Vanderbilt professor wins award for book about tours of Israel

Shaul Kelner, Assistant Prof. of Sociology and Jewish Studies. (Vanderbilt University / Steve Green)

The Association for Jewish Studies has recognized a book by Vanderbilt professor Shaul Kelner as outstanding scholarship in the field of Jewish Studies.

Kelner, assistant professor of sociology and Jewish studies, was presented the 2010 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award last month at the AJS conference in Boston for Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage and Israeli Birthright Tourism. The award was for the social science, anthropology and folklore category.

“In a work that is simultaneously richly textured and theoretically broad, Kelner reveals the work of culture and identity, and politics and meaning in a post modern world,” said the prize committee.

Kelner spent seven years researching an Israeli program that brings thousands of young Jewish Americans to the Middle East to cultivate a feeling of attachment to their Jewish heritage. He found that the program creates new ways of expressing Jewish identity that draw on elements of “classic tourism – trying to find the right souvenir, snap the perfect photo and taste the most authentic falafel.”

Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage and Israeli Birthright Tourism was published by NYU Press.

“As a scholar rooted in two disciplines – Jewish studies and sociology – I’m always aware that I’m speaking to two audiences,” Kelner said. “I think this constructive tension led to a richer piece of work than it would have been otherwise.”