OA, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin and is taking time out from shooting Hotel Mumbai in India to host the 2016 Influencer Award reception.

Influencer Award Co-Chairs

Tel Aviv University also announced an impressive list of co-chairs who will be hosting the Influencer Awards event. The list includes media industry icons Gail Berman and Bill Masters, Jonathan Littman, Rick Rosen, Chris Silbermann, Ari Folman, Eytan Fox, Brett Ratner, Alon Shtruzman, and our emcee host Jason Isaacs.

The star-studded co-chairs hail from all aspects of the entertainment industry.

Gail Berman is one of the few media executives to hold the top posts at both a major film studio and a broadcast television network. She was named President of Paramount Pictures in March 2005. Before joining Paramount, Ms. Berman served from 2000 to 2005 as President of Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. She took the network to the top of the ratings for the first time in its history, developing gigantic hits such as American Idol, 24, House, Arrested Development, Bones, and Family Guy. Berman is currently CEO of The Jackal Group.

Bill Masters, the husband of Gail Berman, is a well-known comedy writer and producer, whose work includes Caroline in the City, Grace Under Fire, Greetings from Home and Raising Dad.

Jonathan Littman, an Emmy-award winning producer, is an executive at Jerry Bruckheimer Television. Some of his credits include CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race.

Rick Rosen, founder and head of the Television Department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, has also made his mark in the television industry. As an agent his clients include Dick Wolf (Law & Order), Linwood Boomer (Malcolm in the Middle) and Gideon Raff.

ICM Partners Founding Partner Chris Silbermann will also be co-chairing the event. Silbermann’s agency has represented hit shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Grey’s Anatomy, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Modern Family.

TAU alum Ari Folman is a critically acclaimed, Israel-based film director, screenwriter and film score composer, best known for directing the animated documentary film Waltz with Bashir, as well as directing the live-action/animated film The Congress. He currently plans to direct an animated drama film based on the life of Anne Frank during the Holocaust.

Eytan Fox, also from Israel and also a TAU alum, is a film director known for his groundbreaking film Yossi and Jagger, as well as Walk on Water and The Bubble.

Brett Ratner is a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He started his career as a music video director working with Russell Simmons, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Madonna. He is currently at the top of his field as a major motion picture director and producer with credits including the Rush Hour film series, The Family Man, Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand and Tower Heist.

Alon Shtruzman is a media executive and television producer. He is CEO of Keshet International, Keshet Media Group’s global distribution and production arm. As one of the founders of the Israeli multi-channel industry, Shtruzman commissioned the original In Treatment and introduced the country’s first video-on-demand service.

The Tel Aviv University School of Film and Television

The renowned Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University is Israel’s leading institution of film and television studies, ranked by The Hollywood Reporter among the Top 15 International Film Schools for the third year in a row.

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world including The Montreal Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome Independent Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. An enrolled TAU film student has been nominated for a 2016 Student Academy award.

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

Mr. Tisch's gift has allowed the School's academic programs to significantly expand, most recently with the launch of a new Digital Media Studies program that introduces students to advanced media production technology. The Production and Directing Studies program has expanded from three to four years, offering a deeper and more gradual development of knowledge and professional skills. The Film Studies program has also grown to offer students a broader curriculum and the opportunity to explore innovative new teaching methods.

New scholarships have enabled students from all walks of life to attend the School, which has quickly become a global magnet for film and television.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, the only person with both an Academy Award® and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award® as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie The Burning Bed to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise’s career.

Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, American History X, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Equalizer.

Tisch has long been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. Tisch is on the Boards of The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University, and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014, Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986 by TAU Film & TV students, the prestigious Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival is now the largest in the world.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University’s renowned Department of Film and Television into The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculums, attract and expand top level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations, and bring further international collaborations.

2016 TLV Film Festival Celebrates 30 Years of Cinematic Imagination
6/30/2016

Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival draws heavyweights, rising stars from local and international film industries

The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival — one of the largest and most influential student film festivals in the world according to CILECT, the International Association of Film and Television Schools — was held June 9-16, 2016 at Givon Square, a bustling commercial center in downtown Tel Aviv.

Established in 1986 by students from TAU's Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, the festival is now an annual event supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council, and Tel Aviv University. The Tisch School is the only film school in the world where student filmmakers own the rights to their student films. The School's admission policy is equally unique. All qualified applicants — high school graduates with appropriate college entrance exam scores, etc. — are admitted to the first-year BFA program. That number hovers around 200. 65 students are invited to continue to the second year, after faculty and lecturers have had the opportunity to gauge the quality and artistic merit of their work.

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter welcomed the enthusiastic audience to the festival premiere, recognizing distinguished guests such as Dean of the Faculty of Arts Zvika Serper, Head of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television Yaron Bloch, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Assaf Zamir, and others. "Tonight we are celebrating the festival's 30th anniversary, just as we celebrated the university's 60th anniversary just this week," he said.

The 2016 Student Film Festival featured 200 short films from 50 countries and drew more than a hundred film students, veteran filmmakers, and distinguished directors from around the world for special screenings, master classes and cultural pop-up events at the University and across the city. The festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, made its fifth nationwide circuit this year.

Special guests included some of the world's most distinguished filmmakers: Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius, American director David Gordon Green, Oscar nominee Gotz Spielmann, innovative Portuguese director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, editors Monica Willi and Claire Atherton, and others.

The winners of the festival competitions were announced at the weeklong event's closing ceremony held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on June 16. The two biggest prizes in the International Competition went to TAU Tisch School students: the Tatjana Palkovitz Award for Best Film went to The Fine Line by Dana Lerer and the Best Director Furnished by HOT Television Award went to Up and Arise by Raanan Berger Israel.

The Israeli Film Critics Forum Award went to In Other Words by Tal Kantor. The Israeli Competition Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor's Award for Best Film went to Anna by Or Sinai.

Image caption: Film still from Dana Lerer's The Fine Line, winner of the Tatjana Palkovitz Award for Best Film at the 2016 TLV Film Festival.

Steve Tisch School of Film and Television Inaugurated
6/2/2016

Visionary Oscar®-winning producer Steve Tisch cuts ribbon in a festive ceremony

Photo: Steve Tisch, Prof. Joseph Klafter, Prof. Zvi Serper and Yaron BlochIn a milestone for Tel Aviv University and Israel's film industry, the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts was inaugurated during the Board of Governors Meeting by Steve Tisch, a 2016 TAU Honorary Doctorate recipient.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University's renowned Department of Film and Television into the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculum, attract and expand top-level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations and bring further international collaborations at the School. Enrollment is up 30%.

"I'm honored by this recognition and pleased to support the efforts of a university that is at the forefront of nurturing creative talent," said Tisch at the ribbon-cutting and inauguration ceremony. "When I came to Tel Aviv University two years ago as honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, I was inspired by the artistry, passion and commitment of the students here. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and that stories told through film and television can break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding. My hope is to help these students achieve their dreams and share their creative stories in the international arena."

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter said, "Steve Tisch's investment in our university has positioned the Film and TV School as a world class center of creativity, and will continue to enhance academic training and knowledge for many years to come."

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers) and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the Steve Tisch School of Film & TV among the top 15 international film schools for the second year in a row.

Yaron Bloch, Head of the Steve Tisch School, said, "Our horizons have truly expanded in every way, thanks to Mr. Tisch — from launching new programs and academic course, including a Digital Media Program, to purchasing quality equipment that has enhanced our students' creative ambitions."

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world this year, including the Montreal World Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Steve Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, and the only person with both an Academy Award and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie The Burning Bed to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise's career. Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happiness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, American History X and The Equalizer, among numerous others.

Tisch has been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. He is on the board of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014 Steve Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986, the prestigious festival is now the largest student film festival in the world.

Attending the attendees were Dean of the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts Prof. Zvika Serper and Richard Sincere, National Chairman of American Friends of Tel Aviv University.

Photo caption, left to right: Steve Tisch; TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter; Dean of the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts Prof. Zvika Serper; and Head of the Steve Tisch School Yaron Bloch.

 

TAU Awards Honorary Doctorate to Oscar®-Winning Producer Steve Tisch
5/23/2016

Philanthropist and filmmaker honored for vision and global influence in cinematic arts and for significant investment in university


Steve Tisch and Katia Franesconi. 
Photo: Israel Bardugo

Tel Aviv University (TAU), Israel's largest institution of higher learning, conferred its most distinguished award of an Honorary Doctorate to philanthropist and Academy Award®-winning film producer Steve Tisch at the 2016 Board of Governors Meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2016, at the Tel Aviv University Miriam and Adolfo Smolarz Auditorium.

The honorary degree conferment ceremony at the Board of Governors Meeting followed a special ribbon cutting and inauguration of The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, which took place on Tuesday, May 17.

Tisch was honored for his commitment and significant contributions to TAU, which have helped elevate Israel's leading institution of film and television studies.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University's renowned Department of Film and Television into The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculums, attract and expand top level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations, and bring further international collaborations.

"I'm honored by this recognition and pleased to support the efforts of a university that is at the forefront of nurturing creative talent," said Steve Tisch. "When I came to Tel Aviv University two years ago as honorary chair of the Tel Aviv Student Film Festival, I was inspired by the artistry, passion and commitment of the students here. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and that stories told through film and television can break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding. My hope is to help these students achieve their dreams and share their creative stories in the international arena."

"Steve Tisch's investment in our university has positioned the Film and TV School as a world-class center of creativity, and will continue to enhance academic training and knowledge for many years to come," said Tel Aviv University President Prof. Joseph Klafter. "His contributions have been instrumental in increasing the School's visibility and stature, strengthening Israel's global influence on the cinematic arts and fueling TAU's commitment to breeding industry leaders and innovators across all disciplines."

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the Steve Tisch School of Film & TV among the Top 15 International Film Schools for the second year in a row.

"The breadth and diversity of our expanded activities for the Film School since Steve Tisch's contribution are unparalleled and know no bounds," said Yaron Bloch, head of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU. "Our horizons have truly expanded in every way, thanks to Mr. Tisch — from launching new programs and academic courses to purchasing quality equipment that have furthered our students' creative ambitions."

TAU School of Film & TV continues to transform

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world this year, including the Montreal World Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome Independent Film Festival and American Documentary Film Festival.

Mr. Tisch's gift has also allowed the School's academic programs to expand, most recently with the launch of a new Digital Media Studies program that introduces students to advanced media production technology. The Production and Directing Studies program has expanded from three to four years, offering a deeper and more gradual development of knowledge and professional skills. The Film Studies program has also grown to offer students a broader curriculum and the opportunity to explore innovative new teaching methods.

New scholarships have also enabled students from all walks of life to attend the School, which has quickly become a global magnet for film and television.

The School of Film & TV is currently hosting two major film festivals and three academic conferences a year, thanks to Tisch's contribution.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, the only person with both an Academy Award® and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award® as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie, The Burning Bed, to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise's career. Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, American History X, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and The Equalizer.

Tisch has long been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. Tisch is on the Boards of The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University, and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014, Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986 by TAU Film & TV students, the prestigious Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival is now the largest in the world.

TAU Student Film Wins Applause at Legendary Tribeca Film Festival
4/19/2016

BBC calls Ben Hakim's The Operator "compelling"

Photo: Ben HakimA drone operator spends her workday alone in a darkened room, guiding deadly missiles to targets she can see on monitors in front of her. Then, at the end of her day, she returns home — to her other role as a single mother.

Ben Hakim's short film The Operator had its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 14, 2016. It explores the nexus between the professional and the personal. It has already garnered critical praise: The BBC's Tom Brook called it "compelling" on his Talking Movies program. And the film is likely to generate more praise when it's screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

"The Operator is about a world we could face in just a few years, when killing people is done from a distance, with no shame, anonymously, behind computers," Hakim says. "A young mother who faces hard challenges at work, spending her days in a small isolated room with nothing but voices and images for company. It's the best metaphor for showing this conflict."

Hakim says his initial inspiration for the film had nothing to do with politics. "The bad guys in the movie aren't identified as terrorists, only as anonymous numbers," he says. "I think that makes a greater impact. I wanted to show the growing problem of technology's destructive uses — not only its violence, but the ways it can separate us from each other. If people choose to interpret it politically, well, that's their decision."

A film from a Tel Aviv University "family"

From "The Operator"The Operator is Hakim's final student project at the Tel Aviv University Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. The director graduated from the school in 2014.

The film was very much a Tel Aviv University project. Much of the film was shot on a set built at TAU. Cinematographer Pablo Arcuschin and screenwriter Lior Zalmanson are TAU alums. Hakim's brother, Amir, contributed the musical score.

"Being a student gave me a whole new perspective on storytelling," says Hakim. "It also gave me the drive to make my own films the way I want to make them.

"I think Israeli filmmakers have fresh minds and great courage, because they face a reality that changes every day," Hakim continues. "They have to be alert all the time. And that's a very important part of being a film director."

The personal challenge of a "dark" shoot

Hakim says that the shoot for the short film took its toll on both cast and crew. "Noa Biron, the lead actress of the film, spent all that time on that dark set, with those videos of bombs finding their targets. It helped her to get into character, but we all felt a bit depressed by it. But that's the magic of film — when we shifted to her apartment, which we shot on location, and filmed the scenes with her son, we all felt very compassionate."

Hakim started making home movies at the age of 11. His first film, Destiny, won the first prize at 2005 Jerusalem Film Festival when he was 18 years old. In 2008, his short film The Elevator won international awards at the New York Short Film Festival, the Milano International Film Festival, the Hamburg Film Festival, and the Atlanta Film Festival. He has also served as the editor-in-chief of the most important Israeli movie portal, Seret.co.il. His other films include Dr. Sharon and Being There, which have been screened at many film festivals.

The Operator will screen again at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday, April 20, and Saturday, April 23, before moving on to its May screening at Cannes. Funding for the film was provided by the Rabinowitch Film Foundation in collaboration with the Utopia Film Festival and the filmmaker himself.

Photos:

Top: Ben Hakim

Left: Noa Biron in The Operator

TAU Shines Spotlight on "Mad Men" Creator Matthew Weiner
1/5/2016

The Hollywood writer, director and producer receives President's Award 2015 for his achievements in television

Photo: Matthew WeinerMad Men creator Matthew Weiner was honored in December by Tel Aviv University for his many contributions to the entertainment industry, winning the school's prestigious President's Award. Weiner also taught packed-to-capacity master classes at TAU's Steve Tisch School of Film and Television.

In his opening remarks, TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter told Weiner, "You've won nine Emmys, three Golden Globes, and now the President's Award of Tel Aviv University."

Accepting the award, Weiner spoke about being moved by his experiences in Israel. "This is my first trip to Israel and I'm part of a generation that didn't rush here right away," he said. "It's not the case everywhere in the world where you can just announce that you're Jewish. And I would say on some level my parents raised us not to announce that we're Jewish, but I feel lucky I've never had a problem with it, my children don't have a problem with it, and I'm very proud of my heritage.

"I feel so much energy at the university and there's so much creativity going on," Weiner continued. "It's a pleasure for me as an artist to come here and get recognized."

Behind the scenes of Mad Men

Mad Men, a smart and complex series about ad man Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) and his family and colleagues in the 1960s, is widely considered one of the greatest television series of all time.

"At first I didn't know if the pilot would be picked up, and then I never knew if we would be renewed for another season," Weiner told guests at a glittery reception held prior to the award ceremony.

Following the award presentation, Weiner sat down for a conversation with Israeli-born, Hollywood-based producer Alon Aranya, a graduate of TAU's film school and creator of the hit shows Hostages and Betrayal. He shared his experience writing the pilot for Mad Men, saying, "I was a different person after I wrote it. The worst case scenario was I would have written something I was proud of, which would make me a nicer person."

For more, read the story in The Jerusalem Post: "A method to his madness".

TAU Alum's Film "Sandstorm" Receives Top Nod at Locarno Film Festival
8/26/2015

Film studies grad wins first prize for a penetrating drama about a torn Bedouin family

Film still: SandstormSandstorm, a first feature by Elite Zexer, a graduate of Tel Aviv University's film directing program, won the top prize at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival's First Look on Israel pics-in-post showcase in Switzerland. The honor was accompanied by a prize of $66,000 and sponsored by Germany's Rotor Film. The film is a drama set in a Bedouin village where the lives of a woman and her two daughters are turned upside down after her husband marries a younger woman.

