To say that 2020 has been a challenging year is to engage in cliché, yet it is undeniably true. For AEN and its membership, the momentous changes during the past year provoke three central questions:
▪ How will COVID-19 impact academia, the university campus, and the work we do in AEN to counter antisemitism and Israel delegitimization, support robust discussion of Israel, and defend the value of campus free expression and academic freedom?
▪ How will the policy decisions that Israel contemplates and undertakes vis-à-vis the Palestinians, coupled with the possibility of normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab world, complicate our work—and perhaps provide newfound opportunities?
▪ How should AEN faculty members grapple with and respond to the movement for racial justice and equity and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement on the campus?
We may remember AY 2020-2021 as an annus horribilis, full of anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and division. Alternatively, the coming academic year may be a catalyst for innovative and collaborative approaches to our work and the ideas and values which inspire it.
It is with these questions and concerns in mind that the AEN Leadership Team decided to organize our first virtual “Town Hall,” which took place on Zoom on September 3. Our aim was to give AEN faculty members an opportunity to discuss their undoubtedly varied thoughts on these important issues. We were interested to learn how members perceive the unprecedented developments of 2020, the impact that they are already having and are likely to have on our work and AEN’s mission, and the challenges and opportunities that they present. To spur debate and discussion, we asked six AEN members to write short essays (which were shared in advance with Town Hall participants) and briefly introduce them during the event.
We are sharing one of those pieces, “What Does the Next Semester Hold for AEN?”, by Donna Robinson Divine, the Morningstar Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and Professor Emerita of Government at Smith College.
In order to ensure a robust dialogue, participation was limited to 50 members who pre-registered to attend – these included new and longtime members, and those representing a variety of geographic regions and academic disciplines.
Feedback for the Town Hall was overwhelmingly positive with participants (“This Town Hall was organized very quickly in response to emerging issues. It was helpful and orienting. It also provided me a way to reengage with the AEN community.”, “Thanks for this and keep ‘em coming!”), and more Town Halls are planned for later in the academic year.