Sarah Jacobs ’11 is exploring an aspect of life in Israel that she did not encounter in her 12th grade advocacy classes or during her post-graduate year of learning at Nishmat.
As the 2016-2017 Israel Institute research fellow with the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, a non-partisan interdisciplinary research center, the Princeton University graduate’s primary focus is the issue of the absence of female judges in Israel’s Islamic Courts.
It’s ground-breaking research, she said, “based on field interviews with practitioners and academic experts, as well as documentary primary and secondary sources. I’ve interviewed Islamic court judges, lawyers, and experts on this topic and have just finished writing up my research.”
During her post-graduate year at Nishmat, Sarah started working part-time for an organization called Na’am: Arab Women in the Center. “I was inspired by the women who ran Na’am, and realized that I wanted to learn to speak Arabic in college,” she said. (Maimonides now offers Arabic beginning in Grade 8; “I think that’s really fantastic,” Sarah remarked.) She began studying Arabic at Princeton, where “I found myself naturally drawn to Middle Eastern Studies classes, and ended up majoring in Near Eastern Studies with a minor in African Studies.”
As an undergraduate, Sarah also served as an intern for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor, contributing Middle East research to the annual human rights report. “I wrote my thesis on Tunisian Islamic State fighters. I studied and worked in Jordan for a summer, conducted research in Tunisia, and travelled to Morocco after graduation,” she said
Sarah landed the position with the Dayan Center because of her work on Middle East security studies, applying through the Israel Institute Internship, a selective fellowship that funds recent graduates to work at think tanks in Israel. The center’s guiding principle is that “in order to understand the region, one must understand its cultures, peoples, languages, religions, and history, alongside more traditional diplomatic and political factors. “
“My research has allowed me to meet many really interesting people, and go into parts of the country I was not exposed to when I lived in Israel during my gap year,” Sarah related. “Nishmat is in the Pat neighborhood, next to Beit Safafa. This year, I finally went into Beit Safafa. It was amazing to see what it looked like, and meet the people who lived there.”
Sarah said her research showed that women judges serve in shari‘a courts in several Muslim countries as well as the Palestinian Authority, but not in Israel. “The Israeli shari’a courts’ jurisdiction over family law, a field of law which engages in women’s issues, makes their absence particularly salient,” she said.
Her other internship responsibilities include working on the editorial staff of Dayan Center publications like Turkeyscope; Bustan: The Middle East Book Review; and Beehive: Middle East Social Media. Sarah also is a research assistant for the organization’s director and a senior researcher on North Africa, and serves as a contributor to Newsbrief and the Moshe Dayan Center Twitter account. “I’ve also been able to attend many conferences and talks on political and societal developments in the Middle East,” she added.
After her internship concludes later this year, Sarah said she would like to work in Jordan or Morocco for the next year or two before beginning graduate work. Meanwhile, she shares an apartment in Tel Aviv with her classmate and friend, Yael Toren.