Ruth Ellen Gruber: In summer, Jewish studies flowers in Eastern Europe

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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JEWISH STUDIES — UNIVERSITY NEWS

Source: JTA, 8-1-11

In Austria and Poland recently, I couldn’t seem to get away from students, scholars and just plain interested folks who were taking or teaching summer programs in Jewish studies.

Visitors to the Auschwitz Museum Memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, enter the Arbeit Macht Frei gate on a rainy day. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)

I myself spoke at a three-day “summer academy” in Vienna where more than 100 members of the general public turned up for lectures by international experts on Eastern European Jewish history.

In both Vienna and Krakow, I met informally with some of the 71 teachers from Jewish and public schools in North America and Israel attending a nine-day summer academy of lectures, travel and workshops organized by the Vienna-based Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation.

The programs reflected the remarkable resurgence of both Jewish informal learning and academic studies that has taken place in Europe since the fall of communism. This process has opened up opportunities and fields of scholarship to new generations of students and researchers. It also has gone some way toward repairing the damage wrought by the Holocaust.

About 750 institutions of European Jewish learning were “lost forever” in the war, according to the European Association of Jewish Studies, with many cities experiencing a “near total devastation of their Jewish studies resources.” In postwar communist Europe, teaching and research in Jewish and Holocaust studies was virtually taboo.

The pace of reconstruction has varied from country to country. But today the European Association of Jewish Studies lists nearly 450 academic institutions and universities in two dozen European countries where Jewish studies courses or classes are taught. Many other programs are associated with non-academic bodies.

Summer programs have a special place in this scheme, as they often are geared specifically to visiting foreign participants. Some of them, such as the 5-year-old Leo Baeck Summer University at Humboldt Unviersity in Berlin, are organized in partnership with North American or Israeli institutions.

The benefits of study abroad programs are well known: exposure to other cultures and languages, contact with new ideas, the opportunity to forge international connections….READ MORE

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