Most people tend to “slide” serendipitously, without too much planning, into their career. Not in my case.
The fact that I chose to spend my professional life as an academic is due in great part to several professors who acted as role models, if not mentors in the formal sense. The first one, though, wasn’t a professor at all: Mr. Yaacov Aaronson, my social science teacher in high school who illustrated that political and social history was not merely a matter of dates and events but rather a function of deep-rooted trends and intellectual forces. Without a doubt I chose to major in Political Science because of him (by striking coincidence, he ended up as head Librarian in my university in Israel!). In college (CCNY), my most influential teacher was Dr. George McKenna whose course in Political Philosophy opened my eyes and mind to the wider life of intellect beyond what had been for me until then the brilliant but narrow confines of Judaism.
At Harvard I was fortunate to study with several “stars” in the substantive sense of the word. Prof. Seymour Martin Lipset (for whom I worked as a TA in his Political Sociology course) showed that a VIP professor can also be a huge “mensch”, interested in a student’s personal life in addition to academic achievement. Prof. Louis Hartz’s overwhelmingly panoramic lectures in American Liberal Thought (the only professor I have ever seen to receive standing ovations from his own class!) was an exemplar of what a stimulating lecture experience can be like — no need for gimmicks, just excellent organization of a vast array of material and brilliant insights. Prof. Samuel Huntington, my PhD supervisor, showed me that “students come first” — despite a very heavy schedule (he was a famous scholar already back in the mid-1970s), I would normally receive comments on my PhD chapters within 48 hours. Prof. Daniel Bell of “Post-Industrial Society” fame, however, probably had the greatest impact on my academic future. His wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary intellect has enabled me to withstand the “warnings” from well-meaning friends that our academic world puts a premium on “disciplinary depth” and therefore I shouldn’t “spread myself out too much”. In Isaiah Berlin’s terminology, I am a research “fox” and not a “hedgehog”. Moreover, in Prof. Bell’s course “Social Forecasting” I came to understand that “researching the future” can well be a respectable academic undertaking — the anchor for some of my more creative scholarly work, and certainly my current research to be described below.
Harvard’s program reinforced this “foxy” trans-disciplinary approach. Each PhD student had to gain expertise in four different sub-disciplines, and pass a two-hour oral exam in the presence of four academic experts. I chose Public & Constitutional Law, Modern Political Philosophy, Middle East Politics, and Modern Jewish History. While each had a place in my subsequent career — whether in the classroom, supervising PhD students or in journal articles — two of my three major areas of research ultimately lay elsewhere: Israeli Extra-Parliamentary Behavior (the first 15 years of my research); Mass Communications (the latter 20 years). I leave for others to decide if I am the quintessential “jack of all trades, master of none”.
Why spend so much time on early academic influences? Aside from the specific contributions of the above individuals (and several others: Prof. Joyce Gelb at CCNY and Prof. Judith Shklar at Harvard), collectively they have taught me that academia is not simply a “profession” but actually a “calling”. While scholars are expected to produce new knowledge through creative and original research, the “job description” in fact includes much more than that: inspiring teacher, personal mentor, intellectual inspiration, horizon expander. Whatever shortcomings I might have as a scholar, I have done my utmost to fulfill the broader calling as some elements of my CV attest: creating wide-ranging, diverse and somewhat unusual courses; supervising numerous research students (thesis and dissertation); developing new academic programs & expanding existing ones; creating and utilizing new teaching methods. More on these a bit later on.
Israeli Extra-Parliamentary Behavior: Perhaps as a result of having gone to college during one of the most socially and politically tumultuous periods in modern history (the Sixties), immediately upon arrival in Israel I was struck by the large amount of demonstrations and other forms of socio-political protest and decided to devote my energies not only to describing the phenomenon but also to analyzing and understanding the sources and factors underlying it — and to what extent it was successful in inducing change. This took me in several directions simultaneously: police files, newspaper archives, the Bible and Jewish history, economic data, sociological phenomena, etc. As a result, on this subject area I produced about a dozen articles and a book (which I also translated to Hebrew, adding a new chapter on the Jewish historical roots of “oppositionism”). When I finished, arriving at the conclusion that despite its frequency and high level of public participation the phenomenon overall was not very successful, I then asked what would a “stiff-necked people” do in light of the Establishment’s inflexibility? The answer was the focus of my next book: the Israeli public would take matters into its own hands, building a massive and wide-ranging “alternative” system of public self-service. This book also identified the beginnings of real change and predicted that systemic reforms would continue into the future — precisely what has happened since the late 1980s with increasing force.
