Thursday, July 4, 2013

Catching up on the Van Leer workshop

It's now Thursday morning, July 4.  Not quite Fourth of July in the States, where it's still night-time on the third, and certainly not Independence Day here--just another day.  And, surprisingly, given how much I love the Fourth, I'm not missing it.  I have three weeks to complete way too much work and I'm ready to do it.  But first, catching up on the workshop and Jerusalem.
After I took the bus to the main station in Jerusalem, got a cab to my home for a few days.  Cab driver didn't know the address--the street is tiny, more of an alley--but he got me to within spitting distance.  The house itself was a small stone building, with bushes and flowers surrounding it.  My room faced onto a lovely community garden.  It wasn't perfect--the bed was very narrow--but it was certainly more than good enough.  Shlomo, my host, was a small man about ten years older than I am, with dark-framed round glasses and a bit of a nervous laugh.  Very sweet and kind.  There were three of us in the house--an American with an agenda and a grant to interview Palestinians, a professor from Spain who is studying medieval Spanish Jewry, and me.  Like me, the professor is here for the summer with a workshop at the Van Leer and the WCJS bookending time spent learning Hebrew and writing papers.  Unlike me, he's staying in Jerusalem the whole time.
The workshop was great. I met Erez, my translator, at a cafe a few blocks from the Institute.  We spent a few minutes getting to know each other--he's just been admitted to NYU for a PhD program in economic and political sociology.  He's also been in touch with one of the profs from Berkeley that I know and admire (Marion Fourcade, who taught the best advanced theory class I can imagine).  So that was a nice connection.  And he showed me pictures of his baby daughter, always a good move.  We agreed he'd take notes on his computer and I'd look on as he did so.
Here's a couple pictures of the entrance to the Van Leer--only the outside; I felt shy about taking pictures inside, although that was probably silly:

I was welcomed quite warmly, as was Erez, so that relieved me a bit.  A couple of people had read my paper and the responder was quite complimentary.  And one Hebrew University student had come simply to hear my talk (more on that below). So that was good.  When the conference started, it became clear that Erez wasn't up to simultaneous listening and translation--not too surprising; that's a skill in and of itself and not one I had paid for!  Instead, at my suggestion, he just took notes in Hebrew and summarized each talk during the breaks following.  That worked remarkably well.  He seemed to have a good ability to get the gist of the material and enough soc background to know what mattered (the two things are related, obviously, but not identical).  As a result, I could figure out what work interested me most and who I wanted to follow up with at lunch or during breaks (and yeah, trying to talk to people and get summaries during the same fifteen minutes was...interesting).  The real problem came in the afternoon.  While I could pay really good attention and get a bit of the Hebrew in the morning, I was so sleep-deprived (nerves and/or jet-lag had kept me awake), that I had one hell of a time staying awake in the afternoon.  But I wasn't the only one--lunch was filling and afternoon is always a challenge for talks.
I was so exhausted at the end of the first day that I basically grabbed a few bites of dinner and fell into bed. 
Next morning, I headed to a nearby cafe to get a croissant and coffee (the croissant wasn't bad, but really, when in Israel, get the local breads), which I ate while walking over.  I had time to kill and wandered around the block--saw the president's house, a concert hall with surrounding public space. Lots of flowers--I couldn't resist this morning glory:

My talk was just after lunch on the second day.  It went quite well, although I had few questions following (that turned out to be because of language--people were shy about asking questions in a language they didn't know so well, but approached me privately to say how much they had enjoyed it).  The professor responding had no critical comments, but used his time to add bits and pieces from the full paper that he had read (the 50 page version, not the 20 minute version I gave).  Really nice to have that much validation, especially since I still see just what's missing.  And the chair of the session, a scholar whose work has been important, followed up asking to continue to see my work and sent me a new paper of his that was relevant.  So I'm not sure how it could have gone better (excepting the language issues...).  Turned out that I was the ONLY non-Israeli present.  The head of the workshop said that they usually have several from out of the country, but this time, my paper was the only one they took.
At the end of the workshop, I went to dinner with the woman beginning her PhD on Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall.  Very interesting--looks like the rabbinate is co-opting the Wall as a pilgrimage place for Bar Mitzvah.  This has implications for what Bar Mitzvah is in Israel, for the amount of knowledge that is necessary to complete the ceremony, and for what Judaism will be in the future.  While the conversation was disturbing, the food was terrific: shakshuka the way it's supposed to be--thick and very spicy-hot sauce with a couple of eggs on top.  Deborah had described it and I'd tried it, but really had no clue.  Now I do, although seems unlikely that I can duplicate (or even come close).
Next up: getting to Akko.

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