The festival's prestigious jury praised Sandstorm for its "mature, deeply observant storytelling and courageous depiction of the layered struggles of several generations of women." The film was produced by Haim Mecklberg and Estee Yacov-Mecklberg's prominent 2-Team Productions company.

The spotlight's six works-in-progress were screened during Locarno's Industry Days informal market to international sales agents, film investors, distributors, and festival programmers.

For the full story, read the article in Variety: "Locarno: Female Empowerment Drama Sandstorm Wins First Look on Israel Showcase"

2015 TLV Film Festival Celebrates Pioneering Indie Spirit
6/15/2015

17th Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival draws industry heavyweights and young filmmakers from over 70 countries


From award-winning film Line of Grace

The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, one of the largest and most influential student film festivals in the world according to CILECT, the International Association of Film and Television Schools, was held at Tel Aviv University and Tel Aviv's iconic Cinematheque on May 31–June 6, 2015. This year's festival, which featured 200 short films from 70 countries, drew more than a hundred film students, veteran filmmakers, and distinguished directors from around the world for special screenings, master classes and cultural events in the metropolis known as the "White City."

Established in 1986 by students from TAU's celebrated Steve Tisch School of Film and Television and previously held every two years, the festival is now an annual event supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council and Tel Aviv University.

The 2015 festival attracted some of the world's most distinguished filmmakers, including the titan of independent cinema in America, Hal Hartley. Several of Hartley's early films were screened at the festival, including Trust (1990), starring the late Adrienne Shelly and Martin Donovan; Amateur (1994), with Isabelle Huppert; and Flirt (1995), with Michael Imperioli. Henry Fool (1998), the first part of a recently completed trilogy that includes Fay Grim and Ned Rifle, was also featured.

"I am very proud of our students who initiated this project. It has since become one of the — if not the — most important student film festivals in the world," said TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter at the festival's opening ceremony in Yaffo's scenic Summit Garden.

"UNESCO recently added Tel Aviv-Yafo to its list of Most Creative Cities in the World," Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said at the ceremony. "Why is that? Because, in part, of festivals like this one. I am proud of the young people here who are enriching our lives. May you continue to do so and may you continue to make films."


From award-winning film Semper Idem

The winners of different festival competitions were announced at the weeklong event's official June 6 closing ceremony. The Best Independent Short Film Award went to Line of Grace by Israeli director Rotem Kapelinsky; the Festival Critics Award for Israeli Film went to Semper Idem by director/screenwriter Nachman Picovsky; and the Best Documentary in the International Competition Award went to If Mama Ain't Happy, Nobody's Happy by Dutch director Mea de Jong, among a dozen other prizes and notable mentions.

"Young filmmakers, free from commercial considerations, express their views through an uncompromised unique cinematic language," said Festival Directors Talia Bernstein and Roni Shamiss, who, as TAU student chairs, organized a veritable army of volunteers. "They are able to strengthen aspects of innovation and freshness essential to any art medium."

Other star guests in attendance included native-turned-Hollywood producer Ram Bergman, who recently produced Natalie Portman's directorial debut, an adaptation of Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness; film editor Dylan Tichenor; producer Effie T. Brown; and television writer-producer Kate Barnow.

In addition to the screenings and cultural events, the festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, particularly its periphery, made its fourth nationwide circuit this year.

TAU Grad Hits Highest Note at Berlin Music Contest
3/23/2015

Hagar Sharvit wins first place at prestigious Das Lied International Song Competition

Hagar SharvitIsraeli opera singer Hagar Sharvit, a graduate of Tel Aviv University's Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, won the prestigious Das Lied International Song Competition in Berlin last month.

Mezzo-soprano Sharvit, 26, won both first prize (about $16,000 U.S.) and the Audience Award at the classical music talent contest, held every two years in the German capital. The competition attracts the best young talent in the business.

Sharvit, who wowed judges with her vocal skills, was accompanied on the piano by Jerusalem-born pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz. Bushakevitz was also recognized by the Das Lied prize committee for his skills, splitting the Pianist Prize (about $5,300 U.S.) with musician James Sherlock.

Sharvit has performed in several operas, including turns as Annina in La Traviata and Sandmännchen in Hänsel und Gretel with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein during the 2013-14 season. She also performed as Tisbe in Rossini’s Cenerentola with the Opera de Metz in 2013 and won first prize in the 19th International Johannes Brahms Competition Pörtschach in 2012.

Hagar has often performed as a representative of TAU's Buchmann-Mehta School of Music. She was the second prizewinner of the Clairmont Academy singing competition both in 2008 and 2010 and has performed as a soloist with TAU's Buchmann-Mehta School Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Camerata Jerusalem Orchestra, the Israel Sinfonietta Beer-Sheva Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and the Israel Stage Orchestra.

For more, read the story in the Times of Israel: Israeli opera singer wins prestigious Berlin contest

Teacher Prejudices Put Girls Off Math, Science
2/26/2015

TAU study finds unconscious biases of elementary school instructors dramatically affect female academic choices later on

It's a fact: Women are vastly underrepresented in the fields of computer science, engineering, and mathematics. But less clear are the trajectories — academic and otherwise — that lead young women toward other professions. Higher education has already opened the door to equal opportunities for women and minorities in the U.S. — so is it possible that elementary school, as a new Tel Aviv University study suggests, is the critical juncture at which girls are discouraged from pursuing science and mathematics?

New research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that elementary school teachers' unconscious biases significantly influence female students' academic choices later on. According to researchers Dr. Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and an instructor at TAU's Berglas School of Economics, and Prof. Victor Lavy, a professor at Hebrew University and University of Warwick in England, the classroom teacher's unwitting prejudice is a key factor explaining the divergence of boys' and girls' academic preferences.

"It isn't an issue of discrimination but of unconscious discouragement," said Dr. Sand. "This discouragement, however, has implications. The track to computer science and engineering fields, which report some of the highest salaries, tapers off in elementary school."

Taking the gender test

The research was carried out on three groups of students in Israel from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, the first graded by objective scorers who did not know their names and the second by instructors who did know them. In math, the girls outscored the boys in the test that was scored anonymously, but when graded by teachers who were familiar with their names, the boys outscored the girls. The effect was not the same for tests in non-math or science-related subjects.

The researchers concluded that, in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys' skills and underestimated the girls' abilities, and that this had long-term implications for students' attitudes toward these subjects.

Opting out

"When the same students reached junior high and high school, we examined their performances in matriculation exams ('Bagrut' in Hebrew)," said Dr. Sand. "The boys who had been encouraged when they were younger performed significantly better than their female counterparts, though the latter had objectively scored higher at a younger age."

The researchers also monitored the advanced math and science courses that students chose to take in high school, concluding that the girls who had been discouraged by their elementary school teachers were much less likely than the boys to opt for advanced courses.

"If teachers take into account these effects, it could lead to a reduction of the gender gap in achievement, especially in science and math," said Dr. Sand. "It is clear how important encouragement is for both boys and girls in all their subjects. Teachers play a critical role in lowering and raising the confidence levels of their students, which has serious implications for their futures."

Even in Our Digital Age, Early Parental Writing Support Is Key to Children's Literacy
12/9/2014

TAU study says caregivers should promote correct writing habits among preschoolers

Children of the Information Age are inundated with written words streaming across smartphone, tablet, and laptop screens. A new Tel Aviv University study says that preschoolers should be encouraged to write at a young age — even before they make their first step into a classroom.

A new study published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly explains why early writing, preceding any formal education, plays an instrumental role in improving a child's literacy level, vocabulary, and fine motor skills. The research, conducted by Prof. Dorit Aram of TAU's Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education in collaboration with Prof. Samantha W. Bindman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other colleagues in the US, assessed the merits of early parental mediation of children's literacy and language in English, and recommended useful techniques to that end.

"Parents in the U.S. are obsessed with teaching their kids the ABCs," said Prof. Aram. "Probably because English is an 'opaque' language. Words do not sound the way they are spelled, unlike 'transparent' Spanish or Italian. Parents are using letters as their main resource of teaching early literacy, but what they should be doing is 'scaffolding' their children's writing, helping their children relate sounds to letters on the page even though the letters are not transparent."

"Grapho-phonemic mediation"

Prof. Aram has spent the last 15 years studying adult support of young children's writing. A major component of this support is what she calls "grapho-phonemic mediation." Through this method, a caregiver is actively involved in helping a child break down a word into segments to connect sounds to corresponding letters. For example, parents using a high level of grapho-phonemic mediation will assist their children by asking them to "sound out" a word as they put it to paper. This contradicts the traditional model of telling children precisely which letters to print on a page, spelling it out for them as they go.

"Early writing is an important but understudied skill set," said Prof. Aram. "Adults tend to view writing as associated with school, as 'torture.' My experience in the field indicates that it's quite the opposite — children are very interested in written language. Writing, unlike reading, is a real activity. Children watch their parents writing and typing, and they want to imitate them. It is my goal to assist adults in helping their children enter the world of writing by showing them all the lovely things they can communicate through writing, whether it's 'mommy, I love you' or even just 'I want chocolate.'"

Building a scaffold

In the study, 135 preschool children (72 girls and 63 boys) and their parents (primarily mothers) in an ethnically-diverse, middle-income US community were observed writing a semi-structured invitation for a birthday party. The researchers analyzed the degree of parental support and assessed the children's phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, word decoding, vocabulary, and fine motor skills. Overall grapho-phonemic support was most positively linked to children's decoding and fine motor skills.

Prof. Aram and her counterparts found that "scaffolding," or parental support, was most useful in developing early literacy skills. "The thing is to encourage children to write, but to remember that in writing, there is a right and a wrong," said Prof. Aram. "We have found that scaffolding is a particularly beneficial activity, because the parent guides the child. And, if that parent guides the child and also demands precision in a sensitive and thoughtful way — i.e. 'what did you mean to write here? Let me help you' — this definitely develops the child's literary skill set."

Prof. Aram is currently researching interventions to promote the early writing of children from low socio-economic backgrounds, parental writing mediation for a digital world, and different schools of thought on parental writing mediation.

Breaking with Tradition: The “Personal Touch” Is Key to Cultural Preservation
11/24/2014

Idiosyncratic acts performed during cultural practices are responsible for the rituals' survival, says TAU study


A Zulu dancer practices
the Umsindo "high kick"

"Memetics," or the study of memes, is a very popular discipline among cultural researchers now, particularly as it concerns new media like viral videos. But no one seems to know what a meme really is.

Originally coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the "meme" transfers cultural information much the way that genes inherit biological properties. Pharrell Williams' feel-good hit "Happy" (2013), one of the top-selling singles of all time, is a recent example of a wildly popular meme. Originally tucked away in the soundtrack of the film Despicable Me 2, the song spread across the viral Net through thousands of similarly-formatted cover videos, ultimately enjoying global sales of over ten million copies — a true display of memetic cultural transference.

However, unlike genes, well-defined biological entities with clear structural units, memes have long been slapped with the vague label "cultural replicators." Now a Tel Aviv University study scheduled for publication in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews provides insight into the building blocks of cultural replication and the different ways they're used to preserve traditional rituals and practices.

Adding the personal touch to tradition

According to the research by Prof. David Eilam of the Department of Zoology at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences, together with Dr. Michal Fux, Dr. Joel Mort, and Dr. Tom Lawson of Queens University Belfast, idiosyncratic acts, once considered merely incidental to the memes — the common actions that form the basis of traditions — are actually essential for their survival in a culture. Conducted alongside a few fixed memes, individualized gestures ensured the very survival of a ritual or practice by providing simplicity, flexibility, and creative license.

For the purpose of the study, Prof. Eilam and his team observed and analyzed a wedding dance called the "Umsindo," performed by the Zulu tribe in South Africa. In this dance, only one act — the high kick, the standard meme of the dance — was performed by all 19 participants. But all the dancers engaged in additional idiosyncratic movements resembling free-style dance before and after executing the high kick. The researchers found these idiosyncratic movements to be indispensable to the easy transference and preservation of this long-practiced cultural ritual.

Keeping it simple

"There are a limited number of common acts that lead to the continuation of any given tradition," said Prof. Eilam. "On the one hand this is surprising, but on the other it makes sense. You can't teach or transfer very complex things. In the Umsindo dance, there is just one common gesture. The rest you are free to improvise."

The same process characterized the application of phylacteries (a head and arm garment replete with leather bands and a small box) performed by observant Jewish men at the TAU synagogue, the researchers observed. In the application ritual, only 11 out of 67 acts were recognized as common to all the gestures of the application and could be regarded as the "memes" by virtue of their commonality and high frequency of performance. Again, the vast majority of the gestures during the ritual were found to be idiosyncratic, providing flexibility and creative license during a rigorous religious ritual that has been practiced throughout centuries.

"The common acts of the memes are always accompanied by idiosyncratic acts that establish identity and preserve behavioral flexibility," said Prof. Eilam. "In other words, idiosyncratic acts, or 'behavioral variability,' appear to be an essential component that participates in the evolution of behavioral patterns, similar to genetic variability in biology."

Prof. Eilam is continuing his research on memes, exploring how these fixed actions emerge and why they are specifically selected in the evolution of cultural and other behavioral practices.

Feeling Their Pain at the Multiplex
9/18/2014

TAU researcher shows movie audiences and schizophrenics share brain activity patterns

In one of the final scenes of the 2010 psychological thriller Black Swan, Nina, a ballerina played by Natalie Portman, finally loses her grip on reality, hallucinating that black feathers are poking through her skin.

According to Prof. Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Sagol School of Neuroscience, the brain activity of audience members watching this dramatic scene resembles that observed in many schizophrenics. "As Nina is getting crazier and crazier, audience members themselves experience something like schizophrenia," Prof. Hendler said recently at an event sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Prof. Hendler and her team of researchers have been investigating networks in the brain that appear to play a role in empathy. She has found evidence for two types of empathy, each tied to a different network of brain regions. The first, "mental empathy," requires you to mentally step outside yourself and think about what another person is thinking or experiencing. The second, "embodied empathy," is the intuitive, primal empathy you might feel witnessing someone get punched.

At the event, Prof. Hendler presented fMRI brain scan data of subjects who had watched several emotional movies. In audiences who had watched the dramatic scene from Black Swan, Prof. Hendler found that the "mental empathy" network predominated, while the "embodied empathy" network only flickered to life occasionally — when Nina pulled a feather from her back, for example.

Prof. Hendler has witnessed this pattern, which relies more heavily on the mental empathy network even in the face of a visceral experience, in her schizophrenia patients. "It's as if they have to think through the emotional impact of situations that other people grasp more intuitively and automatically," she said.

For more, read the story at Wired.com:

How Movies Trick Your Brain Into Empathizing With Characters

Oscar-winning Producer Steve Tisch Chairs World's Largest Student Film Festival, Based at TAU
6/9/2014

16th Tel Aviv Student Film Festival draws industry notables and young film makers from more than 40 countries

Steve Tisch
Steve Tisch

Steve Tisch, the Academy Award-winning producer and executive Vice President and Chairman of the New York Giants, chaired the 16th Tel Aviv Student Film Festival last week. Held at Tel Aviv University, it is the largest student film festival in the world, and widely acknowledged as the most influential. This year, 250 short films from 40 countries were screened.

Speaking at the festival's opening ceremony in the picturesque Summit Garden site overlooking the Mediterranean and the city of Tel Aviv on May 31, 2014, Tisch said, "To the students who are graduating, I am going to ask you to do one thing. When you go into the movie business, please take out of your vocabulary the word 'fair.' Make the movies that you want to make from your heart, the movies you believe in, with the passion you have had — if you are like me — since you were 12 years old."

"Mr. Tisch embodies the spirit of the festival — dynamic, progressive, and creatively adventurous," said TAU film students Talia Bernstein and Roni Shamiss, who, as student chairs, organized an army of volunteers.

The festival generated broad international interest, featuring industry icons like Tisch and the French filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose latest movie Two Days, One Night opened the event on May 31st. Established in 1986 by students from TAU's celebrated Department of Film and Television and previously held every two years, the festival will now be an annual event thanks to new funding from the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council, and Tel Aviv University.

