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Monday, March 04, 2024

New UF one-credit course ‘What is Israel?’ debuting Spring

The course will explore the history, current events and conflict surrounding Israel

Home to the largest Jewish student public university population in the nation, UF has one of the most comprehensive university Jewish centers nationally, according to its director, professor Norman J.W. Goda. 

While many of its courses study the long-standing history of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, the center also incorporates programs studying current events.

Starting the Spring 2024 semester, the Bud Shorstein Center for Jewish Studies will offer a new one-credit course on Israel titled “What is Israel?” 

The course aims to examine Israel’s complex history from an unbiased perspective. It was created in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas’ attacks on Israel and the reactions to it on college campuses around the country, Goda said. 

Course curriculum will try to combat misconceptions and lies surrounding the conflict and give students a holistic understanding of the state of Israel, Goda said. 

Students will evaluate and discuss topics including early Zionist thought, the 1948 war and the Hebrew language, among others. 

The course will be team-taught by the Shorstein Center faculty and organized by professor Roy Holler, a 40-year-old assistant professor of Israel studies. 

It is catered to a mix of students from different disciplines, Holler said, primarily those who have heard about Israel in recent weeks for the first time. 

“We really want to invite to the course anybody who has an interest and wants to step out of their echo chamber … and get a wider and a more encompassing review of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Holler said.

Students with busy schedules find the course's low time commitment appealing.

Gavin Emdur, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman, said the class seems like a good opportunity to meet students with different beliefs.

“I've been exposed to more of one side of a viewpoint for a lot of my life, and I’d like that interaction with people who have really been exposed to one side or the other,” Emdur said.

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Others, such as 22-year-old UF finance freshman Noam Levi, are interested in learning about Israel from a historical perspective. 

As an exchange student from Israel, Levi chose the course to see how Israel is studied abroad. 

“I never really encountered a course on Israel,” Levi said. “It's pretty obvious what the country of Israel is about because [I] live there.”

While he is not Palestinian or Jewish himself, Cameron Driggers, an 18-year-old business administration student, is passionate about learning about the conflict. 

Although he is skeptical of the course’s “unbiasedness,” Driggers appreciates the effort to educate people on “a topic as complex and nuanced as this one,” he said.

“It's great to see that there is some effort being made to educate people on the situation,” Driggers said. “Like many things that are this polarizing, there's a lot of misinformation and lack of education.”

Established in 1973, the Bud Shorstein Center for Jewish Studies explores the study of Jewish culture, history and politics. It offers a major and a minor program as well as three certificates and individual courses. 

The center focuses on creating undergraduate and graduate courses on the Jewish experience, conducting research and facilitating public programs. Courses range from Holocaust Studies and Palestine under the British Mandate to modern Jewish and Israeli thought. 

The course will be offered on Tuesdays from 5:10 to 6 p.m. 

Interested students can reach out to professor Norman J.W. Goda or professor Roy Holler by email for more information.

Contact Molly Seghi at Follow her on Twitter @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”

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