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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Weston room, Woolf Institute, Madingley Road, Cambridge
Event date: 
Tuesday, 14 May, 2019 - 17:15 to 18:45

Hebrew Studies Seminar Series talk by Prof. Yael Zerubavel, Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History, Rutgers University

All are welcome, and we are looking forward to see you there!

[ poster ]

This lecture draws on the book by Yael Zerubavel - Desert in the Promised Land - which was just published by Stanford University Press (2019).

At once an ecological phenomenon and a cultural construction, the desert has varied associations within Zionist and Israeli culture. In the Judaic textual tradition, it evokes exile and punishment, yet is also a site for origin myths, the divine presence, and sanctity. Secular Zionism developed its own spin on the duality of the desert as the romantic site of Jews' biblical roots that inspired the Hebrew culture, and as the barren land outside the Jewish settlements in Palestine, featuring them as an oasis of order and technological progress within a symbolic desert.

Prof. Zerubavel tells the story of the desert from the early twentieth century to the present, shedding light on romantic-mythical associations, settlement and security concerns, environmental sympathies, and the commodifying tourist gaze. Drawing on literary narratives, educational texts, newspaper articles, tourist materials, films, popular songs, posters, photographs, and cartoons, the author reveals the complexities and contradictions that mark Israeli society's semiotics of space in relation to the Middle East, and the central role of the "besieged island" trope in Israeli culture and politics.

Yael Zerubavel is Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Rutgers where she served as the founding Director of the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life (1996-1918). She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and returned to its Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies as faculty from 1988 to1996. Prof. Zerubavel has published extensively in the areas of collective memory, Israeli culture, war and trauma, and symbolic landscapes. Her books include the award-winning Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 1995), and Desert in the Promised Land (Stanford University Press, 2019). She is currently working on her book Biblical Reenactments: The Performance of Antiquity in Israeli Culture. She has served on the boards of the Association for Jewish Studies and the association for Israel Studies and on the editorial boards of key journals in the field of Israel Studies.


For further information contact:

Dr Menna Abukhadra
Israel Institute Post-doctoral Fellow