Hollywood expertise, universal passion

As the first Chairman of the festival, Tisch brought Hollywood know-how, glamour, and a significant track record to his role. Three decades ago he helped launch Tom Cruise's career with the sleeper hit Risky Business, and his credits include American History X, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, Seven Pounds, Knowing, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, and the Academy Award winning Best Film, Forrest Gump.

In a special Q&A session with legendary Israeli filmmaker Katriel Schori, held at TAU's Department of Film & Television, Tisch discussed the types of films he particularly loves making, his coming of age as a producer, and the differences among the American, Israeli, and European film industries. The student audience, filling the lecture hall to capacity, gave him a roaring round of applause at the end of the session.

"I spent five years at Columbia Pictures, which was my graduate school," he said. "By working at the studio I was able not only to meet writers, filmmakers, directors, editors, cinematographers, but — on the other end — to also meet pretty serious agents and lawyers, gaining exposure to both the creative and business sides. After five years, I felt ready to go out on my own and start producing."

Tisch has three films scheduled for release this year: Sex Tape, directed by Jake Kasdan and starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, opens in July, 2014; The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington, opens in September, 2014; and The Business Trip, directed by Ken Scott and starring Vince Vaughn, opens in March, 2015.

Currently a partner at Escape Artists Productions and the Chairman and Executive Vice President of the New York Giants, Tisch is the only person to have won both an Academy Award and a Super Bowl ring — actually two rings: Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

Industry heavyweights


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

This year, the festival's student films explored subjects including adolescence, death, loneliness, faith, identity, and equality. 25 of the films were made by students at Israel's film schools, providing an encouraging insight into the future of Israeli filmmaking. Israeli director Eytan Fox (Yossi and Jagger and Walk on Water) served as head judge, joined by Kim Yutani, programmer for the Sundance Film Festival, Israeli producer Gal Greenspan, and Afghan French director Barmak Akram (Wajma — An Afghan Love Story).

Special guests included French director Leos Carax. Over his three-and-a-half-decade career, Carax has only directed five feature-length films, but they were more than enough to cement his place among the most noteworthy active directors in France. His films Lovers on Bridge (1991) and Holy Motors (2012) were screened during the festival, and Carax also ran a directing worship, open to the public.

An editing workshop featured Molly Malene Stensgaard — known for editing many of Lars von Trier's films including his latest, Nymphomaniac — in which she discussed her work with the celebrated and controversial director.

Other notable guests included South Korean director and screenwriter Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil), Romanian director Radu Muntean (Boogie and the recent Tuesday After Christmas) and Chilean director and screenwriter Sebastian Silva (Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus).

Members of the festival's judging panels and its special guests regularly include luminaries of world cinema. Past judges and speakers include actors Richard Gere, Marcello Mastroianni, Erland Josephson, and Sarah Polley; directors Robert Wise, Jim Sheridan, Chantal Akerman, Paul Schrader, Giuseppe Tornatore, Theo Angelopoulos, Emir Kusturica, Hicham Ayouch, Paolo Sorrentino, and Ari Folman; and producers Arnon Milchan, Roger Corman, Jan Harlan, Ori Inbar, and Nick Frazer.

A far-ranging program


Poster for
Houses with Small Windows

The festival, widely acknowledged as the most important student film festival in the world, comprised three categories this year: the International Forum, showcasing cinema from around the world; the Israeli Competition, presenting the works of Israel's next generation of filmmakers; and the Mediterranean Competition, screening films from neighboring countries.

The winners of the competitions were announced at the weeklong event's official closing ceremony on Saturday night, June 7th. Best International Film went to director Deben Van Dam for The Way of All Flesh (Belgium); Best Israeli Film was awarded to director Oren Gerner; Best Mediterranean Film went to director Bulent Ozturk for Houses with Small Windows (Turkey); and the Festival Critics Award for Israeli film went to director, screenwriter, and editor Roni Rainhartz of Sapir Academic College.

Past festival winners include young filmmakers already making names in the industry: Thomas Vinterberg, Dover Kosashvili, Francois Ozon, Alan Taylor, Jasper W. Nielsen, and Nir Bergman. The festival also featured the first screening of a short series of documentaries by Tel Aviv University students called Digital Relations, exploring interpersonal relations in the digital age through the camera lens. Another new project, Short Film Incubator, screened films by directors currently waiting to produce their first or second feature-length film.

The festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, particularly the periphery, made its third nationwide circuit this year. Israelis and students from all over the world embarked on a week-long tour in a bus fitted with a giant screen, projector, and amplification system. After the screenings, audiences across Israel were treated to Q&As with the filmmakers.

A philanthropic philosophy

The festival's chairman, Steve Tisch, has long been a leading philanthropist, and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations.

On May 29, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his gift of $10 million to the department of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for the BrainSPORT Program, which has now been renamed the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program. It establishes the world's most advanced diagnostic and treatment program for athletes who have suffered concussions and uses the latest techniques in brain imaging, molecular biology, and neuro-engineering to understand the connection between concussions and long-term brain disease.

Other recipients of his generosity include the Epilepsy Foundation, Women's Cancer Research Foundation, and The Simon Wiesenthal Center. Tisch is on the Board of Trustees of The Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the new sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University.


Tel Aviv University Film Wins Student Oscar
5/19/2014

Paris on the Water named a winner in Best Foreign Film category of Student Academy Awards

Paris on the Water, the final degree project of Tel Aviv University master's film student Hadas Ayalon, is one of three winners in the foreign film category of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 41st Student Academy Awards.

This is the first time an Israeli student film has won an Oscar in the category.

At the annual ceremony, scheduled for June 7, Ayalon and two other Best Foreign Film finalists — the UK's Peter Baumann for Border Patrol and Germany's Lennart Ruff for Nocebo — will discover whether they are to receive gold, silver, or bronze awards for their films.

Paris on the Water is a 27-minute film about a once-famous actress, Batya, who after years of professional frustration finally gets a chance to make a comeback. On audition day, however, an unexpected event forces her to deal with personal issues. The film reveals Batya's internal struggle to confront her most basic priorities. It is slated to premiere at the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, hosted by TAU's Film and Television Department in June and chaired by Hollywood producer Steve Tisch.

All award finalists have been invited by the Academy to Los Angeles to participate in a week of events in the run-up to the show. In addition to the Best Foreign Film category, student Academy Awards will also be bestowed for Narrative, Documentary, Alternative, and Animation nominees.

For more, read the Haaretz story: http://www.haaretz.com/life/movies-television/1.591175


Shhh ... Talking About Mothers in Prostitution
8/21/2013

TAU researchers find that ambivalence prevents social workers from addressing an important social issue

When's the last time you heard prostitution and mothering mentioned in the same sentence?

Prof. Einat Peled of Tel Aviv University's Bob Shapell School of Social Work is willing to bet it wasn't recently. In a new study, Peled and her co-researcher Tal Levin-Rotberg, a social worker at the Israel Health Ministry, found that even child-protection officers, who deal with mothers in prostitution as part of their job, are ambivalent and uncomfortable talking about the issue and so may avoid addressing it.

"A very high percentage of CPOs, and social workers in general, meet women in prostitution in their work, but most do little to address child-rearing and other challenges," says Peled. "The situation is riddled with conflict, questions, and ambiguity. Prostitution, particularly in relation to mothering, is an uncomfortable topic, and people don't tend to raise issues that are uncomfortable."

The study, based on in-depth interviews with 13 female CPOs and published in Social Science Review, is part of a groundbreaking research series looking at professional attitud

es toward prostitution for the first time.

Hiding in plain sight

The researchers note that the majority of women in prostitution have children, a fact borne out by a growing body of research. In a sample of 1,963 street prostitutes in New York, 69.4 percent had children, and two studies in the Midwest found that 88 percent and 91 percent of the prostitutes in those studies had children.

The reality of mothers in prostitution is a "public secret," the researchers say. In Israel, that reality is suppressed to maintain a status quo regarding prostitution resting on "masculine ethics," defined by notions of absolute rights and contracts, according to Peled. This cultural approach is reflected in Israeli law, which views prostitution as a legitimate occupation based on a contract between two consenting parties. Women have a legal right to work as prostitutes as long as pimping and soliciting are not involved.

In semi-structured interviews, the researchers found that the CPOs' dominant professional perspective reflected such masculine ethics. The officers, responsible for the welfare of disadvantaged and at-risk minors in Israel's central region, expressed support for the idea that prostitutes can be good mothers, as long as they provide their children with basic developmental needs — food, clothing, school, and supervision — and shield them from the world of prostitution.

But this perspective was complicated for the CPOs by another perspective informed by "feminine ethics," reflecting concern and caring for others, the researchers say. As the interviews progressed and became more relaxed, the CPOs increasingly expressed concerns regarding the harmful impact of prostitution on women and reservations about the raising of children in the shadow of prostitution. This view stressed additional aspects of mothering, such as psychologically supporting and protecting children and being a positive personal influence. The CPOs expressed doubt that women in prostitution could fill these roles, given the traumatic nature of their work.

Keeping mum

The researchers report that the social workers were hesitant and uncomfortable during the interviews. CPOs hastily transitioned between questions, paused heavily, became embarrassed, digressed from the subject, and used humor to diffuse tension.

Peled speculates that the clash of the two perspectives and officers' difficulty maintaining a coherent perspective is similarly responsible for the lack of professional discourse about mothering in prostitution. An officer's mixed feelings send conflicting signals to the mothers, making open discussion of the reality of raising children while working in prostitution extremely rare.

But the researchers say the interviews seemed to help the officers reconcile their thoughts and perceptions on the issue. Further dialogue within and outside the world of social work could help incorporate feminine ethics into the framework used to handle mothering in prostitution. "I believe these studies are part of what we need to do to improve our social services to women in prostitution," says Peled. She advocates more research on the attitudes of different professional and lay groups — including men — toward prostitution.


Leading Theatre Director and TAU Professor Emeritus Awarded Israel Prize
4/9/2013

Prof. Nola Chalton is TAU's 75th Israel Prize laureate

Prof. Nola Chalton, professor emeritus of Tel Aviv University's Department of Theatre Arts at the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts, has been awarded the 2012 Israel Prize in Performing Arts. The 75th laureate from TAU, Prof. Chalton will receive the award in a Jerusalem ceremony later this month, on the eve of Israel's Independence Day celebrations.

The state of Israel awards the prizes each year to those who have displayed excellence in their field or have had a profound impact on Israeli culture.

Prof. Chalton is being honored for the indelible mark she has left on Israel's theatrical landscape as a director, teacher, and mentor. She is credited for establishing a documentary style of theatre in Israel that confronts the country's complicated social and political realities.

Though officially retired, Prof. Chalton remains dedicated to nu

rturing generations of young actors. She continues to teach a weekly class at TAU, imparting her firm belief in the pedagogical role of the theatre by widening the horizons of her students, developing their belief in the human soul, and emphasizing their responsibility to raise social awareness by giving a voice to those who are not heard.


Is "Objective Journalism" Possible?
1/9/2013

TAU researcher compares US and French models to find varying standards and definitions

Unceasing accusations of media bias surround reporting on controversial events. The last American Presidential election and the latest confrontation between Israel and Gaza are recent illustrations of the phenomenon. This kind of public response seems to demand a better definition of professional journalistic standards,says Dr. Sandrine Boudana of Tel Aviv University's Department of Communications — but geographical implications make that a challenge.

To understand the practical standards of professional journalism, Dr. Boudana surveyed French and American journalists about the values that guided their professional practice, especially regarding war reporting. She then analyzed articles produced in the media in both countries during periods of conflict. While both French and American journalists expressed similar guiding values, including accuracy and fairness, she found that the journalists had different ways of practicing these values, influenced by each country's unique culture and politics.

Dr. Boudana's work has been published in journals including Journalism and Media, Culture and Society.

Weaving a tale

Since objectivity emerged as a standard of American journalism in the 1830s, it has constantly been contested and redefined to better serve the journalistic quest for "truth," she explains. Though originally associated with non-partisanship and neutrality, the notion of objectivity has evolved to mean detachment and balance. More recently, journalists have begun to reject objectivity as an unrealistic or undesirable goal, but no consensual standard has emerged to replace it. This is what motivated Dr. Boudana to conduct interviews with practicing journalists.

While journalism in the US is more information-based, French journalism relies on an opinion-based model, she says. For example, American journalists put more emphasis on fact-checking, while their French colleagues pay more attention to writing style and the development of a narrative.

She found that French journalists often employed conventional storytelling methods, including constructs such as heroes and villains. For example, in French articles covering the second intifada, Israel was presented as the villain and Palestinians were presented as victims. The idea of peace became an innocent "princess" that the turmoil surrounded.

This doesn't mean that French journalists are being unprofessional, argues Dr. Boudana. Instead, they adhere to different professional standards rooted in political and literary traditions. In order to evaluate the work of any journalist, it is crucial to understand the professional values they are working to uphold and the culture from which they spring.

Reading into bias

In evaluating bias, readers must approach journalism critically, Dr. Boudana suggests, remaining aware of their own prejudices and those of the media outlets they rely upon. "If you approach an article with an ideological slant similar to yours, it will always reinforce your perspective. If it criticizes people or values you support, you will probably think it is biased. If it supports your views, then you will consider it fair or balanced," she explains. This doesn't mean that journalists should ignore criticisms emanating from the public, but rather that the justice of accusations should be measured by professional standards.

In terms of Israel's recent Operation Pillar of Defense, media analysts believe that foreign journalists showed less bias against Israel, likely due to a change in circumstance rather than a change in ideology, Dr. Boudana says. Because Hamas is not seen as a constructive influence, it's difficult to support the regime — and French journalists were more cautious about naming heroes and villains. If Israel had launched a ground operation, however, journalists might have produced more "biased" articles because of the cultural tendency to favor weaker factions, she suggests.

Next, Dr. Boudana plans to research journalism from the perspective of readers or viewers, determining what their expectations are and what journalism means to them. It's important for the audience to be involved in the journalistic process, she counsels, because the more they are aware of the strategies and tactics employed in contemporary journalism, the better they will be able to view the media with a critical eye.


History's Impostors Inspire Modern Bureaucracy
1/8/2013

Frauds and "identity theft" in early modern Europe set the stage for official identification, says TAU researcher

"Identity theft" seems a uniquely 21st-century crime, and is very common in the contemporary world. But in a new book, Prof. Miriam Eliav-Feldon of Tel Aviv University's Department of History observes that identity theft and associated fraud have deep historical roots. From royal pretenders to women masquerading as men and those who resort to fraud to conceal their religious faith, history is brimming with stories of impostors. The battle between frauds and those who try to thwart them has been constant from the beginning of humanity, she says – and the battle is still going strong.

Prof. Eliav-Feldon's book, Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity (Palgrave Macmillan), argues that this situation bred the formal identification systems we have today. Documentation such as diplomas, travel papers, and occupational licenses became prevalent, and that necessitated the creation of systems to distribute and authenticate these new forms of identification.

Modern bureaucracy was born. This makes the early modern centuries a crucial period in the development of ID, a hallmark of life today.

Fear of the unknown

Coupled with a greater capacity for travel, the rapid growth of cities in early modern Europe eroded the traditional "face-to-face" society, where people were born, lived, and died in the same villages. Suddenly, not every face was a familiar one — a change that led to mass suspicion and fear. And while this fear was often directed at outsiders, such as a new Gypsy population, it also encouraged people to suspect the integrity of their neighbors and friends.

The situation came to a boiling point in the 16th and 17th centuries. Authorities began to fear that many people were not who they said they were, which sparked a desperate attempt to identify and categorize individuals in larger populations.

That prompted reactions such as the witch craze, which justified the execution of approximately 50,000 people suspected of being in league with Satan, and the Spanish Inquisition, which encouraged people to betray their neighbors as heretics, secret Jews, or crypto-Muslims, explains Prof. Eliav-Feldon.

Uncertainty and the need for truth prompted new methods of identification. Some were rudimentary and brutal in nature — thieves were branded to indicate their criminal status wherever they might go, for example. Others were early models of identification we are familiar with today, including travel permits, the ancestors of our own passports.

Ironically, as government bureaucracy grew, so did the prevalence of fraud, Prof. Eliav-Feldon discovered. Early hand-written documents were not difficult to forge, and as quickly as identification appeared, forgeries followed. The battle continues today — as the means of identification become more sophisticated, so do attempts to circumvent them, a cycle common in the fields of cyber and border security.

