Reverse Birthright: Pioneering Academic Program Takes Israelis on U.S. Adventure

July 6, 2014



Gur Alroey, chair of the School of History at the University of Haifa and director of the Israeli school’s pioneering Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies, has likened a 10-day United States trip for the program’s students to “Reverse Taglit,” referring to the free Taglit-Birthright trips of the same length that bring diaspora Jews to Israel.


Last month, the Ruderman Program’s inaugural class of 21 graduate students took part in that immersive U.S. journey, attending lectures, meeting community leaders, and touring historical and religious sites that reflect the American Jewish experience.


The American Jewish Studies program launched last year with a $2 million combined investment from the University of Haifa and the Ruderman Family Foundation. The foundation, headquartered in Israel and Boston (Haifa’s sister city), prioritizes the issue of Israel-diaspora relations.


The Master’s degree program’s curriculum surveys American Jewish immigration history, modern foreign policy and governmental structures, gender issues, and the religious makeup of American Jewish communities. But the highlight, according to some participants, is the 10-day U.S. trip. Discovering the true nature of the unique American Jewish population is the challenge faced by the Ruderman Program’s students and professors alike.


The group toured Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum in New York, as well as the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. On June 25, the students gathered for a morning lecture at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan by Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, director of the JCC’s Center for Jewish Living.


Almost a year after its formation, founders of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies say it has made significant strides—bolstering dialogue between allied nations and Jewish populations, while providing a mechanism for Israelis to reflect on their homeland. Program funding is secure through next year, and Alroey is astonished by the interest he has received.



Updated: Jul. 16, 2014