AAJS 2017 Conference

January 30, 2017 by  
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The 29th Australian Association for Jewish Studies Conference is to be held on the 12-13 February at Sydney’s Jewish Museum.

From: Suzanne Rutland and Avril Alba

Thirty years ago in June 1987 an exciting event occurred at the Southern Cross Hotel, Melbourne – the first-ever academic conference of the newly founded Association for

Professor Bill Rubinstein, Drs David Bierman, Suzanne Rutland and Paul Bartrop.

Jewish Studies, which aimed to create a fellowship of Scholars of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies across Australia. Academic conferences in Jewish studies had been held before in Australia – but not as annual, coordinated events organised by people at the university coalface. Indeed, until the 1980s, Australia had been largely an intellectual wilderness. There were small Jewish Studies departments at the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, but their focus was language based – Classical and Modern Hebrew ­– rather than the full range of Jewish Civilisation.

In the 1980s, Isi Leibler founded the Australian Institute for Jewish Affairs (AIJA), and started to organise key conferences, inviting top international scholars to Australia. For example, in 1984, AIJA organised a major seminar on antisemitism. Leibler was a passionate intellectual and avid reader – he built what has become one of the largest private libraries in Judaica globally. One might describe him as a frustrated academic, as his dream had been to complete a PhD in political science, focusing on Soviet Jewry, but his father’s sudden death in 1957 and his subsequent business involvements put paid to that idea. With the foundation of AIJA, he was able to foster intellectual activity in Australia, working closely with W.D. (Bill) Rubinstein of Deakin University, and his wife Hilary.

However, the formation of the AAJS and the holding of its first conference marked a new milestone. Dr Evan Zeuss from Adelaide served as the first president and editor of the Association’s journal, initially called Menorah, but then changed to the Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, because there was an American journal with the same name. When Dr Evan Zeuss stepped down of editor, Dr Rachael Kohn, took over, followed by Dr Rodney Gouttman, also of Adelaide, then Associate Professor Ziva Shavitzky and Dr Dvir Abramovich, of Melbourne University and Dr Myer Samra of the University of Sydney.

Many times, the AAJS committee felt that it may not be able to maintain its annual conferences, and different times of the year were experimented with. As well, the AAJS has moved to having a specific theme for each conference, an approach which has worked well.

However, thanks to the dedicated work of a small coterie of individuals, conferences have been held annually, mainly rotating between Sydney and Melbourne, but also having been held at the smaller centres in Adelaide (twice), Canberra and Brisbane. As well, the journal has continued to be published annually, attracting scholars from across the globe. For many years the Association was maintained thanks to the dedicated efforts of Sister Dr Marianne Dacy at the University of Sydney.

Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod

Over the last seven years the Association has been led by Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod of the University of Sydney. He has announced that he is stepping down as president and his successor will be elected at the Association’s annual meeting.

So, it is with great excitement that we announce the 29th Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Jewish Studies to be held on the 12-13 February 2017 at the Sydney Jewish Museum. Convened by the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney the conference theme of Narratives and Counter Narratives: Jews, Nation and Nationhood has drawn a diverse array of local and international presenters.

Keynotes include Dr Dan Porat from Hebrew University, Jerusalem, whose presentation State of Suspicion: Israel Prosecutes Holocaust Survivors as Nazi Collaborators presents the newest research on the controversial ‘Kapo’ trials held in Israel in the 1950s. Dr Porat is in Australia as a Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Academic Exchange Fellow. Dr Rachael Kohn, a long time supporter of the AAJS will address the conference on the theme of Observing Jews: A Thirty Year Journey in Australia. Her presentation will be a reflection on both her own journey and that of the AAJS which marks its 30th anniversary at the conference. As well, Sam Lipski will give the final keynote on the topic of Audacity and Watershed: The Australian Light Horse Charge at Beersheba, 31 October, 1917.

Other topics covered over the two days include ancient and modern notions of the idea and practice of ‘nation’ in Jewish history, culture and thought. From biblical texts to contemporary thinkers, these ideas have been debated and discussed in Jewish communities for millennia. The conference presentations shed new light on both the histories and contemporary realities of ‘the nation’, and will no doubt challenge and enrich our understandings of these concepts and experiences.

All are welcome to attend the keynote addresses and the conference. To see the full program and to register simply go to the conference website at: 





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