Suspending disbelief

With so many frauds and impostors throughout the early modern period, the question of how and why they succeeded in their deception remains a mystery, notes Prof. Eliav-Feldon, who identifies it as one of the key issues of the phenomenon. The answer, she says, relies on a different notion of truth.

One example is the tale of David Reuveni, who in 1524 came to Venice and declared himself a prince of the lost tribes of Israel. Appearing before the Pope and various kings of Europe, he vowed to forge an alliance with European leaders to liberate the holy land from the Muslims. Despite the absence of proof, Jews and non-Jews alike rallied to his cause. It was years before his deception was uncovered.

Prof. Eliav-Feldon believes that Reuveni succeeded so well because kings and church prelates alike desperately wanted his tale to be true. "They wanted to believe that they had a potential ally — and were willing to suspend judgment because it fit their interests," she explains. "Many impostors succeeded for a long time not because everybody believed them, but because they had no way of confirming they were impostors."


A Cimet Family Gift -- By and For Generations
12/11/2012

Sculptures installed at TAU honor artist Ruben Cimet Lerer

In tribute to the life and work of Ruben Cimet Lerer, three of the artist's sculptures were unveiled in their new home at the Elias Sourasky Central Library in a moving ceremony on Tel Aviv University campus on Sunday, November 11. Four generations of Cimet family members and friends were in attendance to celebrate the noted artist, architect and scholar who was also a beloved and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

The thought-provoking pieces — entitled Permanent Quest, Pineapple Tree, and Moving Sail — are a cherished addition to the University's art collection and will be proudly displayed at the Sarita and Noel Werthein Entrance Hall.

"His work was not easily categorized. Instead, his was a vision using multiple voices," said Dr. Adina Cimet-Singer in reference to her father's work. "Not only are they physically layered, but intellectually layered as well," making the sculptures appropriate for "a house of learning, and a library in particular."

Another cause of celebration was the Cimet family's support of a new Yiddish project at the library, which will bolster much needed resources for the University's Yiddish scholars and support the digitization of valuable periodicals. It's an effort that complements TAU's growing involvement in Yiddish scholarship, ensuring that students enrolled in the new Master's in Yiddish Literature have outstanding resources to draw on.

A symbol of family love

Mistress of ceremonies Dr. Rosalie Sitman, Head of the Division of Foreign Languages and Director of the Sverdlin Insitute for Latin American History and Culture, said that this was a night embracing love and family. "I extend a welcome to the Cimet family — all the generations that are here today. This is proof of what family love can do," she said. "You have chosen to honor your father's memory by donating these sculptures and collections to TAU, and we are so grateful."

The ceremony included a video commemoration of Ruben Cimet Lerer, focusing on his life history, his family and his work. Dr. Cimet-Singer spoke about the evolution of her father's career and his development as an artist, and Prof. Shoshana Ralsky Cimet, wife of the late Ruben, led a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially unveil the sculptures. Guests were also treated to a musical performance by violinist Dmitry Daniel Askerov, one of the outstanding talents from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music.

Na'ama Scheftelowitz, Head of the Library, thanked the Cimet family both for choosing the library as the new home for the sculptures and enhancing the library's Yiddish holdings, saying that both would contribute to the richness of the library.

"Your family is so special, and one could not help but see this in the large turnout of guests who came, on a rainy day, to honor you and the memory of Ruben Cimet Lerer," she told the family. "Of course, beyond this event, the truly important outcome is that these beautiful works of art now have a permanent home here for all to enjoy. The Yiddish project, combined with these three sculptures, will serve as a worthy means of perpetuating the memory of Ruben."

Honoring a connection with the Yiddish language

As a new hub of Yiddish scholarship, TAU embodies the Cimet family's connection with this poignant culture and language. It was during the process of choosing sculptures for the library that the Cimet family learned of TAU's Yiddish programming, and a new idea was born — to support a project that would ensure the continuity and quality of Yiddish scholarship at TAU.

"We are a family that has lived and sustained our connection not only with Israel, but with Yiddish as a language and culture," said Dr. Cimet-Singer. "We are ecstatic to know that the University recognizes, with the development of a graduate Yiddish program, the importance of a larger focus for our Jewish cultural heritage." The University's efforts deserve both "praise and support," she added.

Prof. Hana Wirth-Nesher, Head of the Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, was on hand to thank the Cimet family for their dedication to helping Yiddish education flourish and to share her hope for the future of Yiddish scholarship. "It's a great period of transition. We have quality students who want to study Yiddish and Yiddish literature," she enthused. "All of us in our generation are committed to translating our love of Yiddish to a younger generation."


AFTAU and Israel's Ministry of Tourism Show American Journalists the Cutting-Edge World of Israeli Film
7/18/2012

Eye-opening trip reveals "Hollywood on the Mediterranean"

Six noted American arts-and-culture journalists enjoyed a unique tour of Israel with a focus on innovative Israeli cinema from June 1-9, 2012, guests of the Tourism Ministry of Israel and American Friends of Tel Aviv University. The film industry is on the frontier of creative techniques such as interactive cinema, and has produced the brains behind some of Hollywood's biggest hits, including HBO's In Treatment, Showtime's Homeland, and the Oscar-nominated movies Footnote and Waltz with Bashir.

The group included television and radio personality Joanna Langfield; Pat Saperstein, senior editor of Variety; indieWIRE, Huffington Post and IFC.com columnist Erica Abeel; film critic Betsy Pickle; reviewer and interviewer Jennifer Merin; and Hollywood Jew blogger Danielle Berrin. An eye-opening look into Israeli culture, their tour proved that the innovative spirit that has made Israel famous in the world of business and entrepreneurship shines just as brightly in the arts and media.

Their itinerary included meetings with Tel Aviv University alumnus Gideon Raff, Executive Producer of Homeland at Keshet Broadcasting, a major Israeli media company; a session at the Israeli Film Fund, a non-profit that supports financing for independent films; and visits to two of Israel's storied movie palaces — the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Cinematic innovation

The journalists were guests of honor at the opening of Tel Aviv University's 14th International Student Film Festival, a bi-annual event that this year featured two conferences on integrating cutting-edge technology into the world of film — Interactive Cinema and New Media. During the festival, one of the largest and most respected in the world, the journalists met with some of the Department of Film and Television'

s most accomplished students and faculty members.

They attended the screening of Turbulence, the world's first-ever feature film with an interactive component. Directed by TAU faculty member Nitzan Ben-Shaul, the film revolves around the reunion of three friends who had been politically active during their school days. Using an Android/Apple application, the audience is invited to vote on plot direction at various points throughout the film. Currently being perfected by the faculty and students of the Department of Film and Television, the technology aims for a seamless integration of audience and art form.

Throughout the festival, there were also opportunities to learn from industry leaders about new media platforms, including Chris Horton of the Sundance Institute, who presented on the use of new channels of distribution to connect with audiences, and Arik Bernstein, long-time producer and founder of Alma Films who spoke about the growing use of the web for outstanding film projects such as Web Therapy and Gaza Sderot.

An unparalleled education

The journalists toured the TAU campus, and met with Department of Film and Television Head Prof. Reuven Hecker, and with Prof. Hannah Naveh, Dean of the Faculty of the Arts. They had a free-wheeling discussion with top students — including Film Festival co-director Elad Goldman — on topics including the diversification of film making in Israel, and cooperative projects with Palestinian filmmakers. They explored embracing themes beyond the traditional focus on war, such as origin and heritage, gender relations, and incorporating growing technological capability into their art, with particular emphasis on the project with TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science that adds the interactive component to film.

The journalists were intrigued by Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination, a joint project between Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers that explores cultural identity. Student writer-director Elite Zexer said that working on this project was the first time she had met Palestinians outside of Israel's borders. "It was an amazing experience," she said. "Confrontation was not a part of this project — it was an effort by people who believe that there should be collaboration on both sides." Prof. Hecker noted that in the future, the Department would like to matriculate a greater number of Arab and Palestinian students, and also add an International program to draw students from around the world.


Horizons Expand for TAU Summer Yiddish Program
4/26/2012

Horizons Expand for TAU Summer Yiddish Program

The Naomi Foundation, established in the memory of Naomi Prawer Kadar, Ph.D., has provided support to expand Tel Aviv University's internationally renowned summer Yiddish program in 2012.

The summer program will include a dynamic selection of professors and visiting lecturers, workshops, evening entertainment, and conversation classes.

For five years, Tel Aviv University's summer Yiddish program has provided students from around the world with the opportunity to learn the Yiddish language and connect with Yiddish culture. As it enters its sixth summer, the program has been renamed The Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program and dedicated to the memory of Naomi Prawer Kadar, Ph.D., an American-Israeli scholar who specialized in Yiddish children's literature.

Naomi Prawer Kadar was a lifelong Yiddish educator who taught at the Tel Aviv University summer program in 2007 and 2009. The program was especially meaningful to Naomi because it combined her love of Israel and passion for Yiddish language and culture. During her private struggle with cancer, Naomi remained committed to the program, and traveling from New York to Tel Aviv to teach provided her with joy and strength. Her students felt her dedication and describe Naomi's special warmth and enthusiasm as well as her ability to make the Yiddish language come alive.

"Naomi was dedicated to improving the level of Yiddish scholarship and language study worldwide and to building community around the richness of Yiddish culture," said Avraham Kadar, M.D., Naomi's husband and President of the Naomi Foundation. "Supporting the summer program in which Naomi taught is a way for us to transmit her love and enthusiasm for Yiddish to a new generation of students and scholars, and to uphold Yiddish as a modern, relevant and culturally significant language."

In Naomi's memory, the Naomi Foundation supports the study of Yiddish, innovative teacher training, and cancer research. In past years the Naomi Foundation provided scholarships for students of the TAU summer program. The Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program is administered through Tel Aviv University's Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture and supported by Beit Shalom Aleichem in Tel Aviv.

Yiddish scholars from near and far

Since its beginning, the program has been a beacon for international students. Past participants have hailed from around the globe, including Germany, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, England, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Argentina, North America, and Japan.

"The response to the program has been astonishing," says Professor Hana Wirth-Nesher, the Director of the Institute and Co-director of the summer program with Prof. Avraham Novershtern of Beth Shalom Aleichem. Prof. Wirth-Nesher adds that each participant has a unique story and reason for wanting to learn Yiddish. "For some, including many German and Polish students, it's about their national history and collective memory. We've had students of cultural journalism, academics, people who are interested in the theatre, music, and Jewish folklore," she explains. "We've even had a Protestant minister from Basel who was a scholar of Hebrew and felt she needed to know Yiddish as well."

Planting the seeds

Quickly gaining an international reputation, the summer program put Israel, and TAU, on the map of Yiddish language and literary study. It affirmed that Israel has not turned its back on that part of the Jewish “diasporic" contribution to world literature and culture, says Prof. Wirth-Nesher. "It's not just a question of heritage, but of academic and intellectual integrity."

The seeds of Yiddish scholarship planted by the summer program have blossomed widely. In the fall, the Goldreich Family Institute will open its doors to graduate students who will be studying as part of the new Masters Program in Yiddish Literature. Funded by the Council for Higher Education in Israel and Yad Hanadiv and operated in collaboration with the Hebrew University Jerusalem and Ben Gurion University, the MA track reflects the success of the summer program and the enthusiasm of its students. TAU will be the main hub of the program, Prof. Wirth-Nesher notes.

"Students in the summer program would frequently ask us where they could continue their studies in Yiddish literature," says Prof. Wirth-Nesher. "Now, three universities are co-operating to ensure the continuation of Yiddish study for another generation — giving young researchers a chance to teach and giving Yiddish literature its proper place when it comes to literary study in Israel."


First Homer Encyclopedia Brings Epic Poetry and Ancient Greece to Life
4/17/2012

TAU researcher sheds light on Homer's reception in the Western, Jewish and Arabic worlds

Homer, one of the most famous poets of all time, is firmly entrenched in the Western canon as a master of classical literature. His two most renowned works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are core texts for students and scholars alike. Now, Prof. Margalit Finkelberg of Tel Aviv University's Department of Classics has created an illuminating new tool, the world's first Homer Encyclopedia.

Published in three volumes by Wiley-Blackwell last year and more recently in electronic form, the encyclopedia is an invaluable window into Homer's life and work, elucidating the characters and settings of his work from primary characters to the smallest village mentioned in passing. The volumes also examine the pre-history of Homer and the period in which he lived and wrote, and how the text has been received and transmitted by various cultures and societies throughout history to the present day. One of its groundbreaking areas of research is the reception of Homer in the Jewish and Arabic traditions, a subject that has rarely been explored.

With contributions from 132 scholars worldwide, this three volume work is a universal exploration of all things Homer. "Through this encyclopedia, you can enter Homer's world and get lost in it," says Prof. Finkelberg, who was recently awarded the 2012 Rothschild Prize in the Humanities. "It is unique for its comprehensive view — the entire field is seen as vibrant, alive and contemporary. Homer's work is put in a modern living context, rather than approached as an impenetrable classic monument."

An avatar of Greek culture

One section of the encyclopedia examines "textual reception" over 2,000 years of history. Its purpose is to examine how Homeric texts were received from the view of different societies and cultures, e.g. Victorian England. Studying the history of the reception of a major text is an emerging field of study, Prof. Finkelberg explains — and profoundly important to the progress of the humanities.

One of the most original features of this work is an in-depth study of Homer in the context of Jewish and Arabic traditions, conducted by leading specialists. Though Homer's work is foundational to the Western tradition, it has never been central to these Eastern traditions, which put more of an emphasis on "useful" texts, such as those regarding science, medicine, and philosophy.

The findings, she says, are surprising. Because the Hellenic world is little-known in these cultures, Homer is seen as a symbol of Greek culture in its entirety. "Poetry was not translated in these cultures, and because of this, very little was known about the art of the Greeks beyond philosophers like Aristotle. For them, Homer represented everything to do with Greek culture, including paganism," explains Prof. Finkelberg. Anything "Greek" was essentially "Homeric" and vice versa.

Homeric archaeology

Prof. Finkelberg believes that the publication is a crucial addition to encyclopedias on the work of other poets such as Dante and Virgil. After all, Homer is not just any writer. In the absence of the sacred religious texts that are central to other traditions, such as the Bible to Judeo-Christian traditions, the Iliad and the Odyssey are the formative texts of Greek culture.

Because of this, the fields of Homeric archaeology and Biblical archaeology rest on the same historical axis, suggests Prof. Finkelberg. Homer's use of history reflects real historical events and has inspired actual archaeological discovery. It was through Homer, for example, that German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was to search for the ruins of Troy, the site of the Trojan War in Homer's works. Previously, the city was believed to be a mere literary invention.

Though Homer cannot be used as a historical text in the modern sense, Prof. Finkelberg says that his literary works are themselves not unlike an archaeological site, where different levels of history can be pieced together to reveal intriguing tale of a world long past.


TAU Grad and Lecturer Wins Big at Sundance
3/13/2012

Israeli documentary takes home grand jury prize at world-renowned independent film festival

The Law in These Parts, produced by Tel Aviv University alumnus and faculty member Liran Atzmor, won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at the Sundance Independent Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last month. In its category, The Law in These Parts bested 11 other finalists chosen from over 7,000 submissions.

Atzmor, who graduated from the Department of Film and Television Arts in 1997 and was once the director of TAU's acclaimed student film festival, now teaches production in the department and serves as the faculty supervisor for the festival.

"To win the best prize among these 12 films is really something I can't describe in words," Atzmor confesses.

Behind the scenes in the Palestinian territories

The Law in These Parts provides a behind-the-scenes look at military law in the Palestinian territories over the last four decades, and was inspired by the filmmaker's experiences while shooting his 2001 film The Inner Tour, which documented a group of Palestinians on a bus tour around Israel for the first time in their lives. The filmmakers had spoken with many participants regarding their past arrests for throwing stones at IDF officers, and through this they became interested in the process of the military courts — much of which is unknown to the Israeli public.

For the last decade, Atzmor and his fellow filmmakers, including famed director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, have been involved with the festival and the associated Sundance Institute. More than ten years ago, The Inner Tour was the first Israeli film to screen at the festival, and they have received grants to support their work from the institute. "We were honored to participate in the festival this year and proud to receive two grants," says Atzmor. "We are very much attached to the values of Sundance and the institute which nurtures our work and documentary film making."

