Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the World Organization of North African Jews signed an agreement earlier this month to establish a fund dedicated to the research of North African Jewry, sponsored jointly by the two bodies. The fund will award an annual prize, the Shaul Ben-Simhon Prize, to a leading scholar in the subject, and will organize an international conference during which the prize will be awarded. In addition, the fund aims to raise additional resources to continue the research of North African Jewry.
The World Organization of North African Jews has been active for more than forty years in supporting contact between North African Jews worldwide – among themselves and with the Jewish Maghrebi community in Israel. It also promotes North African Jewish heritage and encourages its creativeness in all fields. For its part, BGU has a group of staff members who specialize in the history of the Maghreb countries, and in the research of the Jewish communities that once existed there. This group's work combines the study of Jews as part of the cultural-historical contexts in which they lived in the past with the examination of their existence in the new places to which they immigrated.
The Organization came up with the initiative of establishing a joint fund, and the University, acknowledging the Organization's generosity, accepted and supported the idea. The created fund symbolizes a sharing of goals and fields of interest between the two bodies. The collaboration between the Organization and the University will grant the new fund and its goals public, theoretical and scholarly depths, and will turn it into a center of interest for researchers from all over the world.
The fund will encourage research of North African Jewry as part of the cultural-historical locales where it have lived in the past, embracing the exploration of language, literature, beliefs, life conducts and discourses. Simultaneously, it will support investigation of North African Jews in Israel, in tandem with the study of their immigration to other places (especially France and Canada) as part of a broader migration movement which also included Muslims of the same countries. The fund will encourage the study of the Jewish community that remained in North Africa, the research of remains of communities that had left, and the past and present relationships between Muslims and Jews. It will also strengthen existing contacts with researchers of North African Jewry worldwide in general, and in the Maghreb in particular.
In its planned activities the fund will enable the creation and dissemination of significant and accessible academic knowledge about North African Jewry, acknowledging its cultural richness, its history and the special roles it played in the countries of origin and in Israel.