November 2, 2022

Shalem College and the Asper Foundation Announce the Establishment of a Center for Zionist Education

The Asper Foundation, one of Canada’s largest private foundations and a leading force in Jewish philanthropy, has partnered with Shalem for the establishment of a multi-faceted Center for Zionist Education. Designed to respond to both need and opportunity, the center will provide a scalable academic platform for meaningful engagement with Zionist ideas and history.

Launched in January with an inaugural lecture by the Shalem lecturer and Agnon Prize-winning author Dr. Assaf Inbari, the center will comprise support for Shalem’s curriculum in Hebrew literature and Zionist thought, the development of a video series on Zionist themes by Koret Distinguished Fellow Dr. Daniel Gordis, the college’s flagship Israel Story study-and-event series, and an endowed chair in Zionist studies, held initially by Inbari. According to Shalem President Russ Roberts, the center is a key step forward for the college in its mission to prepare a generation of leading citizens who can bring a commitment to Israel’s animating ideals to their service of the Jewish state.

“One reason students come to Shalem College,” says Shalem President Russ Roberts, “is because they can study Zionism without apology. The Asper Center for Zionist Education means that such students can delve deeply into the heritage of our country and explore that heritage in a variety of exciting ways.”

Roberts added that the center will not only enhance Shalem students’ educational experience, but also extend it to the wider Israeli public, through, for example, online resources and open lectures on Zionist subjects.

Gail Asper, the president and co-trustee of the Asper Foundation, noted that the decision to establish this first-of-its-kind academic initiative grew out of the success of the Israel Story series, now in its third year. Combining the close examination of iconic works of Israeli literature, lectures by well-known Israeli authors on campus, and a video and article archive, the series encourages students to explore the founders’ vision for their state and to reflect on the ways in which that vision has been fulfilled or fallen short. Among the authors who have discussed their works with students are the Israel Prize winner David Grossman, the Palestinian journalist Sayed Kashua, the Iraqi-born author Eli Amir, and the philosopher Micah Goodman.

Finally, as less a project and more a platform for impact, the center will aim to incorporate additional activities in accordance with trends in Israel and English-speaking Jewish communities.

The Asper Foundation, founded by the late media entrepreneur, politician, lawyer, and passionate Israel supporter Israel (Izzy) Harold Asper and his wife Babs z”l, pioneers major initiatives in education, arts and culture, poverty, entrepreneurship, community development, and human rights in Israel, the Aspers’ native Winnipeg, and cities throughout Canada. As a result of the establishment of the Asper Center for Zionist Education, the foundation was honored this summer with the status of Shalem Founder, a society of supporters at the $1 million level and above. Asper attended the plaque-unveiling ceremony on campus, where she spoke with students about the foundation’s hopes for the center and for them personally.

“My mother, father, and our entire family have always wanted all Jews, and especially Israelis, to learn the story of their state in a compelling way, one that encourages questions and gives space for concerns but ultimately ensures engaged citizenship,” said Asper. “The Israel Story program does that, and the Asper Center for Zionist Education at Shalem College will expand on that program’s impact dramatically.”

Roberts concurred. “At Shalem, we’re always in search of ways to improve and expand the study of Zionism, which is critical to our efforts to ensure a vibrant, Jewish and democratic future for Israel,” he said. “We are deeply grateful to the Asper Foundation for sharing in our vision and advancing it through this new center for Zionist studies.”

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