PhD '91, Media Ecology
When Dr. Aliza Savir (MA '84, PhD '91) found herself in New York as a trailing spouse, she decided to enroll at NYU Steinhardt to study and pursue her interest in Media Ecology. What Savir soon found was that her academic experience would change her life, alter her world view, and lead her to a period of discovery, ultimately bringing her to The Peres Center For Peace.
Armed with an undergraduate degree in communications and a lifelong passion for the people and cultures of Israel, it was only natural for Savir to become drawn to the field of Media Ecology. The study of media environments, Media Ecology focuses on the idea that technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leading role in human affairs. The program at NYU provided the perfect course of study for Savir's interests – helping the people of Israel embrace peace through various modes of communication.
Savir's journey to NYU is long and complex. As a young woman, Savir served her conscription, went on to teach in Paris, and then found herself home in Israel working in the Office of the Prime Minister. After two years as a translator, she joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she met her husband. Over the next two decades, the couple found themselves first in Canada, then back in Israel, and finally in the United States. It was during their time in New York that Savir enrolled at NYU. She remembers Professors Neil Postman, Christine Nystrom and Terry Moran as inspiring. "They were the best educators that I had come across." Her dissertation was titled An Analysis of the Relationship between Newspaper Ownership and Editorial Control.
Today, Savir is the Deputy Director General and Director of the Culture, Media and Arts Department at The Peres Center for Peace. The Peres Center is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization founded in 1996 by President of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mr. Shimon Peres. The Center brings people of the Middle East region together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and development, as well as people-to-people interaction.
As Savir explains, "[The Peres Center is] an organization whose mission is peace building, not peace making," a differentiation she is very careful to make. "People must build by putting one block on another, which sometimes means you need to stop and hold, and other times grow. The most effective way to bring about peace is to cultivate the value of peace."
At the Peres Center, Savir's department designs and implements multifaceted programs directed at Palestinian and Israeli children, youth and adults, and is built on the theory that attitudinal change can best occur as a consequence of free and open professional or personal dialogue that emanates from a common field of interest. Savir is also involved in the Peres Center's ZOORA Initiative, a project meant to nurture the development of the Palestinian and Israeli film and television industries through productions and co-productions, advanced training and the establishment of an internet platform.
"The term ZOORA is derived from the Hebrew term for ‘shape' and Arabic for ‘picture,'" explains Savir. She enjoys the links between this initiative and what she learned at NYU Steinhardt studying peace ecology. "The role that media plays in perception and value as it relates to justice and security in culture of conflict and change impacts the work of our NGO and others." As part of this initiative, the Peres Center will look closely at integrating the mass media within the design of their joint peacebuilding projects in order to increase the impact in their work. Savir emphasized the "need for combining face-to-face with virtual encounters" especially in a conflict area.
What Savir enjoys most about her work at the Peres Center are her project orientated initiatives, especially in the art and cultural programs. "[It can be] difficult to express maladies verbally and [people] need other ways to explore [their emotions]. [We've] found that the tools of theatre are very effective to get people to express their views and to communicate."
By promoting and facilitating interactions and communications among people with similar interests, the Peres Center allows geo-political points of view to fall aside and instead unites people. "When you bring together people with opposing views to work toward a goal, they have good chances to build trust and move past basic assumptions."