Mass Communications: In the early 1980s Bar-Ilan University set up a post-graduate, professional certificate program in journalism & mass communication studies. When it encountered problems in 1991 I was asked to run the program. The field was not totally foreign to me. First, as noted in my Personal Profile, my wife Tami studied and worked in communications and by osmosis (and occasional spousal help) I picked up a lot of knowledge on the professional side. Second, my Israeli protest research involved studying the Israeli press and I had even published an article that looked closely at the interconnection between protest and the media. Third, my “extra-curricular” futurism and technology interests had already led me early in my career to publish an article or two on what would later be called “New Media“.
But these were insufficient on which to base a “second” scholarly career. I thus taught myself the basics, classics, and canonical works of “Mass Comm” in order to properly research and write on the subject. I got my feet wet by publishing Israel’s first Hebrew-language Textbook of media that included public relations and advertising, in addition to the print press, radio and TV. What made this doubly unusual is that it combined theoretical analysis of the media with an equally large section that applied the principles in several extended hypothetical case studies, with specific practical prescriptions. While not published by an academic press, this book has been used widely in various Israeli mass communication courses. Parenthetically, I should add that a couple of years later I also published a children’s story book (about setting up and running a summer outdoor juice stand) that “taught” young readers (ages 8-12) all the elements that go into establishing a business: strategy, pricing, advertising, marketing, business ethics, competition, worker compensation. It sold out and is unfortunately out of print; however, I have scanned it and it can be found on this site.
From a scholarly standpoint, I have concentrated on two sub-fields that eventually coalesced: political communication (especially election campaigns); new media. The former is based on my prior expertise in political science; the latter on my work in contemporary & futuristic technology.
In 1994 my university decided to establish a B.A. degree granting program of study in Public Communications within my department. Given my position as head of the professional, certificate program I naturally stepped in to help get it off the ground; in 1996 upon completing my chairmanship of the professional program (more than tripling the student body under my tenure) I devoted my energies to expanding the degree program to M.A. and a bit later to PhD studies. As the most senior lecturer in the program I also bore the brunt of thesis supervision, which explains (along with lots of hard work) why I have supervised to successful completion 57 Master’s thesis students (and 15 PhDs; a few more are being refereed or near completion), almost all in Public Communications — several of whom now teach and research in the field in Israel. (I should note parenthetically that during part of this period I also served as the Chairman of the Israeli Political Science Association, 1997-1999.) My job became “official” in the early 2000s as department Vice Chairman in charge of Public Communications, and then in 2004-07 overall Department Chairman (Political Science & Communications). After completion of this last hyper-demanding job (during an era of massive budget cuts in Israeli academia in general), I took a break after 16 years of almost consecutive academic administration work — and passed the baton to Prof. Eytan Gilboa who successfully led the process of finally setting up our program as an independent department. After his retirement in 2014, I am once again chairing a department — this time the School of Communication. In AY 2016-17 I will be on my last annual sabbatical leave, and then official retirement (mandatory in Israel at age 68). But I am certainly not ready for the “rocking chair”. Recently I started giving regular talks on the Israeli Political System to AIPAC groups coming over from the U.S., as well as other topics for private and public organizations. In addition…
I am presently working on two book-length projects: 1) The existence and central role of virtuality in human existence: ancient world, modern times, contemporary present, and the future; 2) A developmental model of the full life cycle of new media: incubation, birth, growth, maturity, defensive posture vis-à-vis newer media, adaptation/convergence/death.
