A scene from Encore's production of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta "Ruddigore"
Art & Culture
"There is no such thing as academic writing and popular writing," says Bar-Ilan Prof. Oren Harman. "There is better writing and worse writing."
Maybe it was inevitable that someone whose parents met at Harvard would grow up to be an academic. Yet that wasn't a clear conclusion during Prof. Oren Harman's early years.
Now chairman of the graduate program in science, technology and society at Bar-Ilan University and winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his 2010 biography, The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness (W.W. Norton), Harman thought of becoming a singer, doctor or educator.
"Academia was last on my list," he says. "It can be very stuffy and insular." But then he won an Allon Fellowship, which enables universities to take in outstanding young researchers. Harman calls this award "the king's road into academia in Israel."
He was already on that road by virtue of his pedigree. Born in Jerusalem in 1973, Harman is the grandson of Abe Harman, Israel's ambassador to Washington between 1960 and 1969 and later president of the Hebrew University. His dad, a professor of education, met his New York-born mother at Harvard. His maternal grandmother had done doctoral work in Vienna with the psychotherapist Alfred Adler in 1925.
Harman attended Manhattan's prestigious Collegiate School for Boys from age 12 to 16, when his father was on sabbatical at Columbia Teachers College. After serving in an elite military unit, he earned his bachelor's degree at Hebrew University and his master's in science at Oxford in 1998. "I was close to my grandfather, who had gone there, and I had a romantic notion of Oxford," he explains. "I was talked into staying there for a doctorate." And he did end up at Harvard, where he finished writing his dissertation and taught until returning to Israel for a post-doctorate in 2002.
Teaching how to write is teaching how to think
Harman, who now lives in Tel Aviv, describes himself as a historian of biology and a writer. At Bar-Ilan, he teaches evolutionary theory, the interplay between scientific, social and philosophical thought - and writing.
"Writing is a big deal for me," he says. "The Israeli educational system fails its students in the sense that it doesn't teach them how to write. Teaching how to write is in many ways teaching how to think. So a few years ago, I instituted two mandatory writing courses in my department, and all the students, all on the graduate level, say it's the most significant and meaningful course they've ever taken."
It's not every day that Israeli students get to learn the craft from a Pulitzer Prize nominee. Harman's previous books include The Man Who Invented the Chromosome(Harvard, 2004) and Rebels, Mavericks and Heretics in Biology (Yale, 2008). His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The London Times, Nature, Science, The Economist, Forbes, New Scientist, Times Higher Education, Discover, The Huffington Post and RADIOLAB.
"Writing is art," he states. "There is no such thing as academic writing and popular writing. There is better writing and worse writing."
'Just like the Oscars'
The Price of Altruism was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and got a Pulitzer nomination in addition to glowing reviews. Still, the author did not expect to win the LA Times Book Prize, given the stiff competition. One of the five nominees in his category was Siddhartha Mukherjee, who had just beat out Harman for the 2011 Pulitzer in non-fiction (he won for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer).
Harman flew in for the April 29 ceremony anyway, mostly because he wanted to attend the largest book fair in America that takes place at the same time. He took along his Norton editor.
"They opened the envelope, just like Oscars," Harman recalls, and he was surprised to hear his name. He had no acceptance speech prepared. "I was proud that I was only the second Israeli to win the LA Times Book Prize in 31 years, and I am proud to sort of represent Israel," he says, "but it's not part and parcel of my work. I'm not writing about Israeli themes in the way that someone like Amos Oz is telling a universal story through his Israeliness. My themes are not Israeli."
The book, which explores the life of a "radical altruist" who ruined his own life in the course of helping London's homeless and downtrodden, was already getting lots of attention from readers and even from Hollywood.
Harman reports that his agent in Los Angeles "is working on aligning the stars just right so that it becomes a film. They've sent the book to actors such as Tom Hanks and Robert Downey, Jr. Sometimes these things take time and you need a little sprinkle of luck, too."
Harman is working on two future books, one about non-biologists who solved fundamental biological mysteries; and the other on scientific myths, "a cross between fiction and non-fiction. This is a new genre I am creating, based on our cutting-edge knowledge in evolutionary theory, about age-old myths on the meaning of beauty, love, motherhood, death - things we understand in our gut and are crucial to our humanity but we know we'll never be able to fully understand."
