A few years ago, I published my second book, The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical, and I had the opportunity to deliver lectures on it around the country from the Skirball Center in LA to the Library of Congress in DC. I was extremely proud of this publication, a book that allowed me to bring together my love for the American musical with my training as a literary and cultural scholar. What was maybe surprising for some people, though, is why I wrote this book at all. “You don’t work at a university. Who is this book for?” a few friends asked. At this point in my career, I had made the decision to leave teaching and academia and had no pressing need to “publish or perish.” Indeed, with a full-time job of my own, it was sometimes hard to carve out hours to write and research. But like many writers, I felt compelled to do this project; it was just something I had to do. These ideas would keep me up at night, and I knew that they needed to be shared with a wider audience. And while my book was published with an academic press (Rutgers University), I made the decision to write the book in a way that would appeal both to scholars as well as to lay audiences (e.g. lovers of musical theater) who might not possess specific training in race or performance theory. As much as this book was about my own passion for a particular topic, I was eager to share my ideas with the larger world in the hope that theater lovers might rethink their assumptions about the Broadway musical, especially around ideas concerning race and ethnicity.
I share this biographical tidbit because many of you, like me, are motivated by a passion for learning, knowledge, and intellectual discovery. It does not matter in what field or arena you work; we are people who are excited by ideas and we love to share such ideas with colleagues, students, and the public. As I step into the role of Executive Director here at the Association for Jewish Studies, I am excited to be leading a learned society whose raison d’etre is to support its members in their academic explorations and their desire to wander down and seek out undiscovered paths of knowledge. From our multiple publications to the annual flagship conference, the AJS will continue to be an anchor and resource for all of you who are engaged in the world of Jewish Studies.
At the same time, the academic world, as many of you know, has been changing, and the AJS is looking at new ways to serve its members. From its webinar series to professional development panels at the conference to other forthcoming initiatives, the AJS aims to be a resource for Jewish Studies scholars and professionals whether their life is within a university setting or outside the academic world. Academia may be changing, but a love for robust scholarship and the drive of intellectual curiosity are not disappearing; in fact, they must be supported more than ever. I hope as I get to meet many of you in the coming weeks and months that you will share with me your own stories of why you do Jewish Studies, what excites you about the field, and what challenges you are facing. In this fashion, the AJS can work to remain ever relevant in your lives as we adapt to a changing world where scholarship and the humanities will exist in new and yet undiscovered ways and formats.
Warren Hoffman is the new Executive Director for the Association for Jewish Studies. Prior to that, he was the Associate Director of the Center of Jewish Life and Learning at Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and he also served over five years as the Senior Director of Programming at the Gershman Y where he innovated numerous new programs and was named the "next wave" of Jewish culture by the Jewish Exponent.