Fall 2011

A Journey of Self-Discovery: Tunisian Roots as a Doctorate and a Book
Meet Dr. Rivka Nagar

Dr. Rivka Nagar

Growing up in a home with nine children, marrying young and raising her own six children were some challenges Rivka Nagar has successfully met. But, had it not been for the Open University Rivka would not have earned her bachelor's, master's and doctorate. "The Open University was the most important learning center of my life."

Dr. Rivka Nagar has dedicated her thesis, "The Religious Leadership in Gerba: Its Influence Between the Two World Wars" in memory of her husband who propelled her forward in her academic studies, and Rivka adds "this doctorate is also in honor of the Open University."

Rivka is a first generation Israeli. Her parents emigrated from Tunisia and settled in a moshav in the northern Negev where Rikva and her eight siblings were raised. Moshav life was extremely difficult during the early days of the State. Then much of the farm work was done by hand, and many hands were needed on a daily basis to provide for the 11 member household.

"It's not that learning wasn't valued," Rikva recalls, "it's just that there were so many other pressing needs that learning had to, by necessity, take a back seat."

Even when it was recommended that Rikva study in a Jerusalem high school program for gifted students, Rivka's mother vetoed that for financial reasons, so Rivka finished high school nearby, with many of her dreams sidetracked.

Rivka's First Encounter with the Open University

Rivka first 'discovered' the Open University while studying at the Teacher's Seminary during her early years of marriage. Rikva began to take a few courses at the Open University as part of the Seminary's curriculum. "When I first started at the Open University, my marks weren't good. It was completely different than anything I was familiar with," Rivka explains, "because in order to get good marks with the Open University you have to know how to learn, and I hadn't in those early years yet acquired that skill."

However, Rikva's marks began to dramatically improve. In between gaining her teaching certificate and giving birth to six children, Rikva also managed to earn her BA in Humanities and Social Sciences. It was not a smooth or easy ride for her, as she recalls. "While my friends would take courses in ceramics or dance, I would take courses at the Open University. I would even arrive at the hospital to deliver my children with one bag for the new baby and one bag for my Open University books."

Rivka became the first person in her family to earn a university degree. At the urging of her husband, Rivka signed up for a Master's program at Touro College in Jerusalem, and in between preparing her lesson plans for her high school classes, changing diapers and maintaining an active and open home in Ashkelon, Rivka was conferred her Master's Degree in Jewish Education. Yet, she was still not completely satisfied.

Her experience at the Open University, in particular with Dr. Yaron Tzur of the University's History Department, had helped unlock an interest in her own religious roots and how the Tunisian Jewish community's history, one of the most ancient Jewish communities, was taught in the Israeli school system.

With the encouragement and guidance of Dr. Tzur, Rivka discovered her own family's prestigious Rabbinic lineage. Her desire now to incorporate more studies of Tunisian Rabbinic commentary within the Israeli school curriculum led her to pursue further academic studies, bringing her to Bar Ilan's doorstep for her doctorate. Bar Ilan approved her thesis subject "The Influence of French rule and Modernization on Gerba's Rabbis During the Two World Wars."

"I always had a bug inside of me urging me to learn. But, my late husband was my best fan, encouraging and pushing me forward. When I look back on the years that I spent between the walls of different universities, I fully acknowledge that the Open University was the most important educational framework in my life, because they really taught me how to learn. I have even incorporated their methodologies into my own teaching, hoping to pass onto my students (and children) the formula for success that I learned from OU."

Rivka's doctoral thesis was interrupted when her husband passed away. For some time, she wasn't quite sure how to proceed, but at some point, she realized that by finishing her doctorate she would be fulfilling both her and her husband's dream as well.

Today, Dr. Nagar is a member of the "Committee for the Preservation of the Tunisian Heritage", and lectures throughout the country on the subject.

"I am a teacher in my soul," Rivka comments. "For me the joy of teaching and learning was part of the challenge in my life and the Open University always challenged me. I thank you for whatever success I have achieved."