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Northwestern Hosts Conference: Between Baghdad and Haifa

Tribute to Israeli author Sami Michael, international gathering to be held this week

  • Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israeli Studies co-hosts event here Oct. 7-9
  • Evanston conference co-hosted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel
  • Sami Michael is renowned, Emet Award-winning novelist of Iraqi-Jewish origin
  • His writing has spotlighted the heritage of Sephardic Jewry, cultural ‘others’ 

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University and the Heksherim Institute for Jewish and Israeli Literature and Culture at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel are co-hosting an international conference this week, celebrating the work of Israeli author Sami Michael.

The conference, “A Tribute to Israeli Author Sami Michael: Between Baghdad and Haifa,” is being held Oct. 7-9 to honor and examine the work of Michael, a renowned, Emet Award-winning novelist of Iraqi-Jewish origin.

Michael’s writing has spotlighted the heritage of Sephardic Jewry, broadening the definition of Israeli identity and encouraged consideration of cultural “others.”

The conference will explore Michael's inner world as moving between two diametrically opposed yet surprisingly similar cities, Baghdad and Haifa -- representing his relentless search for individual and collective identity in the intricate geo-political and emotional landscape of the Middle East.

The public is invited to the opening session of the conference to hear an interview with Michael, Wednesday evening, Oct. 7, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

The public session will feature Michael in conversation with Benny Ziffer, author, journalist and literary editor of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. The conversation will be followed by a recital of Iraqi-Jewish traditional music performed by Yair Dalal, an internationally regarded oud and violin artist whose compositions draw from Arab and Jewish musical traditions.

The conference will continue with lectures for conference attendees and the general public on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 8 and 9.

International academics and researchers across the humanities will convene in Evanston for three days to celebrate Sami Michael’s incontestable role in contemporary Israeli literature and culture.

While perhaps most known for his best-selling novels that wade into the unknown and the taboo, Michael’s works unveil the complexities of social injustice in Israeli society. At the center of his work, he raises the voice of the “other” and lays the cornerstone for the legitimization of pluralism, multiculturalism and the acceptance of the other in present-day society.

The conference sessions cover an array of literary and cultural topics, with a particular focus on the cultural legacy of Iraqi Jews, a central facet of Israeli society that has been overlooked and even marginalized and neglected. 

“Sami Michael is an acclaimed Israeli novelist who was born and raised in Baghdad, and who moved to Israel in the 1950’s. He profoundly transformed Israeli literature by integrating the culture of Iraqi Jewry into the mainstream Israeli literary canon,” said Elie Rekhess, conference co-chair and Crown Visiting Professor in Israel Studies and associate director for Israel Studies, Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies.

“In his writing, he unveils the multi-layered and complex structure of Israeli society and authentically raises the voice of the ‘other,’ " he added.

The list of confirmed speakers at the conference includes 15 leading academic scholars from Israel and the U.S. 

These presenters will investigate Michael's conflicted affiliations to multiple homelands, present innovative and critical research findings focusing on the big ideas of literature and morality, localism and universality, traditionalism and modernity, nationalism, war and human rights, cultural hegemony, social peripherality, political marginality and gender and patriarchy. 

“We intend not only to highlight the role of Iraqi Jews in Israeli contemporary literature, but also to pay tribute to the cultural legacy of Iraqi Jewry in general,” Rekhess said. “We have invited Yair Dalal, an internationally renowned Israeli oud and violin artist to give a recital of Iraqi-Jewish music at the opening session.”

The conference is being sponsored by Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; the Israel Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern; the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; the Comparative Literary Studies Program, and the Middle East and North African Studies Program.

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