Arrivals: Framing Israel in a clear light


Cherryl Smith and Jerry Schwartz (photo credit: YIZHAR AMIR)
Cherryl Smith and Jerry Schwartz
(photo credit: YIZHAR AMIR)
From opposite American coasts, Prof. Cherryl Smith and Dr. Jerry Schwartz first crossed paths a year and a half ago at a lecture on Israeli history sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh in Tel Aviv.
Smith is professor emerita of English in rhetoric and composition at California State University, Sacramento. After completing her PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara, her first teaching position was at Harvard University. Schwartz is a physician specializing in internal medicine and geriatrics. They both retired to make aliyah, Smith from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015 and Schwartz from upstate New York in 2018.
Now each of them is contributing in meaningful ways to Israel. And yes, they are engaged to be married!
Smith’s publications include books and articles on writing and rhetoric. She has also published a collection of poetry and has written numerous articles about Israel.
Her recently published book, Framing Israel: A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric (RVP Press 2020), is an illuminating combination of personal memoir, history, rigorous scholarship and a trove of notes and references. She brings to light the ways in which media create “ Israel constructed by language, a kind of shadow to the real, living country.” As the book unfolds, she explains why it is that citing facts has little impact, often no influence, on discussion about Israel.
The impetus to write this book began in 2000 after she experienced her first summer in Israel. During that visit, she and her son, who was then nine years old, felt a natural bonding with the country and its people.
Framing Israel: A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric (Credit: Courtesy)Framing Israel: A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric (Credit: Courtesy)
“I didn’t expect to feel so at home here,” she recalls. “I was very surprised. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know a single person. But my son and I felt safe and comfortable.”
She quickly met Israelis who, she describes with admiration, were welcoming, intense, high-energy but also relaxed. They became her lifelong friends. Smith and her son spent three more summers in Israel, and a sabbatical semester during which she taught a course at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on teaching academic writing.
However, each time she returned to California she experienced a sense of disconnect between the Israel she was getting to know and what she was reading and hearing about Israel in the media and in the academic world in US.
“I couldn’t figure out why the language about Israel was so negative. Or why it seemed to be so difficult to have meaningful dialogue or to express an alternative point of view,” Smith says. Her own campus was generally very quiet, but other campuses were active with speakers who objected to Israel’s very existence. “It seemed to me to be a given in many academic articles that Israel was not regarded as a legitimate country.”
“It finally dawned on me,” she says, “that within the discipline of rhetoric I could study this language. Maybe I could untangle the distortions I was hearing. Maybe I could figure out why these distortions seemed to be accepted so easily.”
Smith used a research tool from media studies called rhetorical framing analysis to identify the perspectives through which journalists and academics often view events involving Israel.
“Think of how you might frame a photo you are taking,” she explains. “You zero in on where you want the focus to be, and the rest stays outside the frame. You can choose to leave out essential context. You can focus in on something so closely that it becomes distorted. You can even photoshop afterward. Framing takes place naturally when we categorize and label experience. And we can also choose how to frame any story.”
Her work aims to identify misconceptions and deceptions in the rhetorical frames through which Israel is often viewed, and it offers a unique method for understanding and countering anti-Israelism.
WHILE SMITH visited Israel many times before aliyah came to mind, for Schwartz aliyah was a lifelong idea, internalized from the age of 15 when he spent a memorable summer on Kibbutz Givat Brenner with relatives. He visited Israel again twice, and in 2018 he was ready to make aliyah.
Schwartz’s career of service has been multifaceted. He graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Dijon, in France. Afterward he specialized in internal medicine in New York and worked for 16 years in private practice. He received an added qualification in geriatrics, and that same year was granted the Physician for Home Care Award.
Schwartz moved to Binghamton, New York, where he served as medical director of Bridgewater Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. He was also on the faculty of the Fellowship in Geriatric Medicine of United Health Services.
While working full-time at Bridgewater Center, Schwartz also built and managed a sheep farm.
“It was a challenging and enriching experience,” he describes, “and an intellectual, physical and spiritual pursuit, a major part of my life at that time.”
After making aliyah, Schwartz went to an ulpan for healthcare professionals and worked for three months at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center to have his specialty in geriatrics recognized in Israel. He now works for Sharan Medical Care at Home and travels all over the country to attend to patients who are in home hospice care and to those recovering at home after a hospital stay.
An avid bicycle rider, swimmer and hiker, Schwartz, since moving to Tel Aviv, has taken up the sport of rowing on the Yarkon River.
Smith and Schwartz both acknowledge that making aliyah is complicated and challenging. What is most challenging is that their families are in the US. Smith’s son lives in Los Angeles, and Schwartz’s two sons live in Binghamton. But both agree that although aliyah is not necessarily logical, “it makes sense.” It feels meaningful. And it has brought them together. It is where they want to be. “I am just happier here,” says Smith.
In the epilogue of Framing Israel, Smith writes, “I had wanted to tell you about the river, about the people in Israel, about the peace that is here, the exuberance, craziness, the regular life. Instead, we’ve been inside the frames.”
Being inside the frames is a worthwhile excursion.
Framing Israel: A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric is available at Holzer Books in Jerusalem, Book Depository and Amazon.