BIU’s Open Campus: Interconnecting with the Neighbors

BIU’s Open Campus: Interconnecting with the Neighbors (Enlarge)

Bar-Ilan University’s newly appointed president is actively working to make BIU’s award-winning grounds accessible to the general public and to significantly enhance the academic institution’s relationship with the surrounding community


“Bar-Ilan University will be a vibrant, integral part of the urban tapestry, an intellectual and cultural hub for our surrounding community.” This is the vision that the BIU President, Prof. Arie Zaban, has for the university.


Prof. Zaban envisions the university as a place that draws people at all hours to think, create and grow. “We may not be able to take down the physical walls around the campus,” he explains, “but we can definitely break down the metaphorical walls that separate the institution from the surrounding community and welcome our neighbors.”


Once the divide between the university and the world beyond is removed, people of all ages, from all walks of life, will be drawn to our campus and can benefit from the wide range of resources it has to offer. “Public gatherings that bring together diverse audiences,” says Prof. Zaban, “are fertile grounds for collaboration and for innovative new ideas.”


Lecture Series and Forums


One such example is the Science Bar (“Mada al ha-bar” in Hebrew — literally “Science on the Bar”), a popular evening lecture series featuring leading BIU researchers who share their knowledge and insights in a casual setting. The talks, which are held at Café Greg on campus over beer and snacks, explore such far-ranging topics as smart cities, Israel’s archaeological mysteries, the latest discoveries for curing viruses, and whether the Syrian president will survive the current political chaos in the Middle East.


At the bimonthly current affairs forum, “Bar-Ilan, Corner of Israel,” a BIU researcher hosts an influential Israeli figure for an interactive and lively discussion on hot-button issues on the public agenda. Guests include members of Knesset, actors, mental health activists, legendary television anchors, and more. This year, Prof. Moshe Bar, director of the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, will host Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani, whose restaurant Miznon now has branches in Paris, Vienna, Melbourne and soon New York, for a conversation on brain and creativity; and Dr. Moshe Hellinger, head of the Academic Committee of the Tikvah Program on campus and member of the Department of Political Studies, will discuss religion, and controversial issues such as the Temple Mount, with two opposing voices from the Israel Parliament. “This forum is positioning Bar-Ilan University at the crossroads of academia and society,” notes BIU Rector, Prof. Miriam Faust. “Because of its varied subject matter, each event brings a diverse audience seeking intellectual discourse from a broad spectrum of Israeli society. The experience for both participants and the university is serving as a model for additional communal outreach efforts.”


 Jogging Paths and Bikes


Other new initiatives that bring area residents to campus are the clearly marked walking and jogging paths that run through the campus, and bicycle stations strategically located around the grounds, which enable visitors and students to borrow bikes free of charge, offering neighbors a safe and lively environment for exercise and recreation. Likewise, the opening hours of campus cafeterias have been extended later into the evening, and some public events offer refreshments at reduced prices, to make the campus more accessible to all.


Clinics, Jewish Heritage and Professional Development


The clinics that Bar-Ilan operates for the public-at-large have long proven mutually beneficial to the university and the surrounding community. A noteworthy example: the ten legal clinics, where students, with the support of BIU faculty, provide free legal services for individuals with limited resources, while gaining hands-on professional experience. “They become more aware of and sensitive to human suffering, and their social involvement increases,” says Prof. Zaban, adding, “They experience legal battles firsthand and actively learn how to seek justice for their clients.” In addition to the legal clinics, the university also operates communal psychology clinics, social work clinics, and an optometry clinic.


In line with BIU’s unique Jewish identity, the university strives to become the setting of a vibrant, open and modern discourse on Jewish issues. The Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies (both the Beit Midrash for men and the Midrasha for women), the Faculty of Jewish Studies and the Faculty of Law are expanding their course offerings, as well as their interdisciplinary activities focusing on Jewish heritage, democracy and Israel. “Our campus is sufficiently pluralistic and diverse to not only become the ideal setting for comprehensive, methodical Jewish research and Torah study, but also to make a tremendous impact on the Jewish world,” emphasizes Prof. Zaban.


As part of his Open Campus vision, Prof. Zaban is committed to providing professional development opportunities to a wide variety of practitioners. “In this day and age, with the world changing rapidly, professionals in all fields understand the need to continuously learn and keep abreast of the latest developments. Computer science, biology, chemistry, psychology and teaching are just some of the fields in which there is constant innovation, requiring ongoing learning,” explains Prof. Zaban. “Therefore, one of our key missions is to develop and offer unique new courses and programs that enable these professionals to remain up to date and to become an integral part of our campus.”


As Bar-Ilan opens its campus to the surrounding community, it is clear from the growing numbers of joggers, bikers and attendees at diverse events around the university that BIU is making inroads into becoming a vital part of urban life in Israel’s center.