A place to find understanding

Photo courtesy of Catherine Tritle: Erika Tritle, her husband Nathan Tritle, and their children, Miriam and Soren, spend time at the Sea of Galilee.

Tritle’s research as Fulbright scholar takes family to Israel

BROOKINGS – South Dakota State University Adjunct Professor Erika Tritle has been in Israel for the past 10 months after receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to study the history of and how theology and race intertwine.

Tritle’s Fulbright is a post-doctoral study; she already has her Ph.D. in history of Christianity.

She, her husband Nathan and two kids, Soren (10) and Miriam (6), are in the city of Be’Er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev Desert in southern Israel. They will continue to live in Israel for another 10 months.

It may be viewed by some as a difficult or dangerous place to live and work, but not by Tritle.

She and her family have enjoyed their time there, even with the culture shock compared to Brookings.

On a leave of absence from his work, Nathan is staying home with their kids. The children are going to public school, forcing them to learn Hebrew in the process. 

This also allows them to understand different perspectives of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the Holocaust and many other inter-racial and religious crossroads.

The greatest issue the Tritle family has encountered has been missiles being lobbed into Israel from Palestine, part of the half-century long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians warring over borders, political, religious and racial control.

Be’Er Sheva is almost directly between Palestinian-occupied Gaza and the West Bank of Israel. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of rockets were launched from Gaza, and we had one night where three or four alarms went off in one night. The next afternoon when we were actually on our way to Tel Aviv … there was another siren, and we had to run and try to find shelter in a public building. That was really scary, especially for the kids,” Tritle said.

The missiles hit roughly 5 miles from where they were. However, most incoming missiles were destroyed by the anti-aircraft/missile defense system, the Iron Dome, that has been in place since 2011.

Despite the terror this could instill into anyone – especially children – Tritle and her husband have worked hard on teaching their children not to respond with fear and hate because they are in a land where both perspectives can be accessed and understood.

Tritle also said that she feels safer there than she would in any American city. As long as people are aware of the surrounding warfare and take the necessary precautions when travelling internationally, she highly recommends a trip to Israel.

“This is a real place. Everybody on all sides, they’re real people trying to deal with very conflicted situations and long histories. And it helps us to remember that everyone here is human and there is so much diversity on all sides. There is no one opinion on any given issue. We’ve met beautiful people on all sides,” Tritle said.

Family trips to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, various beaches and cultural hot spots are common adventures for the Tritle family. Along with exploring new foods, the family participates in Israeli folk dancing, martial arts, and even Flamenco dancing. 

In Israel, Tritle finds herself at the epicenter of her cultural, historical and theological studies. 

Tritle is conducting her post-doc fellowship at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and has been appointed to their Department of General History and their Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters.

She has also gone to several different universities within the area to give lectures and to meet with various professors and researchers whose insight and access assist her research.

Tritle’s studies begin in 15th century Spain, where new laws forced the conversion of millions of Jews and Muslims in Spain to Christianity. Residuals of these laws were in effect into the late 1900s. 

“(The purity of blood laws) then produced a population of people that were somewhere in-between Judaism and Christianity. So, then a couple of generations later we have people trying to think through and argue about, ‘What do we make of these people?’” Tritle said.

“People around here still struggle with what it means to be Jewish.”

Tritle’s research aims to create a historical understanding of racism and anti-Semitism in America. When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, leaving Spain and ultimately landing in the Caribbean, the purity of blood laws were at their height.

Tritle is looking throughout ancient and medieval history to help answer why religious and racial tensions and perspectives are the way they are, not just here in the States, but globally.

“I look at the debate both from the point of view of those defending these people (those who were forcibly converted and their offspring) as fellow Christians and people arguing that those people shouldn’t be considered part of the Christian church,” Tritle said. “And because in 15th century Spain, everything is integrated, then they are also arguing they therefore shouldn’t also be full citizens of society either.”

For more information about Fulbright Scholars visit https://us.fulbrightonline.org/fulbright-us-student-program.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected].