Welcome to the inaugural issue of AJS Member News!
This new bi-monthly publication is entirely member-focused, and will feature articles, accomplishments and announcements, media features and interviews, new member introductions, and more.
We will continue to expand and transform this publication over the next several issues, as we work to best highlight you and your colleagues.
We hope you'll join us in celebrating your fellow members and the diversity of Jewish Studies. We also hope you'll share with us your accomplishments, media features, and research – so that we may feature you in a future issue!
Like many of my colleagues, I initially found it difficult to concentrate on academic research and writing when the pandemic forced me to stay at home. Since I specialize in the depictions of Jews, Jewish history, and Jewish themes in movies and television programs, I rationalized my procrastination by bingeing on both for much of my day. It quickly dawned on me that others might be searching for similar fare to fill the free time they now had. On March 20, 2020 I compiled my first list of Jewish movies and programs available for streaming and posted it in a local online Jewish newspaper and on the AJS website. I named it “B’nai Binge.”
I have continued to prepare such lists throughout the past 16 months. Their content gradually shifted from relatively short entries about Jewish feature films, podcasts, television shows, and on-line video archives of past lectures and performances to increasingly lengthy calendars of live Jewish cultural events, conferences and lectures streamed on zoom and similar platforms. In this article I’ll discuss this development which has endowed us with a plethora of virtual Jewish Studies programming and what it portends for the future of the field.
I became aware of how sheltering at home was changing the venues for Jewish Studies programming when several in-person lectures I was slated to deliver at the beginning of April were cancelled, but thereafter rescheduled for presentation via Zoom. I perused websites from a variety of potential programming sources to ascertain how common this practice was and soon realized that Jewish institutions like JCCs, museums, organizations, and synagogues had adapted quickly to the sudden dearth of study and worship opportunities created by the Covid-19 lockdowns. I compiled my first “B’nai Binge” event list in May of 2020, and, the lists that followed steadily grew during the course of the summer from a weekly average of 12 events that month to 32 by August.
Since I tailored “B’nai Binge” for academic Jewish Studies scholars, I usually excluded Jewish enrichment courses, popular entertainment, Talmud and Torah study groups, and virtual tours of Jewish galleries, historical sites, and museums targeted at lay audiences. The “My Jewish Learning” website, however, picked up on the proliferation of this kind of programming and started listing Jewish classes, events, and religious prayer and study groups in July of 2020. By December it introduced “The Hub,” an extensive daily directory of Jewish activities and events available online. Despite some duplication of concerts and lectures that appear on “The Hub,” “B’nai Binge” provides greater coverage of lectures, roundtables, and scholarly book launches organized by Holocaust, Israel, and Jewish Studies centers, departments, and programs at colleges and universities.
In the early months of the pandemic, most of the events listed in “B’nai Binge” emanated from a handful of Jewish institutions, organizations, and universities which nimbly navigated the transition from in-person programs to virtual ones. It was not surprising that among them were places that previously furnished copious public programming like the American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education which the school has supplemented with a new digital platform B’Yachad Together, the Center for Jewish History and its affiliated archives and organizations, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in New York, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Vilna Shul in Boston. A few local organizations like the Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix and the Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program in Newport Beach have emerged during the pandemic as prolific purveyors of exceptional Jewish cultural and educational events. For example, the latter’s offerings currently average around 15 per month and reach viewers in 38 states and 12 countries via Zoom. Assessing the abundance of digitally accessible Jewish programming last summer, Gil Graff, the executive director of Builders of Jewish Education, remarked, “We live during a renaissance of Jewish learning.”
In the same period there was a paucity of lectures being zoomed by Jewish Studies departments and programs at secular colleges and universities as they scrambled to restructure courses and train faculty to teach remotely, cancelled upcoming lectures, and went on hiatus during the summer. Scholarly conferences that managed to be held last spring like the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region meeting in mid-March of 2020 prefigured the virtual format of conferences and symposia for the duration of the pandemic.
By the opening of the fall semester, Jewish Studies departments and programs had adjusted to the limitations imposed by Covid-19 and scheduled many virtual outreach events. These rapidly constituted a forty to fifty percent of the entries on “B’nai Binge” in any one week. The average number of listings grew from 45 in September, 72 in October, and 90 by November before it dropped the last half of December with semesters ending and winter vacations commencing. It then climbed to an average of around 100 per week after the New Year and has remained at that level. The actual number is probably higher since I simply can’t check every possible source of programming and frequently don’t receive notifications of lectures and other events in time to meet my weekly deadline for submitting “B’nai Binge.” And frankly considerable numbers of Jewish Studies departments and programs do a rather poor job of updating their websites and Facebook pages [you know who you are]. To improve the comprehensiveness of the lists, I recently began collating my lists with a calendar of streamed Jewish Studies events that Rachel Gross started in February of 2021 and Jason Lustig now maintains. It gets posted on the Jewish History Matters Facebook page and Twitter account.