Education in general, and higher education in particular, have always been a serious “ancillary” subject in my career. To the layman this may sound strange: what could be merely “ancillary” about education if that’s what I do for a living? However, the Israeli university system rewards research accomplishments exclusively — very little (if any) promotion credit is given for superior teaching, serious M.A./PhD supervision or any related work outside the walls of academe. My teaching quality I leave for others to evaluate, although I consistently receive between 4.0 – 4.5 on student evaluations (scale 1- 5). My M.A./PhD supervision record speaks for itself, especially in light of the fact that many of my PhD students have found permanent positions in Israeli academia. I will focus here on the “extra-curricular” activity.
First, I have taught online courses from the start of the millennium, one of the first to do so in Bar-Ilan. Since 2002 I have been teaching a fully online course (appropriately titled: “Internet Revolution”) which I developed and have constantly revised technically and substantively in light of developments in the field. As department chairman I pushed online education in my department and revolutionized our M.A. pre-requisite course schedule by turning them all (7 courses) into online courses offered in the summer prior to the start of M.A. studies (Israeli M.A. pre-requisite courses are almost always taken simultaneously with the degree courses — palpably absurd from a purely pedagogical perspective).
Second, in the latter part of the 1990s and early 2000s I served as Chairman of the Ministry of Education’s Steering Committee to develop a program in Communications at the high school level for the mainstream religious school system, which is now being implemented. In 2014 I served as a member of the Schejter Committee, established by the Minister of Communications, to overhaul the entire regulatory system of commercial broadcasting in Israel.
Third, as department chairman I wrote a weekly blog in Hebrew on the department’s site, entitled: “Education. Higher?” For those interested, the 78 posts can be found on this site. After my sabbatical year at Brown U, I wrote a bi-weekly op-ed column for the Providence Jewish Voice & Herald, entitled “Reflections of/in Israel” (also accessible on this site).
Fourth, in 2004 I created and have since taught a highly unusual course: “Publications, Lecturing and the Academic World”. This is a required workshop in our Communication School’s PhD program — colloquially called by our PhD students: “everything you didn’t know (and didn’t know to ask) about a career in academia”. It covers everything related to a professorial career: the post-doc experience, conference papers, publishing articles and books, creating and teaching courses (including how to write a syllabus and exam questions), the structure of universities, promotion procedures, the grant proposal enterprise, etc.
As with the Jewish people through most if its history, my personal life has seen some “wandering”. My parents, Arthur (deceased, 1968) and Jenny, were both born in Germany. Arthur (age 26) left to Cuba in 1936. Jenny (age 13 at the time) fled to Portugal in 1939, from there with her mother to Jamaica (British refugee camp), and towards the end of the war to Cuba where she met my father. They married in 1946 and I was conceived in Cuba but born in the U.S.A. (May 1949) — “wandering” even before I saw the light of day! My younger brother David was born in 1953 — quite different from me in most ways, except for athletic ability which we both share. He lives with wife Paula and two twin sons, Eric & Aaron, in Long Island.
I grew up in Washington Heights (upper Manhattan) and went to school at Yeshiva Rabbi Moses Soloveitchik (modern Orthodox Day School) and then to Yeshiva University High School where I met my first love: basketball! I played on the high school varsity team with two consecutive appearances in Madison Square Garden in our league’s championship game. I wasn’t a very good all-around player, but I was a terrific shooter. To this day I still play serious basketball three times a week (a much better, all-around player now).
I studied at City College of New York (B.A. Political Science, 1971), during the tumultuous late 1960s. But the closest I came to “free love” was winning several tennis matches “at love” (no games for my opponent) playing for the CCNY varsity tennis team. I excelled at studies (a result in great part to the rigorous education discipline instilled in my high school), graduating summa cum laude (GPA 3.89). My reward: acceptance to Harvard Graduate School in Government with full scholarship.
Harvard U was an intellectually mind-expanding experience. I was extremely fortunate to have world class researchers/lecturers: several of whom influenced me profoundly in different ways (for details see my “Academic Profile“). Just as fortunately, on a personal level I met my future wife Tami, a whirlwind ball of fire, studying for a B.A. in English Literature (Suffolk College) and then a Master’s in Communications at Boston University (relevant to my future professional change of direction). We married in June 1974, the two of us legally combining our family names (she, to preserve her family name, being an only child; me, for ideological-feminist reasons). Tami’s condition for marriage was that we move to Israel within a decade; I agreed and have never regretted that decision.