The growing success of his and other international films at this prestigious film festival is a testament to the shift from a focus on U.S. filmmaking to world cinema, Atzmor says.

Local and international resonance

The message of The Law in These Parts echoes across the globe, says Atzmor, noting that the film has provoked discourse in Israeli and elsewhere. "In a post 9/11 world, Americans are opening their eyes to international stories and their connections to local policies. This film has been mentioned in connection with the current debate in the U.S. as to why the Obama administration has not closed Guantanamo as promised," he says. "Our film relates to issues of political prisoners and interrogations, systems of law and occupation, and is very much relevant to the Guantanamo organization and mechanisms."

The film has been screened over 150 times in Israel, eliciting strong reactions from members of Israel's legal system and law faculties, as well as the Israeli army, says Atzmor. It has also gained recognition from the Israeli film industry, winning the prize for Best Documentary at the 2011 Jerusalem Film Festival.

A new wave of Israeli cinema

In the past decade, Israeli cinema has become internationally known for the quality, artistry, and depth of the films it produces. TAU students and graduates have been a crucial part of this flourishing industry and will continue to be influential, predicts Atzmor. Many Israeli filmmakers cite Late Wedding, directed by TAU graduate Dover Kosashvili, as the turning point where Israeli film began to carve out a place for itself in the wider world, he says.

Atzmor is proud to be a part of the long line of outstanding filmmakers that TAU has produced, he says, delighted by his own contribution to this tradition. "Hopefully we can continue to develop this great interest in Israeli cinema and documentary," he says. An encouraging sign: Barbie Blues, a TAU student film produced on a budget of $800.00, was also accepted for screening at Sundance this year.

For more information on The Law in These Parts, see the film's website: www.thelawfilm.com.


TAU and Cambridge University Celebrate the "Outside Critic"
2/1/2012

Scientific revolutions, the birth of political ideologies, inter-religious understanding and personal growth — according to Prof. Menachem Fisch of Tel Aviv University's Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, all such developments emerge from the act of criticism. Criticism, especially from those from outside of your particular community — whether academic, religious, social, or cultural — is a crucial element of development, he says.

It's an unorthodox idea in a society where divisions between communities can be mired in truculence, making dividing lines increasingly difficult to cross. Now TAU, along with Cambridge University in the UK, has taken the message to heart, establishing a collaborative effort to advance inter-religious study and promote religious understanding.

The Center for Religious and Inter-religious Study at TAU and the Cambridge University Project for Religion for the Humanities will promote inter-religious research and dialogue, encouraging students to explore various religions in a comparative, critical manner. The result, Prof. Fisch hopes, will be a deeper, more sympathetic understanding of ourselves and others.

Seeking a critical distance

Mere self-reflection, or criticism from a person within one's own community, has a limited ability to challenge the community's pre-existing, shared frameworks of ideals. Getting feedback from an outsider, however, is like "watching yourself on TV or listening to a recording of your voice. It gives you the critical distance that you, or members of your peer group, are unable to create," says Prof. Fisch.

This project, the theme of Prof. Fisch's new book entitled The View from Within: Normativity and the Limits of Self-Criticism, favors social diversity and mitigates a dangerous characteristic of homogeneous communities, where there is no agent for significant criticism — and corresponding change, growth, and development.

Throughout history, significant cultural change has been characterized by new sets of thoughts, values, or ideals, notes Prof. Fisch. And these large paradigm shifts don’t come from within insular communities. Instead, it's necessary for a critic from the outside, with a different point of view, to plant the seed of doubt.

For example, Prof. Fisch says, take the emergence a new scientific theory or school of thought —Copernican cosmology or Einsteinian physics, for example. In order to question what we think we know, we must experience sufficient ambivalence and doubt — and criticism — about current "wisdom" before experimentation can paint the scientific picture anew. This system drives both the sciences and human development forward.

Sincerity counts

The crucial element is that the outside criticism be perceived as sincere. "The processes of indecision and ambivalence are indispensable for the kind of radical rethinking capable of setting a paradigm-shift in motion," argues Prof. Fisch. This applies not only to scientific research but to the philosophy of science, ethics, politics, and questions of personal identity and growth as well, he adds.

Prof. Fisch characterizes this thinking, and the new TAU/Cambridge effort, as a broad argument for cultural diversity. "In closed, self supporting communities, norms are taken for granted," he explains. "In a pluralistic setting, we are constantly being challenged by those who see the world differently and expose us to new ideas." Importantly, a diversity of opinions and thoughts keeps various systems balanced through constant self-reflection, a mechanism clearly at work among different political parties that make up a vibrant democratic system.


TAU Film to Screen at Sundance
1/10/2012

Barbie Blues, a film by Adi Kutner, a fourth-year student at Tel Aviv University's Department of Film and Television, will be screened in January 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, one of the world's premier festivals for independent films. It is one of only 64 short films chosen from 7,675 applicants from around the world.

With a recent first place win in the short films category at the Jerusalem International Film Festival and a showing at the Rehovot Women's Film Festival, Barbie Blues is gaining momentum. "The Tel Aviv University Department of Film and Television is very proud to have Adi Kutner and her film represent us at Sundance," says Elite Zexer, public relations representative for the department. "We are especially proud since this is the third short film by a female TAU director to be shown at Sundance in the past four years."

Kutner says that Sundance will be the first international showing of her film. "I've been turned down by most major festivals abroad — but Sundance was worth the wait," she laughs. "I feel honored to be acknowledged by the American independent film industry. Sundance is an amazing stage for film makers who work outside of Hollywood."

A simple story that resonates across cultures

With a total production budget of only $800.00 provided by the Friends of Tel Aviv University Trust in Great Britain, the film is a triumph for Kutner. The depth and artistry of the movie shine through its simplicity — one location, two characters, three days of shooting, and a strong vision led to a movie worthy of Sundance. "It shows that you can go anywhere with a story," she says.

Tackling important issues such as the leap from childhood to adulthood and emerging sexuality, this coming-of-age story set in Israeli suburbia has resonated with audiences across cultures. The movie centers on a relationship between Mika, a lonely teenager whose life looks perfect from the outside, and her new neighbor Gershon.

Through her encounter with Gershon, Mika discovers the boundaries of her femininity and sexuality for the first time, says Kutner. But like the Barbie dolls the film is named for, it's a shallow and idealized version of what a woman should be. "There's an awkward border that teens walk between adulthood and childhood," she reflects, noting that teenage girls so often mimic what society tells them is "sexy" without fully understanding the meaning of their behavior. Adolescence and life in suburbia are important themes in both American and global cultures, says Kutner, citing as her inspirations films such as Blue Velvet and American Beauty.

Though the movie deals with some controversial issues, Kutner maintains that it was never meant to serve as social commentary. "I'm not trying to say how girls should and should not act. The film is not meant to provide answers, but rather to raise questions about issues such as sexuality and control," she says.

On the Road to an Oscar
7/26/2011

TAU films earn two silver awards at prestigious Palm Springs festival

Five films from Tel Aviv University's world-class Department of Film and Television were featured at this June's Palm Springs International ShortFest, the largest short film festival and market in North America. That's not so surprising: as one of the top ten international film schools, TAU is a regular on the festival circuit. But according to Elite Zexer, public relations representative for TAU's film department, this was a unique honor.

"This is the second largest short film festival in the world," says Zexer. "It's very difficult to get in. To have five of our films selected is really amazing — the school is thrilled. It's the only market in the U.S. for short films." Zexer's film Tasnim was also screened at the festival as part of the international competition. Her entry was part of a larger project called Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination, a collaboration between Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers that explores cultural identity, produced by the TAU department. Two other films from the project screened at the festival including Eva is Leaving by Aya Somech, and Wajeh by Morad Nassar, which won second place in the Student Documentary category.

A potential gateway to the Academy Awards, the Palm Springs festival combines social events with panel discussions, advising participants on topics such as obtaining funding for their next projects or working with agents. It gave students a valuable chance to network and learn from the industry's best.

"For us, it is very important to be at these festivals," notes Yoav Hornung, whose film Negative was awarded the second place prize in Best Student Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes category. "There were programmers from some of the most important festivals, like Sundance and Chicago, who gave us insights into how the submission process works." Hornung's film was screened as part of the Promised Land program, a program of Israeli-based films sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Los Angeles.

The students flourished in the atmosphere of constant activity and excitement, says Noam Ellis, whose film Narkis premiered at the festival. There were social events, mingling, and connections to be made. "You're meeting film makers from all over the world," he says. "You never know when you might work together."


Designing a City for Safe Protests
2/23/2011

Civil protests, from peaceful sit-ins at the Pentagon to violent riots in Cairo, nonetheless share some common characteristics. To study how protests evolve in public spaces, Dr. Tali Hatuka, an architect and head of Tel Aviv University's Laboratory of Contemporary Urban Design, has dissected some of the world's most publicized protests — those in Washington, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Beijing, and Leipzig.

History shows that protests and civil disobedience are inevitable and necessary expressions of dissent in any democratic nation — and under many authoritarian regimes. From the perspective of urban planning, Dr. Hatuka's research provides insight into the tactics and strategies taken by activists and how their protests can be made more effective.

While the nature of each protest can be quite different and culture-specific, she says, there are some basic elements that can help define the social and spatial characteristics of a good protest.

Some of her recent research is reflected in her recent exhibit, "Urban Design and Civil Protest," at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Get on your soapbox

Dr. Hatuka says that collective actions do not need a specially designed or designated space. When there is a collective will, protestors will find a way to bypass physical barriers, such as when protestors hijacked the city's highways in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2002. But some city planners can actually promote civil participation by addressing the role of public spaces more effectively. The arrangement of these spaces plays a significant role in mediating conflicts and injecting new ideas to society — politically and culturally.

Dr. Hatuka recommends that urban planners create both a formal space for protests, like a civic square, and a number of informal spaces scattered throughout a city, like parks. Governments should encourage citizens to use them as a vehicle for freedom of speech, in the manner of Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park. All individuals should have equal access to these spaces. Scale is also important, she adds. "When Americans wish to protest, they do not immediately run to the Mall in Washington," she notes. "Sometimes a small venue will work well too."

And while Big Brother may be watching, surveillance isn't always negative, especially if it's democratically managed, Dr. Hatuka says. Surveillance serves regimes, but it can serve protestors too, warning of the onset of violence.

Violence is the most negative outcome of any protest, as recent events in Egypt prove. Its threat is a nightmare for protest organizers. "Organizers lose participants as well as the support of the spectators — both real and virtual," Dr. Hatuka says. "However, even in non-democratic regimes, mass non-violent actions can be successful. With a sense of safety, the participants can create an imagined community and attract more participants."

Public spaces in urban areas should also be designed to be more media-friendly, so journalists and cameramen can safely access and cover protests as they unfold.

Building a space for democracy

While oppressive regimes seek to reduce access to effective protest space, a specific space for protest is a positive way to promote freedom of speech. "I am trying to demonstrate that urban planners can promote a more healthy democracy. I hope to influence and inspire urban planners of the future as well as the citizens of today," Dr. Hatuka says about her latest exhibit.

"As the recent events in Cairo suggest, a protest space doesn't have to be nice or well-designed. A large-scale protest like this has shown that people will just hijack the streets and the roads. Public spaces are the only place in which people feel truly, physically unified. With so many protests going online, the physical element is critical for enhancing society's sense of togetherness and solidarity."

Support for the research was provided by the Marie Curie European Community Program (FP6, FP7), the Council for the Arts at MIT, and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.


El Al Will Show TAU Films Onboard
12/20/2010

Your plane has levelled at 30,000 feet. The seatbelt sign is off. Time to relax with onboard entertainment — and now you'll have even more choices on El Al's international flights.

In a first-of-its-kind agreement, the carrier's Boeing 777s will offer a menu of short films created by Tel Aviv University's award-winning Department of Film and Television. Offered on two dedicated channels — one for documentaries and the other for scripted films — the movies were created over the last five years by young directors while at Tel Aviv University. They include Student Academy Award nominees and films featured at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Department of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University is known worldwide as a pioneer in film and television production, routinely producing work that takes top honors at the biggest film festivals in the world. Over the last four decades, the Department has educated an entire generation of writers and directors — with influence reaching far beyond Israel's borders. In Treatment, HBO's smash hit series starring Gabriel Byrne, for example, is based on an Israeli television series created by TAU graduates.

A unique perspective on Israel (and TAU)

Tal Kalderon, content and media manager for El Al flights, calls this a unique undertaking. "I believe we're one of the first airlines in the world to give students the opportunity to screen their films onboard. Winners of noteworthy prizes, the quality and content of these movies will give our passengers a special look into Israeli culture."

For travelers, the short film format has proven a very desirable one. And for young filmmakers, Kalderon adds, the agreement provides an opportunity to expose their work to a much broader audience.

Chronicling life and times

Among the scripted selections is the fictional story of Pinhas (2008), directed by Pini Tavger. It looks at the life of Pinhas and his mother, new immigrants to Israel from Russia. Chronicling her life as she ekes out a livelihood and maintains an affair with a married man, Pinhas forms a warm relationship with the religious family living upstairs. Pinhas was nominated for an Oscar — the Motion Picture Association of America's Best Foreign Student Film Academy Award.

One of the most prominent filmmakers to emerge from the TAU Film Department, Dover Kosashvili's work Late Marriage has been shown in theaters around the world. Im Hukim, a fictional student film of his, will be featured on the El Al flights.

Reuven Hecker, head of the department at Tel Aviv University, says, "El Al is interested in profiling Israeli excellence onboard, and when the opportunity to create a new channel to TAU filmmakers presented itself, we were happy to jump on board. We're proud that our students are regarded as the top of the class among young filmmakers around the world."

He says the airline chose to screen TAU films because of the high quality of the productions and their short format — perfect for people who don't want to commit to full–length features while flying. Hecker, himself a filmmaker, hopes that the films will surprise viewers, and of course, provide valuable exposure for his young protégés — high in the skies.


Now At a Theatre Near You
6/17/2010

Established in 1972, Tel Aviv University's Film and Television School is the oldest in the country, and the only one that is part of a university — but its influence has gone far beyond the borders of Israel, a recent article in The Jewish Chronicle reports.

In the past four years, films made by the school have won over 100 awards — including six student Academy Award nominations in the U.S. And that's not all. TAU film and television grads are also making a mark on international television: Be Tipul, a television series created by TAU alumnus Hagai Levi, reached American shores in the form of HBO's recent hit series In Treatment.

"We were in the real world from the minute we were at the school," Levi told The Jewish Chronicle. "We had to fight for everything and think for ourselves all the time. But it gave us the right attitude for the film world."

Read the entire Jewish Chronicle article here:
http://www.thejc.com/arts/film/32477/inside-israels-oscar-film-factory

For more about the remarkable achievements of TAU film and television school graduates:
http://www.aftau.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Spotlight_on_Film


Finding More in "Most"
11/19/2009

William Shakespeare, who knew a thing or two about words, advised that "An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told." But the exact meaning of plain language isn't always easy to find. Even simple words like "most" and "least" can vary greatly in definition and interpretation, and are difficult to put into precise numbers.

Until now. In a groundbreaking new linguistic study, Prof. Mira Ariel of Tel Aviv University's Department of Linguistics has quantified the meaning of the common word "most." To be published by the renowned Cambridge University Press this year in Defining Pragmatics, this research "is quite shocking for the linguistics world," she says.

"I'm looking at the nature of language and communication and the boundaries that exist in our conventional linguistic codes," says Prof. Ariel. "If I say to someone, 'I've told you 100 times not to do that,' what does '100 times' really mean? I intend to convey 'a lot,' not literally '100 times.' Such interpretations are contextually determined and can change over time."

Exploring the simple word "most," Prof. Ariel was able to use science to solve a central conundrum in the linguistics field.

What do we mean by "most"?

Academic linguists have traditionally agreed that when we use the word "most" in English, we usually mean anything from 51 to 99 percent of given group of people or collection of objects. "Some linguists have argued that the word 'most' includes the 100% value as well, and that the meaning of 'most' is identical to that of 'more than half.' My study has proved them wrong," says Prof. Ariel.