Book launches, lectures, and roundtables comprise the bulk of Jewish Studies programs covering the gamut of subjects within the field. Amidst this varied program, there have been many events devoted to timely topics like Jews and racism, the Abraham Accords, the Israeli elections, and Jewish historical and rabbinical responses to epidemics. Based on my anecdotal experiences as both a provider and consumer of Zoom lectures, it appears they draw larger and more diverse audiences than their in-person counterparts. The ease of recording on Zoom and the conversion of recordings into links archived on the websites of the sponsoring departments and programs have rendered ephemeral occasions into permanently accessible videos.
There are economic benefits to remote programs too. Sponsoring outside speakers always has been an expensive investment requiring payments for honoraria, hotel costs, meals, room rentals, and transportation. Zoom and other streaming platforms have eliminated most of these costs and speakers do not seem to be charging their regular fees probably because they do not have to travel to participate in these events. These savings and the geographical accessibility Zoom affords have encouraged collaborative ventures among Jewish Studies programs not located in the same cities and towns, as well as partnerships with nearby and distant Jewish communal organizations. The lower expenditures also apparently account for the increasing usage of guest speakers in Jewish Studies courses and the pandemic practice of overloading lectures and roundtables with too many discussants thereby shortening the time each has to talk, and, in my opinion, contributing to needless repetition.
What role will Zoom and similar platforms play in the future of Jewish Studies when things return to a semblance of normality? This is a question that will be hotly debated in the coming year. As academic organizations grapple with how to organize their conferences, they must weigh several issues. Despite the annoying technological glitches that plague Zoom and the pent up yearning for face to face interactions, they must take into account the inexpensiveness of staging virtual conferences and how that enables more foreign scholars and graduate students to afford to participate in them. The downside of remote attendance is that it is tempting for someone to go only to the panel on which he, she, or they is a presenter reducing the audience size at most sessions.
The AJS has announced its intention to hold an entirely in-person conference and rightly pointed out that the costs of having hybrid meetings would be prohibitive. The Executive Committee of the Western Jewish Studies Association of which I’m president is currently considering several possibilities for its annual conference next spring ranging from an in-person format, to a predominantly in-person conference with a number of timeslots designated for virtual presentations, to accommodating special requests for remote presentations from scholars from abroad or graduate students with limited funding. Nonetheless, academic organizations must prepare contingency plans in case a surge of Covid-19 recurs shortly before their conferences are scheduled.
In the post-pandemic era each Jewish Studies department and program will determine the extent to which remote learning will comprise how courses and outreach programming will be delivered. I anticipate that most will resume traditional modes of instruction with the resort to Zoom reserved for guest speakers, special events, and times when faculty are on the road, but don’t want to cancel a class. As we transition back to the good old days of students in classrooms and community members in lecture halls and auditoriums, I hope there is still a place for Zoom so we can take advantage of the lower costs, greater collaborative opportunities, and larger audience reach that Zoom has proven it can achieve
Laurie Baron held the Nasatir Chair in Modern Jewish History at San Diego State University from 1988 until 2012. He is the author of Projecting the Holocaust into the Present: The Changing Focus of Contemporary Holocaust Cinema (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) and editor of The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema (Brandeis University Press, 2011). He served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Jewish Studies from 2003 to 2006.
• Benjamin Gladstone (New York University)
• Rachel Furst (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
• Alyssa M. Gray (Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion)
• Chaya T. Halberstam (King’s University College, at the University of Western Ontario)
• Marc Herman (Harvard University)
• Hanan Mazeh (Ben Gurion University of the Negev)
• Vered Noam (Tel Aviv University)
Rabbi Aaron Adler (Herzog College, Jerusalem) has been awarded the Daniel Jeremy Silver Fellowship at Harvard University for spring 2022, where he plans to complete his book on Maimonidean Studies.
Matthew Baigell was selected as part of the inaugural cohort of “16 over 61” persons spotlighted for "creativity, leadership, and initiative" by the Forward and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s Wechsler Center for Modern Aging.
Lila Corwin Berman (Temple University) is the recipient of the 2021 Ellis W. Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians for her book, The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The History of a Multibillion-Dollar Institution.
