JTS Evening of Learning: The Land of Israel

Date: Apr 29, 2018 - Apr 29, 2018

Time: 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Sponsor: JTS Learning in Your Community

Location: Greater Washington, DC

Category: JTS in Your Community


The Land of Israel: Land of Longing, Land of Promise

Sunday, April 29, 2018
5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.

Our discourse around Israel—especially in this historic year—tends to focus on the modern state and contemporary questions of sovereignty and coexistence. But why is Israel so important to us to begin with?  At this year’s JTS Evening of Learning, we will step back and explore the role that the Land of Israel has played in the Jewish imagination over the course of millennia and consider how this resonates with us today.  The evening will conclude with a festive leil shira (communal singing) led by local cantors and open to the community at no charge.

A celebration of Jewish learning featuring JTS’s renowned faculty and fellows: 

  • Dr. Elissa Bemporad, JTS Fellow and Associate Professor of East European Jewish History and the Holocaust at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center
  • Dr. Hillel Ben-Sasson, Assistant Professor of Israel Studies, JTS
  • Dr. Alan Cooper, Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies and Provost of JTS
  • Dr. Benjamin Gampel, Dina and Eli Field Family Chair in Jewish History, JTS


Congregation B’nai Tzedek
10621 S. Glen Road, Potomac, MD


“Longing for Jerusalem among Jews, Christians and Muslims: Fantasy and Reality in the Middle Ages”
Dr. Benjamin Gampel

Over the last 2,000 years, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived in Jerusalem–sometimes together and sometimes apart, sometimes in peace and sometimes in war. As much as these three faith communities inhabited a real earthly Jerusalem, they also dwelled in an ethereal Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of their fantasy. Together we will examine the history of Jerusalem through the lens of these three monotheistic faiths, from its founding through the present day.


Longing for Zion in the Land of Stalin: Zionism in the Soviet Union”
Dr. Elissa Bemporad

The anti-Zionist campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s forced underground Zionist leaders, organizations, and youth movement members, who were already facing persecution in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. This session will explore the fate of those individuals and organizations. Drawing from rare primary sources, we will also discuss how the relationship between Soviet Jews and Zionism changed over time, weakened, and eventually reemerged with great strength after the establishment of the State of Israel.  

“Paradoxes of the Holy Land: Possession vs. Sacred Space”
Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson

The longstanding relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is undoubtedly profound and complex. Yet what is the nature of this connection? Can we claim ownership of the land of Israel? Is ownership a privilege to be gained under certain conditions, such as fulfillment of the Torah commandments? Or is our connection to the holy land rather predicated on lack of ownership, always as visitors and trustees? Through the study of sources spanning from the Bible to present day discussions in Israel and the United States, we will explore the answers to some of these challenging questions. 

“Jerusalem in Myth and Reality”
Dr. Alan Cooper

According to a rabbinic tradition reported in the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 5a, Jerusalem on earth is representative of Jerusalem in heaven. The tension between the real Jerusalem and the idealized one is manifest in the way both biblical and post-biblical literature transform the city into a poetic figure.  We will look at selected biblical texts about Jerusalem and undertake a close reading of Psalm 122 with traditional commentaries.

“Religious Piety Confronts Sensual Pleasure: Images of Sepharad and Jerusalem in Golden Age Poetry“
Dr. Benjamin Gampel

Among the most well-known periods of Jewish history is the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. The Jews of the Muslim Iberian kingdom of al-Andalus enjoyed economic and political success even as they created a robust and generative religious culture. But were the values of Judaism somehow compromised in this new environment? In this session we will learn how the poets of the Golden Age attempted to reconcile a life of worldly sophistication and material pleasure with their traditional attachment to ritual observance and theological piety, and discover how they were torn between their attachment to Sepharad and their longing for Jerusalem.


5:00–6:00 p.m.      Dinner and Keynote Presentation                                              

6:10–7:10 p.m.      Study Session I         

7:20–8:20 p.m.      Study Session II 

8:30–9:00 p.m.      Leil Shira                                                

Program partners:

Adas Israel Congregation
Agudas Achim Congregation
B’nai Israel Congregation
B’nai Shalom of Olney
Beth Sholom Congregation
Congregation Beth Emeth
Congregation B’nai Tzedek
Congregation Beth El 

Congregation Har Shalom
Congregation Olam Tikvah
Congregation Sha’are Shalom
Kehilat Shalom
Kol Shalom 
Ohr Kodesh Congregation
Shaare Tefila Congregation
Shaare Torah
Tifereth Israel Congregation