From the Chair & the Director

Message from the Director – Prof. Shai Lavi

Ideas matter. Innovative ideas, no less than political and economic forces, shape our world. Today, in Israel, as in the rest of the world, we face new challenges to democracy, social justice, regional stability, and environmental sustainability. New ideas may help us better understand these predicaments and offer new ways for shaping our future. Our current research at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute addresses a broad range of topics: secularism and democracy in a post-secular age; the possibility of social justice within global economic constraints; the ethics of climate change and gene-editing; and the place of Israel in a rapidly transforming Middle East.

An integral part of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute research is the Polonsky Academy for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Polonsky Fellows form a vibrant international research community of roughly twenty-five outstanding scholars in the humanities and social sciences, with the freedom to conduct their own research both independently and in collaboration with ongoing projects at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

As we develop novel ideas, we are constantly searching for innovative ways for introducing our ideas to a wider public. We currently have three new and exciting platforms for public engagement: The magazine Hazman Hazeh (These Times), in collaboration with Ha’aretz, makes academic research and insight accessible to a wide readership. Our new intellectual incubator for documentary filmmakers allows young as well as established documentarists to develop and perfect their next project and take it to new heights; and our Intellectual Journeys program fosters a new generation of young and committed intellectuals from all walks of Israeli society. In an age of political populism, sustained public engagement with ideas enriched with insights from the humanities and social sciences is a necessary condition for a sustainable democracy and for its thriving. This is what we at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute are committed to nurturing and disseminating.


Message from the Chair – Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger DBE

The activities of the VLJI are exciting and inspiring. The combination of rigorous scholarship and the ability to convert it into practical application is rare in our times. Van Leer’s academic excellence makes it possible to translate the insights of brilliant thinkers into practical action for the benefit of Israeli society and ultimately for the rest of the world.

When VLJI scholars look at Arabic as a language and the problems of inculcating it into the education system, they also see it as an expression of broad cultural values to be disseminated among all population groups in Israel. When a research team at VLJI focuses on the boundaries between ethical and unethical medical practice, the importance of their findings is invaluable for Israel, but no less so for other countries grappling with similar issues.

The significance of young Israelis from all backgrounds making common cause, or using film to tell a difficult story, is boundless. Through all these, VLJI is shaping a story, exploring problems, and, ultimately, trying to produce ways of thinking that advance the wellbeing of all of Israel’s populations, and beyond. I hope that our Institute will continue this work and that others, inspired by VLJI, will emulate our exploration of boundaries and borders between peoples and ideas, and seek even more innovative ways of solving problems.

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