Erez DeGolan (Columbia University) has been named a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars.
Zev Eleff (Hebrew Theological College) has been selected as president of Gratz College.
Daniella L. Farah (Stanford University) is the new Samuel W. and Goldye Marian Spain Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program in Jewish Studies at Rice University.
Jay Geller (Vanderbilt University), Professor of Modern Jewish Culture, has received emeritus faculty status.
Sara Halpern (Ohio State University) has been appointed as Visiting Assistant Professor at St. Olaf College for the 2021–2022 academic year.
Christine Hayes (Yale University) has received one of Yale's highest faculty honors in being appointed Sterling Professor of Religious Studies, which is awarded to a tenured professor considered the best in his/her field.
Daniel M. Herskowitz (University of Oxford) has been awarded The Salo W. and Jeannette M. Baron Young Scholars Award for Scholarly Excellence in Research of the Jewish Experience, awarded by the University of Vienna.
Sarit Kattan Gribetz (Fordham University) received a National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend for the project “A Women’s History of Jerusalem,” to conduct research in Jerusalem for the history of women in the city, from ancient times to present day.
Dalit Katz (Wesleyan University) was promoted to Adjunct Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University.
Alexander Kaye (Brandeis University) received the 2021 Young Scholar Award from the Association for Israel Studies.
Michail Kitsos (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor) has been awarded the Michael S. Bernstein Dissertation Prize in Judaic Studies from the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.
Amy-Jill Levine (Vanderbilt University), University Professor of New Testament Studies, Mary Jane Werthan Chair of Jewish Studies, and University Professor of Jewish Studies has received emerita faculty status. She has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Maud Mandel (Williams College) was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Brown University.
Kenneth Moss (Johns Hopkins University) will join the University of Chicago History Department as a tenured professor.
Renee Perelmutter (University of Kansas) has had their latest book, The Four Profound Weaves, shortlisted for the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Nebula Awara, and is a finalist for the 2021 Ignyte and Locus awards.
Lior Sternfeld (Pennsylvania State University) has been promoted to associate professor of history and Jewish Studies in the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts at the Pennsylvania State University.
Miriam Udel (Emory University) received the Reference Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries as part of their Reference and Bibliography Awards for her book Honey on the Page: A Treasury of Yiddish Children’s Literature.
Sunny Yudkoff (University of Wisconsin) has been awarded one of the University of Wisconsin’s Distinguished Teaching Awards, the William H. Kiekhofer Teaching Award.
Becka Alper and Alan Cooperman were the primary researchers for the Pew Jewish Americans in 2020 survey. Read the complete report.
“I was intrigued by the idea that creating something with your hands could be understood as a religious practice and have an intimate connection to religious identity.”
Jodi Eichler Levine was interviewed by Religion & Politics about her research into Jewish crafting. Read more.
Roger Horowitz was featured in the University of Delaware research magazine for his work with students on an oral history project through the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware. Read more.
“It was immensely challenging to try to develop something that would be at once clear and unambiguous on key issues, and sensitive to nuance and the range of experiences of those in a student body so diverse as Berkeley’s.”
Ethan Katz helped develop the “Berkeley Model” educational program designed to combat antisemitism on college campuses. Read more.
Annie Polland is leading major changes in the NYC Tenement Museum business model and working to diversify its sources of revenue. Read more.
“Here we have a history of North African Jews in their own words in Arabic through the music, which is traditional and popular and everything in between.”
Chris Silver is creating an archive of North African Jewish early 20th century music. Read more.
Ori Z. Soltes curated the exhibition Authenticity and Identity at Adas Israel Congregation, which looks at how artists respond to and reflect Jewish identity. View the exhibit online.
Sarah Bunin Benor
Marc Zvi Brettler
Dara Ellen Goldman & Itai Seggev
Christine Hayes & Michael Della Rocca
David Zvi Kalman
Maya Balakirsky Katz
Miriamne Ara Krummel
Lital Levy & Kenneth Reisman
Moshe & Lynne Rosman
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Submission Guidelines for Announcements in AJS Member News
AJS Member News welcomes announcements about members' special accomplishments, such as book awards, national fellowships and scholarships, teaching awards, election to national/international academic societies, and new appointments and promotions. Unfortunately, we do not have space to post announcements about publications or conference presentations.
In coordination with AJS, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature invites you to celebrate your 2021 book. The deadline to submit is October 13, 2021. There will be NO submissions accepted after this date. Books will be listed in a dedicated catalog online. Learn more.