JBuzz Features August 20, 2014: The ‘Mainstreaming’ Of Jewish Studies

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

The ‘Mainstreaming’ Of Jewish Studies

Source: The Jewish Week, 8-20-14

Houston – Administrators at Texas Christian University, an institution in Forth W orth affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination, needed some advice last year on starting a Jewish studies program, which is now in the planning stages….READ MORE

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JBuzz News March 31, 2012: Tulane University to upgrade its Jewish studies program to full department status

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Tulane University to upgrade its Jewish studies program

Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3-31-12

Tulane University, already one of the nation’s most attractive secular universities for Jewish students, has decided to upgrade its three-decade-old Jewish studies program to full department status, the university announced.

Beginning in mid-summer, the new department can add its own faculty and acquire a freer hand in cultivating its academic specialty, the modern Jewish experience, said Michael Cohen, its director.

In one sense, the change is evolutionary.

Tulane has promoted Jewish studies since the early 1980s.

It already grants bachelor of arts degrees in the field, and has about 30 majors, a third higher than just two years ago, Cohen said.

Today it operates with three full-time faculty members, but without the standing of a full academic department.

Under the less-robust standing as a Jewish studies program, students took courses from a few program faculty, supplemented with Jewish-themed courses in other departments: history, English, political science and so on, Cohen said.

That will continue, but the faculty will be beefed up by at least two additional professors the new department will hire on its own over the next year or two, Cohen said.

The new department will also have the long-term independence to develop its specialty on the Jewish experience in the modern world.

tulane-hanukkah-menorah.jpgView full sizeMichael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune archiveTulane University students holding candles look up at the flame lit at sundown on a giant menorah behind the Lavin-Bernick Center to mark the first night of Hanukkah in 2010.

Its first chairman will be Brian Horowitz, a specialist in Eastern European Jewish literature and history now on sabbatical.

Like most of the other 55 or so Jewish studies centers at American universities, Tulane’s approach is secular, not religious, Cohen said.

“We explore the Jewish experience from multiple angles: literature, political science, Middle Eastern politics.”

The program’s elevation to department status by vote of the College of Liberal Arts faculty says that “Jewish studies is not an afterthought. It’s a strong part of a liberal arts education, that to look at the Jewish experience from various viewpoints is important and productive,” Cohen said.

Last year Reform Judaism Magazine’s annual college edition reported that with a Jewish enrollment of about 32 percent of its student body, Tulane ranked ninth in the country among public and private universities in that category. It ranked No. 1 among secular universities with more than 5,000 students.

Cohen said that percentage of Jewish enrollment has probably climbed since Hurricane Katrina.

“Since then, I think the type of Jewish student at Tulane tends to be more Jewishly engaged. That stems from our focus on service here.

“People know that they’re coming down here to rebuild New Orleans as part of their Tulane education.”

JBuzz News February 29, 2012: Senator Carl Levin joins Eastern Michigan University for kick-off of Jewish Studies program

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EMU: Senator Carl Levin joins Eastern Michigan University for kick-off of Jewish Studies program (VIDEO)

Source: Heritage News, 2-29-12

U.S. Senator Carl Levin speaks at the kick-off celebration for Eastern Michigan University’s Jewish Studies program. The minor program began accepting students in fall 2011.

Eastern Michigan University kicked off its new minor program in Jewish Studies on Thursday afternoon in the ballroom of the EMU Student Center. The university was joined in its celebration by U.S. Senator Carl Levin, D – Michigan, who gave the keynote address on his upbringing, Jewish values, and the similarities between the Jewish experience and the immigrant experience.

VIDEO: Heritage Media was in attendance for Levin’s keynote address, and spoke to him briefly afterwards. Check out the video here

JBuzz News, February 9, 2012: Marc Ellis: Ken Starr Pulling “a Clinton” on a Jewish Studies Professor at Baylor University?

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Why is Marc Ellis on the outs at Baylor University?

Source: JTA, 2-10-12

Baylor University has suspended Marc Ellis, the director of its Jewish Studies program, for alleged sexual misconduct.

Beyond this, we can glean the following facts from this very long Religion Dispatches dispatch:

–Ellis denies the charges, which his lawyer says involved a former close female friend.

–His hearing is next month.

–Ellis is known for dissenting from conventional Jewish establishment pro-Israel orthodoxies.

–Ken Starr, or as RD puts it, “Yes, that Ken Starr,” is Baylor’s president.

According to RD — and not just RD, but the Middle East Studies Association and a petition stacked with left-leaning luminaries, including Ilan Pappe, Desmond Tutu and Cornel West — this adds up to Starr persecuting Ellis for his religious and political beliefs.

We don’t find out until the 11th paragraph — and then, parenthetically — that Baylor denies Starr is at all involved in the investigation.

We do learn that the American Assocation of University Professors believes it is wrong to suspend a professor on such charges before a hearing takes place. We never learn if this ever has been Baylor’s practice.