Working with 60 volunteers from English-speaking countries including Australia, Britain and America, Prof. Ariel and her research team presented each candidate with a dialogue which included a reference to "most," then asked them to choose an appropriate response (one out of two provided for them). "We didn't directly ask them about how they interpreted the word 'most,' but based on the preferred responses, we were able to draw conclusions regarding the classical theory in the field."

When people use the word "most," the study found, they don't usually mean the whole range of 51-99%. The common interpretation is much narrower, understood as a measurement of 80 to 95% of a sample — whether that sample is of people in a room, cookies in a jar, or witnesses to an accident.

Prof. Ariel cautions that 80-95% is valid today but could shift over the next 100 years, for example.

A "most" interesting product of democracy

"That's the nature of language and communication. It changes in the span of a few centuries," Prof. Ariel says, as words evolve over time. "'Most' as a word came to mean "majority" only recently. Before democracy, we had feudal lords, kings and tribes, and the notion of "most" referred to who had the lion's share of a given resource — 40%, 30% or even 20%,” she explains.

"Today, 'most' clearly has come to signify a majority — any number over 50 out of a hundred. But it wasn't always that way. A two-party democracy could have introduced the new idea that 'most' is something more than 50%."

In law, the precise interpretation of individual words is critical — it can win or lose a criminal or civil suit. In a recent court case, Prof. Ariel recalled, a couple ordered a red car, only to be delivered a burgundy car by the dealer. The dealer refused to take it back, arguing that burgundy is a shade of red. The court ruled against the couple because burgundy is indeed "red" in literal terms. But in this specific case, Prof. Ariel reasons, the court wasn't fair. It ruled against the couple's, and most people's, expectations of the color of a red car.

Whether one car is redder than another is clearly a matter of debate. But Dr. Ariel's study proves that when we use linguistic abstractions, we may be more precise than we think — that is, most (80-95%) of the time.


Rats Say: Manhattan Rules!
1/12/2009

If you leave it up to the rats, New York City beats New Orleans any day.

This surprising finding comes from new research by Tel Aviv University zoologists and geographers, who are working together to invent a novel way to test urban designers’ city plans. Instead of using humans as guinea pigs, the scientists went to their nearby zoo and enlisted lab rats to determine the functionality of theoretical and existing plans.

They’ve already tried their theory in the academic setting by blindfolding human biology students to confirm that human orientation strategies and instincts are similar to those of their fellow four-legged city dwellers.

"We've found that routes taken by rats and other members of the animal kingdom tend to converge at attractive landmarks, the same way people are attracted, for example, to the Arc de Triumph in Paris," says Prof. David Eilam from TAU’s Department of Zoology. “Our research takes the art used by humans to create their towns and cities and turns it back to the animal world for testing. We can look at how rats will react to a city’s geography to come up with an optimal urban plan.”

A rat race on a straight track

By building mini-models of city layouts at the Tel Aviv University Research Zoo, Prof. Eilam and his colleagues found that grid-like city layouts ― like that of Manhattan ― are much more rat- and people-friendly than cities with unstructured and winding streets, like those in New Orleans.

“We’ve built an environment to test city plans, so that ‘soul-less’ and ineffective new neighborhoods won’t be built,” Prof. Eilam says. “Using our model of rat behavior, it takes just a few minutes for city planners to test whether a new plan will work. It’s a way to avoid disasters and massive expense.” He expects that the choices the rats make will eventually be optimized and plugged into a computer tool.

Prof. Eilam and Prof. Juval Portugali, a geography researcher, based their study on the fact that rats build cognitive maps to help orient themselves in nature. In essence, this cognitive “rat map” works to help them know where they are in space and time.

“Manhattan” navigable, “New Orleans” disorienting

“We put rats in relatively large areas with objects and routes resembling those in Manhattan,” explains Prof. Eilam. The rats, he found, do the same things humans do: They establish a grid system to orient themselves. Using the grid, the rats covered a vast amount of territory, “seeing the sights” quickly.  In contrast, rats in an irregular plan resembling New Orleans’ failed to move far from where they started and didn’t cover much territory, despite travelling the same distances as the "Manhattan rats."

Prof. Eilam and his colleagues say that urban planners can use this rat behavior model to test how the public will respond to new objects ― such as tall buildings or cooperative housing ― in the real world.


Face to Face with Moses and Jesus
12/9/2008

What did Moses really look like? Or Jesus? Artists, philosophers, theologians and anthropologists have engaged in centuries-long debates about the appearance of the earliest Jewish people. Now, a researcher from Tel Aviv University, Prof. Eugene Kobyliansky of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, is the first in the world to provide concrete facial reconstructions.

“It’s like looking into a time machine, going back 2,000 years, to visit these people,” says Prof. Kobyliansky. Using bone measurements collected from skulls at Jewish burial sites in Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, Prof. Kobyliansky created plastic molds on which he based his facial reconstructions. The technique was made possible using a unique forensics lab in Moscow, which recreates facial features from craniums with about 70% accuracy.

Prof. Kobyliansky keeps two busts in his office. One represents the average face of male Jews in ancient Israel from 332 to 37 B.C.E., and the other represents a composite face of Jewish women from the ancient Roman era (37 B.C.E. to 324 C.E.).

An apparent African influence

Remarkably, the woman exhibits African characteristics -- a soft mix between Mediterranean features and African ones, such as a widened nose and enlarged lips.

Although the busts open a new window onto how Jews looked two millennia ago, Prof. Kobyliansky is careful to say that not all Jewish people looked the same. “This woman certainly had some African intermixture,“ he says. “We know from history and the stories of King Solomon that there were Ethiopian Jews in Israel. In this particular female, we see some African traits. But maybe she was absolutely white in color. It’s impossible to say.”

The anthropologist adds, “It’s not likely, though, that Jesus was black.”

The scarcity of the anthropological record

While Egyptians, Romans and other people in the near Middle East region are well represented in art through painting and sculpture, this is not the case in Jewish culture. Jewish custom, like that of Islam, dictated that human beings  especially holy figures  not be represented in form or image.

“This study is exciting, because it is really the first attempt to depict what the average Jew looked like 2,000 years ago,” says Prof. Kobyliansky. “Jews didn’t create sculptures of themselves, or paint pictures of an ideal. It was forbidden to do so.” This wasn’t true of Christianity, so it’s been common for centuries to see idealized portraits of Jesus in Christian churches.

Another obstacle to anthropological studies of ancient Jewish physiognomy has been strict reverence for Jewish burial customs. Jewish law prevents the exhumation of Jewish bones, except under extreme circumstances. In Prof. Kobyliansky’s case, he created plastic molds from craniums that were collected over a number of decades.

The first study of its kind in the world, Prof. Kobyliansky’s research was published recently in the journal Anthropology Anz. Prof. Kobyliansky, who is also director of the Lilian and Marcel Pollak Chair in Biological Anthropology at TAU, compared his composite molds of 2,000-year-old skulls to skulls from 17th-century Prague Jews to confirm his findings.


TAU Film Wins International Competition
9/9/2008

Lior Geller's Roads, a film produced while he was a student at Tel Aviv University's Arts, Film and TV Department, has taken top honors at CILECT's 2008 international film school competition. Winner of the Best Film award, Geller's 22-minute movie is about a 13-year-old boy who lives in a drug-ridden neighborhood in the city of Lod.

CILECT is the association of the world's major film and television schools and aims to provide a means for exchange of ideas among member schools. This year, 74 film schools vied for the association's top prize, with each school submitting the film it felt was the best production of the year.

This marks the third year in a row that Tel Aviv University's Arts, Film and TV Department has taken the award. Roads was also a finalist in the US Student Academy Awards and was screened at the most recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York.


TAU's Eco-Architecture Could Produce "Grow Your Own" Homes
8/21/2008

A bus stop that grows its own foliage as shade? A children’s playground, made entirely from trees? A shelter made from living tree roots that could provide natural protection against earthquakes in California?

“Eco-architecture” may sound like a Buck Rogers vision of an ecologically-sustainable future, but that future is now thanks to the guidance of Tel Aviv University Professors Yoav Waisel and Amram Eshel. The concept of shaping living trees into useful objects ­­­­ known as tree shaping, arborsculpture, living art or pooktre isn’t new. But scientists are now ready to use this concept as the foundation of a new company that will roll out these structures worldwide.

Pilot projects now underway in the United States, Australia and Israel include park benches for hospitals, playground structures, streetlamps and gates. “The approach is a new application of the well-known botanical phenomenon of aerial root development,” says Prof. Eshel. “Instead of using plant branches, this patented approach takes malleable roots and shapes them into useful objects for indoors and out.”

A scientific and commercial partnership

The original “root-breaking” research was conducted at the Sarah Racine Root Research Laboratory at Tel Aviv University, the first and largest aeroponics lab in the world. Founded by Prof. Waisel 20 years ago, the lab enables scientists to conduct future-forward and creative research that benefits mankind and the environment.

Commercial applications of the research are being developed by Plantware, a company founded in 2002. TAU and Plantware researchers working together found that certain species of trees grown aeroponically (in air instead of soil and water) do not harden. This developed into a new method for growing “soft roots,” which could easily turn living trees into useful structures.

Completing the informal collaboration between Plantware founders and the university, the company’s director of operations, Yaniv Naftaly, holds a degree in life sciences from TAU.

An eco-positive abode

It’s even possible that, in the near future, entire homes will be constructed with the eco-friendly technology. An engineer by trade, Plantware’s CEO Gordon Glazer hopes the first home prototype will be ready in about a decade. While the method of “growing your own home” can take years, the result is long lasting and desirable especially in the emerging field of green architecture.

Prof. Eshel’s team is also working on a number of other projects to save the planet’s resources. They are currently investigating a latex-producing shrub, Euphoria tirucalii, which can be grown easily in the desert, as a source for biofuel; they are also genetically engineering plant roots to ensure “more crop per drop,” an innovative approach to irrigation.


Saving the Yiddish Language
6/23/2008

In the years just before the Second World War, the Yiddish language was spoken by as many as 13 million people around the world. The Holocaust and the postwar diaspora, however, decimated the number of Yiddish-speakers, until, according to a Council of Europe conference held in 1995, the Yiddish language was spoken by only three million people worldwide.

An entire culture, which first arose in Central Europe in the tenth century A.D., is in danger of being lost, but Tel Aviv University is leading an effort to turn the tide.

A TAU conference this month ― “Yiddish: Between Languages and Theories” ― gathered experts in Yiddish language and culture from around the world to exchange ideas and fight for the continued existence of one of the world’s most unique and vital linguistic cultures. The conference was sponsored in part by TAU’s Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture.

Hana Wirth-Nesher, the noted Yiddish scholar and head of the Goldreich Institute, was a chairperson of the event.

A personal mission

Jona Goldrich, who founded the Institute in 2003, believes that its sponsorship of conferences like “Yiddish: Between Languages and Theories” is an urgent mission. The establishment of the Institute is part of his family’s long involvement with TAU, he says, and also represents his own deep enthusiasm about the language.

According to Goldrich, it was not only the Second World War that contributed to the decline of the language. “David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, wanted us to forget Yiddish” in favor of Hebrew alone, Goldrich said recently. “For this reason, the richness of the language and culture itself were in danger of being forgotten.”

Saving a culture for future generations

At the conference itself, an international array of scholars from TAU, Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley and many other institutions discussed such wide-ranging issues as translation, contemporary Yiddish writing and the intersections between Yiddish and Hebrew. Joining the Goldreich Institute, TAU’s Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities and the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics also sponsored the event.

In recent years, Goldrich, who emigrated from Europe to Palestine in 1942-43, has been pleased to see an increasing number of students respond to the richness of Yiddish culture. The Institute’s ongoing support makes it possible for nearly 150 students at Tel Aviv University to take up the language once again every year.

“We must not forget”

Goldrich’s sentiments are echoed by Max Webb, a Holocaust survivor, whose endowment of The Anna and Max Webb Family Chair for Visiting Scholars in Yiddish at TAU also provided support for the three-day conference. “We must do everything possible so the Jewish heritage and life does not get lost,” he says. “Future generations must not forget the richness of the Yiddish language and culture. We must preserve it for a different world, a different century.”


Architect Santiago Calatrava Honored by TAU
5/16/2008

World-renowned Spanish-born architect Santiago Calatrava, who currently resides in New York City, graced the Tel Aviv University campus Wednesday night, May 14, 2008, to lecture on his complete body of works. Calatrava is most famous for his inspiring large-scale mega-projects: the City of Arts and Science in Valencia, including L’Hemisfèric (the “eyelid” building), and New York’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub at Ground Zero.

Tel Aviv University students, faculty members and Israeli architects packed the Bar Shira Auditorium at Tel Aviv University to witness firsthand the person they consider to be among the world’s best architects.

Calatrava’s one-and-a-half hour lecture was a prelude to Tel Aviv University’s annual Board of Governors meeting where Calatrava, along with other notables such as American philanthropist Martin J. Whitman and Nobel Peace Prize winner Prof. Eli Wiesel, will receive an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University.

Gravity-defying architecture

Calatrava opened his lecture with gratitude to Tel Aviv University, with which he has maintained a long-time relationship, especially with faculty from the David Azrieli School of Architecture. This was the first time Calatrava has lectured at the University. “It is a real honor for me to be at your beautiful university,” Calatrava said after a welcoming address from Prof. Hannah Naveh, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and Prof. Zvi Galil, president of Tel Aviv University.

Prof. Galil said, “For me [Calatrava] is the best architect in the world, but he is not only an architect. He is a civil engineer, painter, sculptor and ceramic artist. ... His buildings defy gravitation. They are immensely beautiful.”

Inspired by the natural world

Calatrava surprised the audience with the non-traditional opening to his lecture. Standing at a large easel, he drew a series of illustrations based on the human form, which has served as inspiration over the years. Influences that have guided Calatrava include watching his children learn to walk, observing the way that muscles attach themselves to vertebrae in the spine and examining the natural world. “Architecture is like an enormous tree that nourishes itself in many sources, like history,” he said.

Calatrava also introduced another New York City project -- Eighty South Street, a series of high-end townhouses stacked one on top of the other, slated for construction facing the East River. He demonstrated that the gravity-defying buildings are balanced in the same way the spine holds the body. “This is not a utopia,” he said. “This building has been designed according to the building codes of New York.”

Turning to his projects around the world, Calatrava spent considerable time showing the audience his various transportation station projects.  Whether they are for trains, airplanes, subways or buses, stations should always “uplift the quality of place,” said Calatrava.

He also impressed the audience with a film on his Chicago Spire project, which when completed will stand at 2,000 feet in height and become the tallest building in North America.

Jerusalem is “personal”

Calatrava devoted time in his lecture to Jerusalem’s ChordsBridge, now being constructed in Jerusalem at the entrance to the city. This is Calatrava’s second bridge project in Israel; the first is in Petach Tiqva, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

The ChordsBridge in Jerusalem, which was inspired by King David and his harp, has already become a city landmark.  The design of the bridge was influenced by his “personal” responses to Jerusalem, added Calatrava. There is a responsibility to “landmarking a city,” he explained, and Jerusalem has special significance.

Prof. Hillel Schocken, who heads the David Azrieli School of Architecture, under the auspices of which Calatrava’s lecture took place, said that he is positive Calatrava’s bridge will uplift the entrance to Jerusalem. “He is a great friend, both personally and professionally,” said Prof. Schocken.

Visit architect Santiago Calatrava's Web site here: http://www.calatrava.com/.


TAU Film Student Is a Nominee for Special Academy Award
5/1/2008

Roads, director Lior 's final-year film project for Tel Aviv University's Department of Film and TV, has been nominated as one of five finalists for the 2008 Honorary Foreign Film Award, given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS, which bestows the legendary Oscar awards each year, will announce the winner of the prize at a ceremony on June 7.

The film, which is also now showing in the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York, is the story of two young Arab boys who encounter a traumatized Israeli ex-soldier in the drug slums of the city of Lod. It is shot in both the Arabic and Hebrew languages and has English subtitles.

Geller, who grew up in New Jersey and graduated with a B.A. from TAU’s Department of Film and TV in 2006, said, "It's a great honor. I'm really happy and of course I couldn't imagine that my film would go this far. Just being nominated by the Academy is the best award a young director could ever hope for."