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The only festival of its kind in the Middle East, the annual Culture of Peace features artists and audiences from across the societal spectrum.
In the midst of Arab uprisings in Israel's neighboring countries, "The Show Must Go On" could well have been the motto for late May's Culture of Peace Festival at Tzavta Hall in Tel Aviv, which since 2001 has been a stage set with a backdrop of peace-making through music, art and theater.
Events producer Eli Grunfeld, founder and director of the annual festival, explains that this year there was no budget to pay the artists. On a pledge of money from ticket sales, a number of dedicated artists agreed to perform anyway. "I was extremely grateful that performers this year were able to take on projects for this important event, even without the promise of revenues," he says. "This year it was the festival of the artists. All agreed to come to the festival and perform and show their interest in peace."
Some of those on the bill were well-known soloists, others up and coming. The biggest excitement came from the women's choir of Jaffa, a group comprised of Israeli Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Grunfeld relates. Called the Shirana Choir the women presented "Songs to Drive Away the Darkness" and featured guest singers Galit Giat, Nouran Mas'oud and Lubna Salama.
The program also included presentations such as "Prayers of Israel, Melodies of Ishmael" led by the Galilee Andalusian Orchestra and sung by cantor Lior Elmalich. Jewish prayers set to Arabic music, says Grunfeld, open minds and hearts. Jews may not be aware that much of Jewish world music was inspired by rhythms and traditions from the Arab world.
Diverse cultural mosaic
The festival's manifesto is to create a common ground for artists with different religious beliefs and cultures. It includes musical performances, street performances, theater for kids and multicultural, multimedia aspects. In Israel, where cultures remain distinct and separate, the event inspires a peaceful dialogue between those who might not have other opportunities to meet one another.
Grunfeld says he got a particularly good feeling from the atmosphere generated by the audience, who came from the entire rich and diverse cultural mosaic that makes the Israeli community so special.
A feeling of "change is in the air," says Grunfeld, who in March organized an artists' support event for the Egyptians demonstrating at Tahir Square in Cairo. Some of the same artists played in the Culture of Peace Festival. "Individuals now feel they can show their feelings and make a certain change," he notes.
The annual weeklong festival is held every May in Tel Aviv, and sometimes Grunfeld takes the show on the road to cities such as Nazareth, Sachnin, Acre and Haifa.
To meet its basic production needs, the Culture of Peace Festival is supported by theRosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Havatzelet Foundation. It is considered the only festival of its kind in the Middle East.
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Over 60 leading women from across the world joined together last month for a panel discussion showcasing Israeli females in the lead.
Organized by The Israel Project (TIP) and the Embassy of Cyprus in Israel, the event served as a platform to discuss and understand the challenges and opportunities facing women in Israeli society in the modern age.
Among the panelists were popular journalist Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes. Former IDF commander Miri Eisin and Israeli Olympic athlete Maayan Davidovich.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, today (Thursday, 15 June 2017), in Thessaloniki, at the third trilateral summit, signed joint statements for the continued strengthening of relations.Add a comment
A senior delegation from Tanzania, headed by Dr. Aloyce Nzuki, Permanent Secretary Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism, arrived in Israel for a series of meetings and events designed to increase cooperation with the Israeli tourist industry, and encourage Israeli tourism and investments to enchanted, exotic Tanzania.Add a comment
At a festive ceremony attended by Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, the Lauder Dormitory Building was inaugurated today at the Technion
state of the art building was donated to the Technion by World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder and his wife Jo Carole
09 June 2017 – Jerusalem) The U.S. Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Nikki Haley visited Yad Vashem today. The Ambassador was guided through the Holocaust History Museum by Dr. Robert Rozett, Director of Yad Vashem Libraries, participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, visited the Children's Memorial and signed the Yad Vashem Guest Book.Add a comment
On Wednesday evening, June 7th, the Embassy of Slovenia in Tel Aviv celebrated 26 years of independence, and 25 years of bilateral relations with Israel. The commemoration was held at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa. The event was timed to coincide with visits by both the Minister of Education, Science and Sport Dr. Maja Makovec Brencic, and a high-level parliamentary delegation led by National Assembly President Dr. Milan Brglez.Add a comment
President Reuven Rivlin today (Wednesday) met at his residence in Jerusalem with United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki R. Haley.