Instead we get an arc of presumption that starts off acknowledging that the facts that would underpin accusations of political persecution are simply not there, but concludes that they are there, well, just because.

This paragraph is illustrative:

It’s clear that Starr is a conservative Christian, yet his Israel politics are something of an unknown. Raised in a nondenominational Church of Christ, he would very likely have been exposed to Christian Zionist theology. Years later he joined the McLean Bible Church in Virginia, which he remained a member of years after having moved to California to take a position at the Church of Christ-affiliated Pepperdine University. Starr’s pastor at McLean, Jewish-born evangelical Lon Solomon, has been a board member of the Christian Zionist ministry Jews for Jesus for the past 25 years. It would be unusual were Starr not a Christian Zionist.

Got that? Starr’s Israel politics are unknown … but he’s probably a Christian Zionist.

Ken Starr Pulling “a Clinton” on a Jewish Studies Professor at Baylor U?

Source: Religious Dispatches, 2-9-12

Image credit: Callie Richmond, The Texas Tribune

The rabbi began, “I have a special blessing-slash-prayer for Judge Starr.”

Early September 2010: fresh from a five-year stint as Dean of Pepperdine Law School, Baylor University’s newly anointed president Ken Starr celebrated the High Holidays with his Jewish colleagues. A former federal judge, though best known as independent counsel overseeing the Whitewater investigation and the Monica Lewinsky affair, Starr’s name is often accompanied by “Clinton nemesis,” or “yes, that Ken Starr.”

Here was a conservative, evangelical Christian taking the helm of a Baptist school at a Days of Awe-themed luncheon at Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies. Starr’s host at this portrait of pluralism was Professor Marc Ellis, renowned Jewish theologian and vociferous critic of both Israeli policy and the American Jewish establishment.

“May you live to see your world fulfilled,” the rabbi continued, smiling at Starr, who sported a silk tie in Baylor’s official colors, green and gold. “May your destiny be for worlds still to come.” By the next Rosh Hashanah, in the fall of 2011, the Starr administration had stripped Marc Ellis of his teaching duties and effectively shuttered his Center for Jewish Studies. An internal Baylor University investigation was underway, the charges cloaked in secrecy.

Ellis, a tenured professor described as “deeply thoughtful and courageous” by the late Edward Said, will face a three-day dismissal hearing this March. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several faculty members with firsthand knowledge of the proceedings confirm that Ellis is being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct (or “misuses of God’s gift” as the faculty handbook has it). According to Baylor policy, misconduct is defined as “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts.” And so Ken Starr enters his golden years.

It’s unclear what exactly Ellis is on trial for, as neither Baylor nor Ellis would comment on the record about the nature of the charges. (One clue: no criminal charges have been filed against Ellis.) Roger Sanders, Ellis’ lawyer, says Baylor’s lawyers told him the internal process mandates nondisclosure, though Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman disputes this, telling RD that the charges can only be released with Ellis’ written permission.

Sanders says the investigation hinges on “bogus allegations.” One can only hope the result will not be another 336-page Starr Report—the $40 million product of the independent counsel’s four-year investigation, for which the beleaguered Monica Lewinsky was interrogated over 20 times. “‘You’re a pervert, Ken Starr,’” Lewinsky’s father once said he’d like to tell the former independent counsel.

In late November Cornel West, feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and other luminaries launched a change.org petition addressed to Starr, which has thus far gathered over 5,000 signatures. The petition asserts that the controversy “looks more and more like a persecution to silence a Jewish voice of dissent.”

“The charges,” reads a petition update, “are about ‘abuse of authority.’…Many of us were contacted several times by institutional lawyers who tried to persuade us to tell them examples of ‘abuse of authority’ he has exercised.”

According to Sanders, the investigation consisted of “sort of announc[ing] to people, ‘Here’s what Marc’s guilty of. Now tell us what you know about him.’” Fogleman claims no knowledge of the investigation’s procedures and declined to recommend officials who could answer questions about it.

As Ellis sees it, Starr, who “holds unassailable credentials in the American evangelical community,” has launched the investigation in order to replace him with “a different kind of Jew”—namely, “a right-wing, Israel-loving Jew that would cement [Starr’s] reputation with the right wing, like [Alan] Dershowitz.” (Fogleman says Starr has nothing to do with the investigation, which itself has “no relationship” to “Dr. Ellis’ positions on Israel and Palestine.”)*…READ MORE

Vanessa Ochs: A place to gather — New Brody Jewish Center at University of Virginia sparks discussion of Judaism

Vanessa Ochs: A place to gather — New Brody Jewish Center at University of Virginia sparks discussion of Judaism

Source: The Cavalier Daily, 4-26-11

Jewish life at the University found a renewed identity April 10, when the Brody Jewish Center building — Hillel’s 10,000 square-foot addition to its existing space at 1824 University Circle — officially opened.