We joined a voluntary organization called NAAM (North American Aliyah Movement) that offered information and group support to people contemplating moving to Israel. Within two years I was elected National President of the organization (a non-paying job) in addition to my post-PhD position in charge of Higher Education in the New York City Comptroller’s office (I had sent off my file to several Israeli universities, and awaited their replies). But the fates had different plans…
A few months after being elected, NAAM sent us to Israel to meet the people who I would have to deal with. This was June 1977, a month after the major election shift bringing the Likud to power. Unbeknownst to me, the new government had just “stolen” two lecturers from Bar-Ilan’s Political Studies Department and it was left with a large hole for the upcoming academic year — and then I appeared unannounced at their door as some “manna from heaven”! After a hasty interview (my file was there already), they hired me on the spot. Three months later we moved to Israel. Tami, leaving a job in cable TV in New York, quickly found a job with a local video production company. I stood in front of my first class a mere 10 days after getting off the plane.
Within a few months we purchased an apartment in Petach Tikva, joined a local modern Orthodox “Young Israel” synagogue (with a fantastically supportive, mostly Anglo-Saxon, community), and began settling in — having a much easier time of it than most immigrants because we both spoke “decent” Hebrew, had a job, and had relatives in Israel too (some of whom we “discovered” only upon immigration). In 1997-99 I served as President of the “Young Israel”.
Our two sons joined the family a few years later: Boaz (1981) and Avihai (1984). Upon returning from my first sabbatical year in 1984 (Silver Spring, Maryland), I was drafted in 1985 into the IDF, spending two months in basic training within an immigrants’ unit that looked like an international expeditionary force (at least 10 different nations represented) and another two months in The Museum of the Diaspora as a teacher and tour guide, where I continued to do my reserve service for the next 15 years. By then Tami had opened a successful agency for English-language copywriting for Israeli exporters, where my “education” in communications continued (indirectly) apace. Later that decade we spent several lovely summers working in Camp Ramah (Berkshires) as educators, while our young kids had a ball as pre-campers. And at the ripe age of 37-38 I actually managed to play two years of semi-professional basketball in the lowest Israeli league.
Our sabbatical year in San Diego (1989-90) was a culture shock — until then we were not at all aware of how “Israeli” we had become in our much more open social outlook and behavior. Americans plan everything; Israelis are improvisers. That made for a very tough year socially (although very productive academically), until we started meeting former Israelis in San Diego. Sometimes you really “can’t go home again”, especially if you “join the natives” (anthropological parlance) in your adopted home. Nevertheless, in 2008-09 we had a completely different (positive) experience during our sabbatical year in Providence, Rhode Island where I taught at Brown University. Similarly, in 2013 for a semester in Rockville, Maryland where I taught nearby at the University of Maryland.
From the 1990s onwards, the highlights of my life tended to be mostly professional — quite standard for academics in highly demanding, mid-to-late career situations and positions. Thus, the rest of my professional story can be found in the Academic Profile.
My main personal points over the past 25 years: my wife Tami closed her copywriting business in the 2000s and started a highly successful, second career: English-language children’s book author on Judaism and the Jewish heritage. Up to now she has published 12 books and is also developing a digital story series for schools: Shabbat Around the World. Anyone interested in all this activity can visit: http://tlwkidsbooks.com As for the rest of my family, my two sons have married — Boaz to Smadar (two children, Alon and Ella); Avihai to Masha.
In 2012 we moved from Petach Tikva to Kfar Saba — midway between our sons. This was definitely an urban upgrade, without any problems of socialization in our new synagogue community “Hod ve’Hadar” (indeed, Tami has already served on the Management Board). And perhaps most “important” (only half facetiously): I still play intensive basketball twice a week (and from several perspectives I am a better player than I was in my youth) — a total refuge from the pressures of work and Israeli life in general.