President Rivlin welcomed her and said, “You are a dear friend of Israel. We appreciate your strong stand on the world’s most important stage, in support of the security of the people and the State of Israel. With your support we see the beginning of a new era. Israel is no longer alone at the UN. Israel is no longer the UN’s punching bag.”
He continued, “When I spoke at the UN on Holocaust Memorial Day, I said that the UN must learn from the lessons of the past, and stand up against hatred and racism. I said it must end its obsession with targeting Israel. Progress has been made. Israel’s standing at the UN has improved. But sadly, we have a long way to go. Both in holding to account, public statements made by officials, and in supporting regulation to reduce the ridiculous number of discussions and resolutions against Israel. This is also true in the Human Rights Council - which has been hijacked as a weapon against Israel - and in UNESCO, where they seek to rub out the history of the Jewish people.”
The President thanked the Ambassador for her great contribution to the State of Israel, and said, “Ambassador Haley, as the representative the US - Israel’s greatest and strongest ally - we appreciate very much your support of Israel, and all you do to stand up for the values of freedom and democracy which we share. Welcome to Israel, welcome to Jerusalem.”
Ambassador Haley thanked the President for his warm welcome and said, “Thank you Mr. President for taking the time to meet with us, it is an absolute thrill to be here in Israel, I so much appreciate the support we have received from the people of Israel. But I feel somewhat guilty because all I did at the United Nations was tell the truth. I have never taken kindly to bullies, and the UN has bullied Israel for a very long time, and we are not going to let that happen anymore. It is a new day for Israel in the United Nations. We just got back from Geneva, talking about the Human Rights Council and hopefully it will be a new day at the Human Rights Council when it comes to Israel.”
She concluded by saying she was greatly looking forward to her visit to Israel and said, “I am looking forward to taking in the history, the beauty, the tradition, and all that comes with the magic of Israel. Thank you very much for having me it is a pleasure to be here.”
Photo credit: Mark Neiman (GPO)Add a comment
Friday was a beautiful late spring day; the gardens were lovely, the weather was fine; the guests were elegantly attired; the refreshments were generous and delicious; all the makings of a happy celebration marking the National Day of Sweden. H.E. Carl Magnus Nesser, ambassador of Sweden to the State of Israel, hosted the event at the ambassadorial residence in Herzlia Pituach.
The event was attended by many Swedish nationals living in Israel; Swedish music, Swedish food, Swedish sponsors and a generous open bar – all the makings of a happy event.Add a comment
A fundamentally agricultural holiday, Shavuot commemorates the custom of bringing offerings to the Holy Temple from the first fruits of the harvest and the first animals born to the flocks.
Shavuot, the Holiday of Weeks, is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Pesach and Sukkot. These are the holidays on which the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices.Add a comment
Tel Aviv Eat presents three evenings of tastings and workshops featuring the region’s leading restaurants and most prominent chefs. Entrance is free (including the chefs’ demonstrations), and tasting portions range in price from NIS 20-35. Doors open each evening at 18.00. There are several performance stages, live music, and stands selling beer.Add a comment
"Only when we remember the families who were torn apart from everyone they loved, who suffered that terrible darkness and evil, who had endured the unbearable horror of the Holocaust, only then can we prevent this agony from ever repeating." President Donald J. Trump Add a comment
The Charles Bronfman Auditorium at Habima Square is one of the centerpieces of the Israeli arts and cultural scene, home to the Israel Philharmonic for the last 60 years. On Friday, May 19th, it was home to yet another historic event, with the dedication of the entrance hall to Miri Shitrit of blessed memory.Add a comment
President Reuven and First Lady Nechama Rivlin today, (Monday), welcomed President of the United States Donald J. Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump on arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport, and then at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
On his arrival at the President’s Residence, President Trump signed the official guest book and wrote, “It is such a great honor to be in Israel and be with all of my great friends”.Add a comment
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, today (Monday, 22 May 2017), at Ben-Gurion International Airport, welcomed US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania with an honor guard.Add a comment
President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday , at a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, received the diplomatic credentials of the new Ambassadors to Israel from Thailand and Spain. Each ceremony began with the raising of the flag and the playing of the national anthem of the visiting country, and - after the presentation of the credentials - the signing of the guest book, before the playing of Israel's national anthem 'Hatikva'.Add a comment