One of many important awards for Roads

Before receiving the nomination for the special Oscar, Roadshad already won 10 international awards in several other recognized European, Asian and American festivals. The film received the Young Audience Award in the 2007 Montpellier Film Festival, the "Best Short Film" award in the 2007 Jerusalem Film Festival and "Best Asian Film" in Beijing.

It took Geller three years to complete the award-winning short subject. Following on his success with Roads, Geller is already working on two projects for Israeli television, as well as a new feature-length film in Europe and Israel, based on work he did at Tel Aviv University.

Tel Aviv University's film department excels

Geller especially credits the time he spent at Tel Aviv University as central to his success. "As opposed to the other film schools that are more like the old Hollywood film industry," he says, "Tel Aviv University is an art school. There are no rights or wrongs, only the path you take as an artist."

The trailer for Roads is available on MySpace here:

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.Channel&ChannelID=150191599

Ticket and schedule information for the Tribeca Film Festival screenings are available here:

http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org/filmguide/Roads.html


Acclaimed Concert Pianist and AFTAU Supporter Byron Janis Celebrates 80 Years of Music and Life
4/28/2008

Byron Janis, who recently turned 80, has had much to be proud of throughout his storied career, but he is particularly proud of Sen. Tom Harkins' recent remarks, recorded in the U.S. Congressional Record on March 13 of this year. “His lifetime of accomplishments as a performer, cultural ambassador, and role model are truly remarkable,” said Sen. Harkin —something that American Friends of Tel Aviv University has known for years.

“Tel Aviv University has a very special place in my heart,” Janis said recently in his New York apartment, recalling a three-decade relationship with the school. He remembers his first visit to TAU in the early 1980s, when he was invited to the university to give a master class. “Pnina Salzman [the world-renowned Israeli pianist and music teacher] was the head of the TAU piano department at the time, and I remember her as an excellent teacher, with a group of very talented students,” he said.

“The university had a very good school of music, but that’s not all,” he remembered. “I was also very impressed with the research and science accomplishments at the school.” Janis was so impressed that this first visit led to an association with TAU that continues to this day. Janis currently serves the university as the Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Section for AFTAU and as an Honorary Member of the TAU Board of Governors.

“And yes,” he adds, “I would very much like to go back and do something more.”

Cultural ambassador

Janis’ role as an American cultural ambassador to Israel reaches back to his early career, when the new state of Israel was hungry for the best in culture and music. “I was first invited to Israel when I was 22,” Janis said. “I had had an accident with my little finger at the age of 11 and the accident rendered it totally numb, as it remains today.

“The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra wanted me to play the Tchaikovsky Concerto with them, but I did not feel that I could play it for 14 consecutive nights — which was required at the time — due to the small auditorium and the large Israeli public,” Janis continued. “I was heartbroken. No one knew about my little finger problem so I gave some other excuse.

“Several years later when they asked me again, I was miserable that I had to again decline. Understandably, they did not ask me back. It was one of the very sad moments in my musical life.”

Though Janis suffered an early onset of arthritis in 1973, he told no one about it and continued his brilliant musical career. In 1986, he finally spoke out about his arthritis and assumed the role of Ambassador for the Arts for the Arthritis Foundation.

The cultural life of Tel Aviv University continued to be a part of his own life. “For the 40th anniversary of Israel’s foundation, I wrote a song, ‘David’s Star,’ to which my son Stefan wrote the lyrics. It premiered at the Shubert Theatre at a special event commemorating the occasion.” He said, “Very recently I received a recording of a very fine performance of it by a young girl at Tel Aviv University. It’s very close to my heart.” It has subsequently been performed several times at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El during the high Holy Days.

A world-class musical career

The meteoric arc of Janis’ career began at a very early age. He was the first student of the great Vladimir Horowitz.

Janis has also played a unique role in the musical culture of the twentieth century. He played at a concert in Santiago, Cuba, on December 31, 1958 — the night before the Castro revolution began, and then was the first US classical artist to be invited back to Cuba after the revolution. He also opened the Cultural Exchange Program between the USSR and the United States when he performed in the Soviet Union in 1960. Among his many honors, he was made a Commander in the French Legion d’Honneur for Arts and Letters and the won the Grand Prix de Disques. He also served as the Chairman of the Global Forum Arts and Culture Committee.

Music to shape the future

Given his personal experience, Janis looks to the future with a profound belief in the power of music to change the lives of men, women and children for the better. “It’s such a tragedy that music has gone out of our schools, given that music is such an important part of our spiritual lives,” he says. Janis is heartened by music groups such as “Seeds of Peace,” which bring young Israeli and Arab musicians together, forming a youth orchestra which gives concerts around the world. They are an inspirational example of how music can span cultural and religious differences, Janis believes. The more one sees of the wonderful friendships and mutual respect that stem from this joint music-making, he says, the more one can hope for a brighter future.


UCLA Professor Wins Non-Fiction Pulitzer
4/15/2008

Saul Friedlander, former professor at Tel Aviv University and current professor at the University of California Los Angeles, won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in the general nonfiction category last week for his book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945.

More details on Prof. Friedlander's prize and other notable winners can be found in this week's issue of Haaretz, here:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/972890.html


Tuning In to Girls on TV
1/29/2008

Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis is concerned about the portrayal of gender roles for boys and girls on your television screen.  She's organizing an international conference to deal with this issue, where Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Dafna Lemish will help advise American producers and executives on how to improve the way girls are depicted on TV.

Prof. Lemish, of the Department of Communications at Tel Aviv University, joins the actress for the Geena Davis Gender in the Media Institute’s international conference on "Female Portrayals in Children’s Entertainment," to be held January 28 31, 2008, in Los Angeles, CA. The summit includes an all-day forum on January 31 which is open to American Friends of Tel Aviv University members.

More diversity, complexity

“I've been invited to talk to academics as well as American TV producers," says Prof. Lemish, "to explain why we need to introduce more diversity and complexity into onscreen characters. Children’s TV needs to reflect reality — that girls and boys come in different shapes, sizes and colors, and that great things can happen to people who are not physically attractive.”

At the conference, Prof. Lemish will present findings from her four-year research project, which analyzed gender roles in children’s TV around the world. Over the course of her work, she has interviewed about 100 producers from more than 50 countries.  Lemish is one of only a few academic experts chosen to give advice to American TV producers and executives, including representatives from Sony, ABC and the Oxygen network.

Despite new trends, she finds some prevailing stereotypes stubbornly resisting change. Television is a critical medium, she says, because it is "one of the most important socializers of our time."

Retiring stereotypes

Which stereotypes should be retired?  “Boys being portrayed as aggressive, active and independent leaders who are smart and busy pursuing girls — while girls are portrayed as emotional, passive people mostly concerned about catching a boy and falling in love," Lemish says  "And if an interesting storyline does happen to a girl, she also tends to be pretty and attractive.”

In general, she found that TV teaches girls to aspire to unattainable physical traits, such as blond hair and blue eyes, rare characteristics in most women, particularly those not of European descent.

The Geena Davis Gender in the Media Institute was established by the actress to improve gender equality in TV and film. This month’s event is being held in collaboration with the University of Southern California.

Prof. Lemish edits the Journal of Children and Media and conducts world-recognized research on the effects of media (TV, print, and electronic) on children and author of Children and Television: A Global Perspective. Later this year, Prof. Lemish is expected to become a visiting professor at Harvard University.

For more information about Prof. Lemish, please see:

http://spirit.tau.ac.il/comm/dafna/


How Do You Say "E Equals MC Squared" in Yiddish?
12/6/2007

Yiddish has been called a language of “secrets,” spoken by grandparents of eastern and central European descent. It brings to mind nostalgia and sentimentality. But Yiddish, Tel Aviv University researchers revealed recently, was also used in a surprisingly cerebral way by 20th-century academics and scholars in the field of science including the father of the relativity theory himself, Albert Einstein.

A new collection of essays on this topic and translations of long-forgotten texts were presented recently at a symposium, “Science and Scholarship in Yiddish,” at Tel Aviv University. Among the texts was Jewish mathematician and physicist Tuvia Shalit’s 1927 book on the theory of relativity, for which Einstein wrote a short introduction.

The event celebrated the publishing of these texts in a special issue of Science in Context, a journal edited by Tel Aviv University’s Cohn Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas and published by Cambridge University Press.

Prof. Leo Corry, head of the Cohn Institute, says, "There has been skepticism about the combination of these two worlds of science and Yiddish. But the idea behind the journal is that science, while it embodies universal values and pursues universal truths, is always produced and transmitted in local, historically and culturally defined contexts. It is the task of the historian of science to identify and describe such contexts and to explain their development. The Yiddish culture offers a context for science that has never been properly investigated."

Scientists and scholars working in Yiddish emerged for only a brief period, beginning in the late 19th century and ending at the start of World War II. The movement was supported by university departments and flourished following the Russian Revolution, especially in countries such as the Ukraine and Belorussia. Some scholars imagined that Yiddish would one day become the official language used by Jewish scientists.

Tragically, the growth of language (spoken by about 11 million Jews), along with its scholarship, was brutally cut short by the Holocaust.

Today, Yiddish is seeing a revival, but the language continues to be sentimentalized, explains Prof. Hana Wirth-Nesher, the director of the Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture, a co-sponsor of the symposium.

She says, “What makes this issue of Science in Context so special is that, by yoking the words 'Science' (in its broad sense of scholarship or wissenschaft) and 'Yiddish,' it challenges assumptions that are ingrained in collective memory of Yiddish, namely that it is essentially a folksy homespun language, a mamaloshn either steeped in pathos or inherently comic, and removed from the serious business of intellectual and scholarly endeavor. History tells us otherwise.”

Avraham Goldreich, who represented the Goldreich Family at the event, acknowledges that his childhood language, which he spoke in Galicia, Poland, has been seeing a revival in recent years.

“Yiddish is a good language. One word can explain everything,” says Goldreich.

The symposium was jointly sponsored by the Goldreich Family Institute and the Cohn Institute, both located at Tel Aviv University.


Ode to the Environment
9/26/2007

Tel Aviv University doesn't have a hard time keeping up with trends -- it sets them.

A conference in January will create a cutting-edge merger between two worlds of literature and environmental studies. The sign-of-the-times event will feature two American guests, environmental poet Robert Hass and New York University’s Una Chaudhuri, a foremost authority on environment and the humanities.

The two-day event is being organized by Dr. Milette Shamir of TAU’s Department of English and American Studies. More details on the conference in the below story from treehugger.com:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/09/turning_the_env_1.php


 


"Yiddish Theatre" Comes Home
9/12/2007

Writer-director Dan Katzir and producer Ravit Markus, both graduates of TAU, will see the long-awaited Manhattan premiere of their 2006 full-length documentary film, "Yiddish Theatre: A Love Story", this November.  The film has played in festivals in the U.S. and Canada - and even in Queens, New York - but this will be the first time it is shown in the borough where it was conceived and shot.

Katzir, born in Tel Aviv in 1969, is the recipient of 22 international awards for filmmaking. After graduating magna cum laude from TAU's Department of Film and Television, he earned an MFA from the American Film Institute in Hollywood. Although he was raised in a prominent Israeli family that disdained the Yiddish language, Katzir became enthralled with the subject during a vacation in New York City in 2000 when he met an elderly Holocaust survivor and Yiddish theatre diva, Zypora Spaisman.  Zypora’s passion and determination to preserve her art form inspired Katzir to follow her through a bitter cold New York City Hanukah as she struggled to raise funds in an effort to save the oldest running Yiddish Theater in America.

Ravit Markus also graduated from TAU's Department of Film and Television and her collaboration with Katzir is her second project as a producer.  She has worked on several projects for television which have aired on Israeli, American and British TV and is now collaborating on her first feature film, "LEAP", with Dan Katzir.  Ms. Markus resides in Los Angeles.

"Yiddish Theatre: A Love Story" was made with generous contributions from Jona and Doretta Goldrich and Max and Anna Webb, long-time supporters of American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Mr. Goldrich is a Chairman Emeritus of AFTAU and a member of the AFTAU Board of Directors and the TAU Board of Governors. Mr. Webb is a founder of AFTAU, and serves on the  AFTAU Board of Directors and the TAU Board of Governors. 

In Manhattan, "Yiddish Theatre: A Love Story", runs from November 21st through November 28th at the Two Boots Pioneer Theatre on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  The film also opens in downtown Los Angeles on November 30th at Laemmle's Grand 4-plex Cinema.

The theatrical trailer for the film is available online here:

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=19886453

Follow the links below for more information on both the Manhattan and Los Angeles releases of the film.

http://twoboots.com/pioneer/jewish.html

http://www.laemmle.com/viewmovie.php?mid=3304


Tel Aviv University Hosts Second Annual Yiddish Summer School Program
6/20/2007

A common language brings individuals from around the world together in a unique cultural community. Recognizing this, Tel Aviv University will open its second annual Yiddish Summer School, a four-week language-intensive program, in late June. About 120 international and Israeli students will participate in the school, the largest Yiddish language program anywhere in the world.

Among those attending will be Jewish and non-Jewish people from Germany, Poland, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, and North America. The program will immerse the participants, ages 18 to 75, in all aspects of the Yiddish language, including Yiddish instruction on campus at the beginners, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Several of the attendees will travel from North America to participate, and their reasons for doing so are as varied as their backgrounds. For Alicia Cramer, 41, who hails from San Diego, Ca., and Albuquerque, N.M., the Yiddish Summer School offers an opportunity to participate in the history of her family. “My grandparents spoke Yiddish, and I would like to converse with my 92-year-old grandmother in the language,” she said. “I’ve always thought Yiddish was a very colorful, fun language that united all older Jews from Europe. It was also the language of secrets, as my grandparents and my mother would speak a few words now and then when they didn’t want us to understand.”

For younger students, the study of Yiddish is a means of connecting with the larger world around them. “I feel that it is a mistake to lose this crucial aspect of our heritage,” said Benel Dov Dreksler, 21, an independent student studying at the CUNY Baccalaureate Program through Brooklyn College. “Yiddish usage has radically declined, and I feel that it’s necessary for young people to take an interest in educating themselves while preserving this language. I love speaking, reading, and writing in Hebrew, but it would be nice to have a more intimate connection to the rich literary and oral tradition of my ancestors in Eastern Europe.”

Students can expect to enjoy a rich program of Yiddish lectures, tours, theatre, concerts, museums, films, and cultural events during their evenings, while their mornings will be set aside for language classes and guest lectures. Last year the program attracted more than 100 students.

As registered students of the School for Overseas Students at TAU, Yiddish Summer School students can also receive university credit.

The Tel Aviv Yiddish Summer School is a joint venture between Tel Aviv University, Beth Sholem Aleichem and Yung Yiddish. Its Tel Aviv University sponsors are The Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture; the Overseas Program, the Avraham Lerner Fund for Yiddish, and the Anna and Max Webb Family Chair for Visiting Scholars in Yiddish. Private donors for this year's program also include Steven Erdman and Daniel Ziv from the United States.


To Israel with Love
2/1/2007

This is an ambitious account depicting how twisted images, often genuine misconceptions and some stale stereotypes, have made our perception of Russian immigrants and their perception of old-time Israelis even more plagued than necessary. It is a serious and generally laudable attempt, but frustrating.

The Pilgrim Soul: Being a Russian in Israel doesn't offer a magic prescription to correct the misconceptions, though it may have underrated the power of the surging second generation of immigrants, which has had a somewhat different heritage, a new experience and thus new proclivities. We discern in this Russian story a cultural or psychological cleavage that is not going to be easily repaired or quickly healed by a set of sponsored "dialogues." And yet I tend to think that spontaneous, authentic and meaningful discussions may help. That is despite the harsh prognosis of the author, who views the discussion between the Israeli-born and the Russians not as "a dialogue of the deaf but of the mumbling."

Elana Gomel was born in Kiev and came here in 1978. She studied at Tel Aviv University and Princeton. It is proper to mention here that she is the daughter of Maya Kagansky, to whom the book is dedicated. Quite capable of expressing herself in both Russian and Hebrew, she preferred to write her observations in English, which was translated into this Hebrew edition. She heads the English department at Tel Aviv University. When she hears Hebrew spoken in Hong Kong or in Palo Alto, it sounds like "the home language," but Russian sounds like "a threat."

