Founded in 2016, the Murray Galinson San Diego-Israel Initiative (MGSDII) seeks to strategically promote, support, and catalyze knowledge discourse and interaction on the modern state of Israel through scholarship, engagement, and collaboration on San Diego University campuses. To date, MGSDII has brought 40 visiting Israeli professors to teach Israel Studies at campuses including UC San Diego, San Diego State University, CSU San Marcos, and University of San Diego. The organization also fosters ongoing collaborative learning and travel programs between students and professors in San Diego and Israel, and curates Israeli filmmaker residencies.
The work of MGSDII is more important than ever on today’s campuses, according to MGSDII Director, Susan Lapidus. “Investing in Israel Studies is an important way to affect knowledge and attitudes concerning Israel. By creating serious, educated, and balanced discourse – and by not shying away from Israel’s challenges and achievements – Israel Studies has made a significant impact on students’ preconceived notions about the country,” says Lapidus.
The model of supporting multiple campuses in one city, independent of a single university, is the first of its kind in the United States. Lapidus continues: “It enables education about Israel across many different disciplines. Our visiting professors, who are experts in their fields, teach courses on varied topics, such as Israeli history, politics, society, culture, film, environmental science, and more, presenting a fuller picture of Israel. This is a highly effective response to the increase in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campus activity. With so few courses about Israel being offered, we ensure that both Jewish and non-Jewish students have a chance to learn about Israel in an accessible academic environment.”
In addition to visiting professors, MGSDII has pioneered and funded five important collaborations between universities in San Diego and Israel:
- UCSD and University of Haifa: Marine Archaeology and Climate Change
- UCSD and University of Haifa: Social Isolation Among Seniors During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- SDSU and Technion: Aerospace Engineering
- USD and Azrieli College: Water Innovation and Sustainability
- UCSD and Technion: Urban Studies and Social Innovations
From the USD-Azrieli College collaboration, a new and particularly innovative permanent course was developed: Water in California and Israel – Challenges and Solutions. “Drought is a condition Californians are very familiar with. What makes this such a distinctive opportunity for collaboration is the fact that California has similar weather patterns, drought-prone conditions, and proximity to ocean water as Israel. We have a lot to learn from Israel, a desert climate, that nonetheless has achieved 100% water resiliency,” says USD Professor Frank Jacobitz, who leads this collaboration at USD.
In recent years, entire classes from various San Diego campuses have travelled to Israel to meet their counterparts, learn together, and study Israel’s engineering mastery. “Going to Israel gave me the opportunity to open my mind not only to new academic endeavors, but also to new experiences within a culture that I knew very little about,” says participant Sabrina Smith. “Because of my time in Israel, I have broadened my knowledge on how to contribute to a sustainable future through water technology.” Dr. Jacobitz, speaking about the importance of this new academic venture, said, “This course started with two visions: The academic goal was to learn about water technology developed in Israel to sustainably address our challenges in California. A more personal aim is to build bridges between students from Israel and California.”
In addition to academic studies, the organization hosts master classes, lectures, symposiums, and community education opportunities with the many visiting professors, artists, and filmmakers. MGSDII also promotes collaborative programming in art and culture. As part of their emerging filmmaker residencies, MGSDII grants three emerging Israeli filmmakers an established residency in San Diego, and conversely, three emerging San Diegan filmmakers an established residency in Jerusalem. Students and community members in San Diego are also exposed to the work of these young Israeli filmmakers through classroom visits and screenings. “Film has the ability to cross cultural divides, which naturally creates dialogue and connections,” says MGSDII Program Manager Mitchell Price. “Our first filmmaker residency brought together a queer Israeli from Tel Aviv with a heterosexual Palestinian from Nazareth. Using their films, the two filmmakers shared the complexities and beauty of Israel exposing San Diego students to the many unique voices of Israel that they would otherwise know little about.”
The 2022-2023 visiting faculty can be found here and include experts in diplomacy, anthropology, economics, social work, urban studies, engineering, and screenwriting.
In the future, MGSDII plans to continue their collaborative cultural and scholastic programs, adding opportunities in new disciplines and innovative collaborations.