Don’t Tell Me I’m Next

On June 6, 2010, Hebrew College celebrated its 85th commencement. I graduated with two masters degrees: one in Jewish Studies, the other in Jewish education. I was incredibly honored to be one of two student speakers at the graduation ceremony. What follows is the speech I delivered at graduation.

My relationship to Hebrew College is somewhat different from many of my fellow graduates, although far from unique in the history of the school. I am a graduate of Prozdor, the high school of Hebrew College – class of 1995; I am now the associate director of Prozdor and the director of Makor, Hebrew College’s middle school collaboration with community congregations; and today I am graduating with both the Masters Degree in Jewish Studies and the Masters in Jewish Education. Hebrew College has been many things to me – the birthplace of many important friendships; a laboratory for testing out Jewish ideas; a supportive environment for professional growth; and most importantly a family.  It is particularly meaningful that my graduation is also a day honoring Dr. Stephen Simons, who was my first supervisor and cheerleader in the world of professional Judaism when I worked at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, as well as Margie Berkowitz, who was my teacher when I was a teenager, and before that my mother’s camp counselor at Camp Yavneh, but most importantly, a dear friend and beloved colleague and mentor. My first week on the job at the college, I attended the brit milah of Margie’s youngest grandchild; yesterday I celebrated with her family the bar mitzvah of one of her eldest; it’s fitting that my time at the college is book-ended by these smachot, these family celebrations, because when we refer to Prozdor as a family, we really mean it.

Earlier this year, when it became clear that I would, in fact, complete my degrees this June, people began asking me about what would come next. I’m sure many of my classmates fielded the same question. Now, I’ve been taking classes part-time for eight years towards these degrees, so to be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that graduation might necessitate a next step.

In retrospect, this should have been obvious. The Jewish community is in a state of perpetual anticipation. Maybe this is a natural state for a people waiting for the messiah. I came of age in the era of “Jewish Continuity,” when federations around the country feared that the forces of assimilation were laying waste to Judaism at such a rate that Jews might not be around in a couple of generations if we didn’t take action. While researching my masters thesis, I learned that this was not a new communal stance, just a new label.  In my parents’ generation, the call to arms was “Jewish Survivalism.”  Today, we instead talk about strengthening Jewish identity. But whatever you call it, these phrases all tend to mask the same shared anxiety: will there be Jews left on earth after we’re gone. Continue reading

The Jewish Advocate: Boston College to launch Jewish studies program

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.

CHESTNUT HILL – In an unusual move for a Catholic university, Boston College is unveiling a Jewish studies program this fall.

Initially, students will be able to minor in Jewish studies by taking six courses in that curriculum during their time at B.C. What makes the Jewish studies minor unique is that classes will be offered from nine different departments, including English, fine arts, history, music, philosophy, romance languages, Slavic and eastern languages, sociology and theology.

“We were struck by the large number of Jewish faculty on the campus and the significant number of courses that had a fairly hefty Jewish content in them already,” said program co-director Dwayne E. Carpenter. “What we wanted to do is to organize these disparate courses into a cohesive program that would enable students to better take advantage of B.C.’s rich curricular offerings.”  Continue reading

The Jewish Advocate: Profs gather for program about teaching on Israel

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.

WALTHAM — More than 20 professors from universities around the world recently gathered at Brandeis University to complete a two-week intensive study of Zionism and Israel, followed by a weeklong seminar in Israel.

Now in its second year, the Summer Institute for Israel Studies is intended to assist professors in the design of new courses for their curricula on Israel.

The institute was established by Brandeis in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee’s Dorothy and Julius Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations to increase the quality and scope of Israel studies courses being offered on the campuses of universities throughout North America.  Continue reading