An extensive analysis is offered in the book seeking to understand the special workings of the mysterious Russian soul. When she was younger, Gomel aspired to be an "ordinary" Israeli. While she is abroad, she is an Israeli, but when in Israel, she is considered Russian. Her statement that "Wherever I am, I am Jewish" is reassuring.

Those who have known Maya Kagansky and have read her brilliant essays on Russian literature will be happy to note the reaffirmation of the capricious law of genetics. They would also be content that Maya's earlier half-baked forays into Israeli politics have not overwhelmed her daughter. Gomel doesn't consider herself a political commentator or a sociological observer. Nor would she claim to be a typical representative of the Russian immigrant community; her observations are her own.

One-sixth of Israel's population now speaks Russian. They are everywhere. For liberal and left-wing Israelis, the massive Russian vote for right-wing parties was perceived as a personal betrayal, says Gomel.

The Russians, for their part, came to the Jewish state and found it small, Levantine and globally unimportant. "They never bothered to look at a map? They were expecting heroism, and discovered that Israel is steeped in hedonism and 'poor theater,'" she writes.

A bit presumptuous, I would say. The reason Russians feel alienated has nothing to do with "the absorption problem," as many Israelis tend to believe. The author proclaims her love for Israel, but dreams in Russian and thinks in English. No sin in that. Her two sons born here will likely dream in Hebrew.

In countries like the US and Australia, which for centuries have absorbed new immigrants, the aspiration of newcomers has been to join the host country's majority culture. A majority of Russian immigrants in Israel, claims Gomel, refuse to be integrated into the majority culture, believing (wrongly, I would argue) that their Russian culture is "superior."

That majority, asserts Gomel, does not include her. She does not conceal her origins, she is not ashamed of her accent, and feels contempt for the culture she left behind and the country that "vomited" her out. The primary reason she immigrated to Israel was to "run away from" her Jewish identity.

Again, it is not clear what she means by "Jewish identity." She assumed that being integrated into the Jewish state would liberate her from the eternal search for her Jewish identity. That illusion didn't endure long. Gomel maintains that she came to be an Israeli, not a Jew. The majority of Russian immigrants, she says, have come to be Jewish, not Israeli. I'm not sure how valid this observation is.

The ignorance that the Israeli "intelligentsia" has manifested concerning "Russian culture" is seen by Gomel as having contributed a considerable share to what she defines as its "Russian syndrome." She hardly mentions the disturbing depth of the Russian intelligentsia's ignorance of Hebrew culture, literature and history. She overlooks the wide gaps in Russian knowledge when it comes to Western writing that was not translated during the Soviet era.

Which brings us back to our earlier observation that the sons and daughters of the Russian immigrants - like Gomel herself - may be less obsessive about their Russian "cultural" superiority and thus more open to a process of reconciliation and integration.

Gomel rightly considers her book to be the story of a daughter who rebelled against a mother whom she deeply loves and respects. It is the narrative of a girl who was indoctrinated to admire the mass murder of the communist regime, and the tale of a writer who abandoned her mother's tongue.

It is also the story of an atheist in a country of believers, the saga of a Russian in Israel and the confession of a woman who swore she would never fall in love with a man of Russian origin.

Why be so biased?

Original Article can be found at:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1167467813509&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull


Tel Aviv University Wraps Up Summer Yiddish Program
7/27/2006

"I'm all farkrimt, talk amongst yourselves," the actor would tell TV audiences while playing Linda Richmond, one of the comedian's most famous characters on Saturday Night Live. As Richmond, Myers routinely used Yiddish words to emphasize his character's emotions, also speaking regularly of "shpeelkas" and "shpiels."

A language long associated with immigrant grandparents, the religiously observant and comedians has experienced an Israeli renaissance during the last month at Tel Aviv University, where the new Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture has hosted its inaugural summer program for 98 students from all over the world.

Professor Hana Wirth-Nesher, the institute's director, says she was inspired to create the Tel Aviv University program after discovering that no similar programs were offered in Israel, and that students interested in Yiddish would need to travel to New York or Lithuania to immerse themselves in the eastern European Jewish language during their summer vacation.

"It seemed inconceivable to me that a student who wanted to enjoy one these intensive Yiddish summer programs would go to New York or Vilna and not to Israel," said Wirth-Nesher. "We decided to embark on this project together, and that's how it was born."

The "we" in question was a combination of Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv's Beit Shalom Aleichem and Professor Avraham Nowershtern, a Yiddish instructor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. All played a part in creating this year's inaugural program, she said.

Interest was so high, Wirth-Nesher said, that she was forced to turn down applicants. The nearly 100 selected students, roughly 60 of whom are Israeli, range in age between their 20s and 60s and are divided into four levels, with the most advanced group studying Yiddish literature.

In addition to four-hour classes each morning, the institute also offered a cultural program to further aid students' acquisition of the new language. Activities included theater, music and poetry workshops, as well as guest lecturers and trips conducted in Yiddish around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The students came from the United States, Argentina, Australia and much of Europe, with a small number of non-Jewish students joining their Jewish counterparts.

"I don't have a Yiddish background. I'm not even Jewish," said Alyse Nagele, the program's lone student from Liechtenstein. "[But] I always felt very attracted to the Yiddish language. It's warm and emotional and I wanted to study it."

Residents of Liechtenstein speak a German dialect that is very similar to Yiddish, Nagele said, adding that she sees a strong connection between the two languages and has grown attached to Yiddish. She expresses regret that she won't have any Yiddish conversation partners after she returns to Liechtenstein, now that she can speak, read and understand Yiddish at a basic level.

Elana Cohen, an Israeli student in one of the program's two beginners classes, said she has also learned the fundamentals of the language. "I have the tools if I want to keep learning, but there's a grasp on the language which I didn't have before," the 24-year-old said.

She says she wanted to learn Yiddish so she could sing in that language as well as in Hebrew, and so that she could share Yiddish culture and music with members of her synagogue congregation after completing the program. "There's songs for everything," the Jewish Theological Seminary cantorial student said. "They show what it's like to be poor and only have potatoes to eat. That was a big thing for me."

Roee Chen, a lifelong Tel Aviv resident, said he's viewed his hometown differently since starting the program. "This was the first time I felt abroad in my own country," he said. "I'm sitting with people from all over the world, and I'm speaking Yiddish. It's been so weird, so fabulous and so romantic."

To view the original article, please visit:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1153291999618&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter


American and Israeli Students Show that all the World's a Stage
11/14/2005

What made this different and far more technically complicated than the preparations for a typical stage performance was the large screen behind her - showing Dr. Sharon Aronson-Lehavi at Tel Aviv University, who was also preparing for the curtain to rise on the same play.

Only when both New York and Tel Aviv were both ready, the performance began.

On the darkened stage, New York actor Joe Wachs began reading the biblical story of the tower of Babel, while, on a screen behind him the New York audience could watch Tel Aviv actress Raheli Zinder drip honey on an open book, and read out Hebrew letters rhymically, synchronizing with the Wach's narration. The Tel Aviv audience, watching Zinder live in front of them, could view the action from New York on a monitor behind her.

The experimental theater piece, performed simultaneously at NYU and TAU was a daring experiment in the potential of new media and Internet technology in the fine arts as a way of breaking down physical boundaries and allowing cross-cultural collaboration.

Throughout the performance, the actors' lines and movements were intricately interwoven with one another.

There was also another audience that the actors could not see - the performance was streamed live over the Internet so that people around the world could view the performance piece on their own computers.

"This was really challenging collaboration because we were dealing with a medium that is so new to us. Unlike other art forms, there was no tradition to work for or against. And at the same time this was a collaboration of people who didn't know each other before," Rose-Haum told ISRAEL21c from New York. "In my work in New York, I normally work with people I've know for years."

The joint project began with a bus ride in Singapore. Rose-Haum, a German-born assistant professor of Culture and Communication at NYU, and veteran of the New York art scene was attending a performing arts conference and while riding a bus from one conference location to another noticed that there were two Israelis next to her.

She struck up a conversation with them, during which she mentioned that she was interested in pursuing collaboration on an Internet 2 simultaneous performance with Israelis. Internet 2 technology is the next generation of interactive technology - a more sophisticated and higher quality level of video conferencing that has been embraced by the art world.

"I had no idea who these Israelis were," she laughs as she recounts the story. "And it turned out that one of them was Prof. Freddie Rokem, the dean of Tel Aviv University's School of Fine Arts."

Roken was excited by her idea, and asked her, upon her return to New York, to meet with Aronson-Lehavi, a TAU graduate who was finishing her doctorate in theater studies at the City University of New York and about to return for post-doctoral work in Tel Aviv. The two women had a quick face-to-face meeting, but realized that they had a great deal in common - a shared academic and artistic interest in the way that biblical and other traditional texts are performed in contemporary culture and made relevant to today's world.

Aronson-Lehavi's academic work at CUNY, for which she had been awarded a Fulbright fellowship, focused on medieval and religious theater - examining avant-garde productions of Biblical and other texts.

Following their meeting in New York, Rose-Haum chose the texts she wanted to work with, and began emailing and speaking intensively with Aronson-Lehavi, who had returned to Israel. Together, they developed the project in a long-distance collaboration that they refer to as the "arranged marriage" set up by Rokem.

After the two women finalized the script, the collaborative work began in earnest.

"It started to take shape and we gathered our performers. We started having video conferences every other week - and that's how our work continued - through email, Skype, and video conferences," said Aronson-Lehavi.

Rose-Haum is a German born artist who has been living and working in New York City since the 1980s. The collaborative work with Israel comprised a portion of a series of performances she has done entitled Torn Texts.

Rose-Haum's performances are meant to be an examination of how values are constructed through texts and the ritual repetition of words. Her method of making traditional readings of biblical texts contemporary while deconstructing them, includes intertwining them with newspaper clippings and fairy tales.

More akin to performance art than traditional theater, the "sets" in her work are actually installations are clusters of various objects. The Trespassing Boundaries set was designed to resemble a deserted archeological site, strewn with paper, stones and other objects.

Trespassing Boundaries focuses on the two biblical portions that are read according to the 2005 Jewish calendar during the week of November 10: the story of the tower of Babel and the conflict between Sarah and Hagar. It includes recounting the events of Kristallnacht, which took place during this week, and events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that happened during the same time. The five actors: Racheli Zinder and Shredi Jebarin - an Israeli Arab - in Tel Aviv, and Joe Wachs, Nadine Campeau, Ann George performed the piece in three languages - English, Hebrew and Arabic.

The stated aim of the piece is "to recode and re-perform their mythical and therefore limiting systems of signification. The performance examines the cultural process of naming and stabilizing identities through language, and aims therefore to deconstruct and confuse language."

The same idea is put more simply at the beginning of "Trespassing Boundaries: "In order to live in the world we must name it. Naming is the means by which we try to order and structure an undifferentiated mass. By naming we impose a pattern that allows us to manipulate the world. All naming is by necessity, biased. And the process of naming is one of encoding that bias."

According to Rose Haum, the performance space should have no boundaries, thus inviting viewers to question their meaning and purpose and allowing for new meanings to emerge from texts which people presume to know and understand.

As Internet technology has progressed over the years, Rose Haum has harnessed and explored the potential of the new medium -- previous pieces have been broadcast on the Internet, which she believes "serves as a site-less location, a non-place, in which artists from different locations and cultural backgrounds can collaborate and exchange their various cultural histories, memories, and gestures of renewal."

Aronson-Lehavi says that Rose Haum's work is characteristic of a very strong trend in today's theater world, where the boundaries between theater and performance art have become blurred.

"The past 15 years has seen the rise of performance studies versus than traditional theater. It's not just about telling a story that is disconnected and cut off from the audience -- the audience is actively engaged and the actors do not necessarily play characters. This has been a very strong trend in New York in recent years."

While Rose Haum has worked with the Internet before, its use was all new to Aronson-Lehavi, who found the Internet tools "complete magic" to members of the team like herself who were previously unfamiliar with it.

"Because I work in medieval texts, I wouldn't have otherwise gotten close to new media, its opened up a whole new world for me," she said.

Live internet broadcasts has been embraced by academia for several years, and many universities, including TAU have departments devoted to this kind of technology so that classrooms around the globe can communicate and researchers can share information and conduct joint experiments. Internet 2 enables users to broadcast live from more than one location, and the visual quality is higher than what had been available until now.

"The possibilities for the arts are only starting to be explored, and this is the first time that its been used in Israel for theater," Aronson-Lehavi said.

In order to carry the project off, she had to work closely with the computer and technology staff of her university. Jack Barokas, the technician who provides internet services for Tel Aviv University, was intensively involved in every aspect of the production.

Barokas called it "a great experience, exciting and interesting because it is a new way to harness the technology."

But technology has its limits. As the performance date drew nearer, Rose-Haum came to Israel in person to work with the performers.

"I've visited Israel before, but this was my most important visit to Israel. This time I developed a truly deep connection, and felt I was catapulted into the heart of it."

Like any artist, she says she was not completely satisfied with the results. She notes says that to a large extent, she considers the work "unfinished" and said she would have like to work on it more, but "the downside of using the technology is that we had to do this in expensive rooms using expensive equipment, and so we can't rehearse for as long as we'd like. In my opinion, the real collaboration only began to truly happen when we were in the actual space with the cameras, using the technology."

The streaming version of the show is still available on the Internet - it can be seen at:

http://www.tau.ac.il/video/Lectures/Arts/Trespassing_Boundaries/

Rose-Haum cautions that those who view the performance on the Internet see far more of the Israeli show than the New York side.

"But this is a new technology and it is going to take time to perfect," she said.

She doesn't rule out coming back to this project or initiating a similar one in the future, "after we all rest after this one." In the meantime, both Rose-Haum and Aronson-Lehavi are planning reflect and write about the experience.

Rose-Haum knows that she wants to continue working with Israelis. "Tel Aviv has a vivid art life and artists who impress me as being very engaged with the world."

Tel Aviv University’s leading center of higher learning and the largest Jewish university in the world. It will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2006.


Tel Aviv University Trailblazer in Hebrew Literature & Poetry Wins Prestigious EMET Prize
11/3/2005

The EMET Prize is an annual prize given for excellence in academic and professional achievements in science, arts and culture, which has far reaching influence on Israeli society.

Prof. Harshav is a noted scholar of Jewish literature and culture and an award-winning translator of Yiddish and Hebrew works. He is the founder of the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics at Tel Aviv University's Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities and founder and former editor of the prominent international journals, Poetics and Theory of Literature and Poetics Today. His scholarship made a significant contribution to the academic study of Hebrew literature and poetry in Israel.

Prof. Harshav has published extensively and is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors including the Jerusalem Prize for Poetry and the Study of Poetry and the Koret Jewish Book Award. He is currently the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at Yale University.

The A.M.N. Foundation for the advancement of Science, Art and Culture promotes research and development in Israel to improve the welfare of Israeli society. Prizes are awarded annually in the exact sciences, life sciences, social sciences, humanities and Judaism, as well as art and culture.

Tel Aviv University is Israel's leading center of higher learning and the largest Jewish university in the world. It will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2006.


TAU Student Wins First Prize in Brooklyn International Film Festival for Best Director and Creator
11/3/2005

Matan Guggenheim, student creator and director at Tel Aviv University's Department of Film and Television, has won first prize in the prestigious Brooklyn International Film Festival for his short film, Crickets.

This is Guggenheim's first film as a student in TAU's Film and Television Department. The film tells the story of Ido, who was exposed to the underground world of gamblers betting on terrorist attacks. He enters this world after experiencing the trauma of losing his parents in a terrorist attack. Ido, who at the beginning of the film refrains from entering this subterranean world, eventually finds this to be the only solution for his "cricket" problem (the sound of crickets in his head since losing his parents). Ido is swept into the chaotic world of gambling and, when the terrorist attacks cease, he finds himself with a new problem: gambling.

John Turturro, actor and Festival guest of honor, awarded the $7,000 first prize, which featured 150 creators from around the world.

Crickets has competed in dozens of festivals worldwide, including the Dakino Film Festival in Romania, where it received honorable mention, and in the prestigious Clemont Ferand Festival in France, which is considered the "Cannes" of short films.

Matan Guggenheim is currently working on his graduating film project.


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