“There’s now this glorious space to be Jewish in together and to invite others in to experience what Jewish life is like,” said Vanessa Ochs, associate professor of religious studies and member of the Jewish studies program. “The big difference is to have a glorious and capacious and welcoming space that doesn’t feel like a grandma’s attic, because that’s what it used to feel like.”

The new building, made possible by more than $2.4 million in private funding, including gifts from lead donors Dan (Class of 1973) and Nad Brody, features study spaces, student lounges, new offices and a dining room that can comfortably seat 180 students.

“We haven’t before had a space where you could comfortably fit 100, 150 students for services, high holidays,” said Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of the new center.

He said the University takes seriously the charge of creating facilities for students “to learn and to work.”

“Up until this point, Jewish students haven’t really had that at U.Va.,” Rubin said.

He added Jewish students felt “a sense of pride” in having a new facility to call their own.

“You can see on the faces of students when they walk into that building — they’re blown away,” Rubin said.

In terms of the University’s history, however, vibrant Jewish life is a relatively recent development, explained Phyllis Leffler, a professor in the history department.

“It’s very hard for us to say that there were active quotas or that there was active discrimination,” Leffler said. “But I do think it’s fair to say that the University was never perceived, until the mid-20th century, as a place where Jewish students felt particularly welcomed or comfortable.”

Few Jewish students attended the University during the 19th century, something Leffler chalks up to immigration patterns and the small number of Jews in the South, among other factors.

“In the 19th century, there was probably less of a view that higher education was even possible because so many people had come from immigrant families and entered into businesses,” Leffler said.
The early 20th century, however, saw a rise in the number of Jewish applicants.

“There was a belief, of course, and there always has been, that education was absolutely critical,” Leffler said. “By the early 20th century, there was a whole different group of people that were now looking to education as a way to achieve economic mobility.”

Formally or informally excluded from joining existing fraternities, students organized two chapters of Jewish fraternities in 1915: Zeta Beta Tau and Phi Epsilon Pi.

Leffler said these fraternities “created a sort of comfort zone” for Jewish men at the University amid growing national anti-Semitism.

“There was an upsurge of [anti-Semitism] in the immediate aftermath of World War I,” Leffler said. “Jews came with odd traditions, or so it appeared, and they became more of a scapegoat.”

In years following, she said, “there was a watchful eye over the number of applicants believed to be Jewish.”

Leffler said Ivey Lewis, appointed dean of the University in 1934, organized applicants into three categories: Virginians, non-Virginians and Hebrews.

Diverse applicants posed a threat to the sense the University had of itself as “a place for aristocratic Virginia gentlemen,” Leffler said.

But as Jewish faculty came in larger numbers in the 1960s, the tone of the University began to change.

“For every group of people, having role models that students can somehow see themselves in … is terribly important in terms of creating diversity at an institution,” Leffler said.

Jewish faculty members at the University also have made possible what Ochs described as “one of the finest Jewish studies programs in the country.”

“At many universities, Hillel might be the only place where a student can learn informally about Judaism,” Ochs said. But here, she said, students can explore their Jewish identities through “intensive academic study, which is often much more satisfying than the kind of Jewish study they might have done when they were children and forced to go to Hebrew school.”

Ochs said about 500 students a semester enroll in Jewish studies courses, working under 25 professors from various departments….READ MORE

Menachem Mor: Visiting professor to help in creation of Jewish studies program

Source: The Pendulum, Elon University, 4-26-11
Menachem Mor

Menachem Mor from the University of Haifa visited Elon University last week and plans to assist in the development of a Jewish studies program on campus. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

A professor of Jewish history from University of Haifa in Israel joined Elon University last week, with plans to assist the university as it develops a proposed Jewish studies program.

Menachem Mor spent the week with his friend Yoram Lubling, professor of philosophy at Elon. They wanted to spend the Passover holiday together, said Mor, who joined Elon Hillel for Passover Seder, a dinner that commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

“I was very impressed by the fact that it’s supported by the president,” Mor said of Elon’s Passover Seder. “It was a very impressive evening. It was a short version, but still, that’s enough.”

Lubling and Mor met 20 years ago at Creighton University in Nebraska, where Mor was the Klutznick Chair for Jewish Civilization and Lubling taught philosophy.

This year, Mor is a visiting professor of Jewish studies at the University of Virginia.

He will help in the creation and brainstorming of ideas for Elon’s program, which is still currently being developed. He served as the dean of the faculty of humanities at the University of Haifa for many years and has experience in Jewish studies.

During the next few years, Mor said he will be involved in conferences and sharing ideas for Elon’s program.

“I think it’s a great education process that will be very helpful for all of the students that are here,” he said. “First of all, Elon has a nice group of Jewish students. It will be a good occasion for them to study more about their Jewishness. For non-Jewish students it will be a nice opportunity to get acquainted, learn about Judaism and take away some of the stereotypes.”…READ MORE