Liora Halperin is Associate Professor of International Studies, History, and Jewish Studies, and the Jack and Rebecca Benaroya Endowed Chair in Israel Studies, at the University of Washington. She is an historian of Israel/Palestine with particular interests in nationalism and collective memory, Jewish cultural and social history, language ideology and policy, and Jewish-Arab encounters in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine and during the early years after Israeli statehood. Her book, The Oldest Guard: Forging the Zionist Settler Past, is now available from Stanford University Press (August 2021).
Q&A with Prof. Liora Halperin
- Leve Center: Where has your career in academia taken you since graduating from UCLA?
Liora: I’ve spent time at several different institutions since graduating from UCLA in 2011. I’ve been an Associate Professor at the University of Washington since 2017. Before that, I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder for four years and an Assistant Professor at Princeton for one. In addition, I was a Blaustein Postdoctoral Associate in Jewish Studies at Yale (2011-12), a Visiting Fellow in Judaic Studies at Harvard (2015-16), and a fellow at the University of Michigan Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies (2016-2017).
- Leve Center: What drew you to be affiliated with the Center while at UCLA?
Liora: I was very involved in the center at UCLA through its incredibly active calendar of programs. Not infrequently, I would attend several Jewish Studies programs a week. Through those programs I became part of an active community of Jewish Studies faculty and studies, and also met scholars from around the country and world, many of whom remain important interlocutors for me still. I was also grateful for the research support I received from the center.
- Leve Center: How did you come to be in the field of Jewish Studies? What does it mean to you as an intellectual, methodological, or professional project?
Liora: It’s a good question. I actually decided not to take Jewish Studies courses as an undergrad, thinking I wanted to focus on areas I knew less about. But because I had Hebrew from my past day school education, I kept finding myself gravitating to paper topics in those other classes that made use of this proficiency. Eventually I wrote the senior thesis that led me to decide to pursue graduate studies in Jewish history. I love the way that Jewish Studies as an intellectual project lends itself to transnational and comparative analysis. I appreciate that my connection to the Jewish Studies professional community puts me in contact with and allows me to learn from scholars who have regional, linguistic, and theoretical proficiencies that are often quite different than my own.
- Leve Center: Your new book, The Oldest Guard: Forging the Zionist Settler Past, focuses on Zionist memory in and around late 19th century moshavot. How did you come to develop this project? Where might you locate the project’s origins?
Liora: I came to this topic originally because of a family connection. My great grandfather Morris (Moshe) Jacobsohn was born in 1890 in Ottoman Palestine, a member of the pre-Zionist Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem. Though he moved to the US before WWI, three of his older siblings spent time living in First Aliyah colonies: Petah Tikva and Rishon LeZion. I first visited those local archives looking for material on them and their families, and only later turned to working with those and other local archives to excavate the story of local commemoration and the creation of the First Aliyah as an object of memory and political opinion.
- Leve Center: Describe a UCLA teacher or mentor who had a profound impact on your development as a scholar.
Liora: I remain grateful for the mentorship I received from David Myers, my Ph.D. advisor. He combined (and continues to combine) the unique ability to ask hard, probing, questions about my research with a genuine warmth and commitment to both my professional and personal wellbeing.