Jewish Studies Hopes to Continue Growth in Spring Semester

Kaizad Irani ‘22

Staff Writer

As students are cementing their spring course schedules, they will have more opportunities to explore the emerging field of Jewish Studies at Davidson. Though most of the Jewish Studies classes offered in the spring are close to capacity, some students and professors have raised concerns that Jewish Studies 101—the only class not cross-listed through an already established department—still has over two-thirds  of its enrollment open. 

In the year since the doxxing of two Davidson students over neo-Nazi Tweets, steps have been taken to increase the presence of Jewish life and Jewish Studies at Davidson. Following the petition for a Jewish Studies department, which received over 1,100 signatures at the start of last spring semester, new interdisciplinary classes are being offered that are taught by recently hired visiting professors with expertise in Jewish Studies. 

Departments including German Studies, History, Anthropology, and Hispanic Studies offered classes related to Jewish Studies during the Fall 2019 semester or will be offering related classes next semester. One of those classes is “HIS 337: Anti-Semitism and Modern Europe,” taught by Visiting Professor, Dr. Ilana McQuinn. Dr. McQuinn came to Davidson after a candidate search last semester by the History department for a Professor of Modern European History and Jewish Studies. Members of the student working group who helped create the petition for a Jewish Studies department last semester participated in the History department’s interview and selection process. 

“[Anti-Semitism and Modern Europe] is an overview of how both Jews and non-Jews have lived with and responded to anti-Semitism,” said Dr. McQuinn. “We have looked at subjects such as Zionism and socialism as a Jewish political response to anti-Semitism, and are now moving into the post-war period and the rise in popularity of Jewish culture and tourism in contemporary Europe. Another component of the class is that students write op-eds. As historians, we need to be thinking about the importance of historical events and relate those back to contemporary issues.”

Gavin Greenhill ‘22, one of the students enrolled in HIS 337, shared why he chose to take the class and why it is a relevant topic. “With anti-Semitism rising in the U.S. and all over the world, I believe that the content of the class is extremely important,” expressed Greenhill. “I want to pursue taking more Jewish Studies classes. It is important that we keep these classes available, as Jewish people have a very rich and also very tragic history that many don’t know about.”

Another class offered this semester related to the interdisciplinary nature of Jewish Studies is “GER 452: Refugees in German Culture,” taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of German Studies, Dr. Emily Frazier-Rath. Her seminar explores the role of refugee culture in contemporary Germany and looks at the legacies of colonialism and genocide against minorities. 

Dr. Judith Lang Hilgartner is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies whose expertise lies in Latin American Jewish Studies. Next semester, Dr. Lang Hilgartner is teaching “SPA 310: Literature of Latinx Jews,” a course that focuses on writers after World War II that identify as Jewish and Hispanic. 

“It is important to highlight minority voices in literature. I want to bring awareness to the unique experience of those who identify as Jewish or Latinx and that have contributed literary works that are not always represented,” said Dr. Lang Hilgartner. “I want to broaden the scope of Jewish Studies. It is not just equivalent to the Holocaust, but rather encompasses a wide array of topics and interests.”

Along with the variety of courses related to Jewish Studies being taught within different departments, next semester will see the first stand-alone Jewish Studies class, through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. The course, “CIS 140: Intro to Jewish Studies,” will be taught by the newly hired Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies, Dr. Tamara Neuman. 

Dr. Neuman is currently teaching two Anthropology courses, including “ANT 211: Anti-Semitism & Islamophobia,” which looks at the relationship between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

According to Dr. Neuman, “Intro to Jewish Studies” will be a foundational study of the narratives, values, and key social dilemmas faced by Jewish communities specifically in the U.S., Latin America, and the Middle East. Beyond studying key religious themes in Judaism, the course will also discuss the ethnic and racial aspects of Jewish identity, the strategies and dilemnas around Holocaust memorialization, and the complexity of the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

“I think an ‘Intro to Jewish Studies’ course can be taught in a variety of ways,” said Dr. Neuman. “This class will not be strictly a religious, textual analysis of Judaism. Given my background in Anthropology, I am going to focus on questions of Jewish identity and lived religion as a range of social issues and dilemmas faced by contemporary Jewish communities, including that of Israeli state-formation and the Israel-Palestine.”

Current Co-President of the Jewish Student Union (JSU) Josh Lodish ‘22 believes that Jewish Studies is a vital way for students to learn about interesting and important topics, as well as help combat anti-Semitism across the world. 

“The push for Jewish Studies came from the sad reality of Jewish life in America and at colleges, including Davidson,” expressed Lodish. “If we claim to be a community that values the expansion of knowledge, as well as one that fights against hatred, we need to educate ourselves through Jewish Studies.”

“Additionally, although the reality of Jewish life in America has many components associated with anti-Semitism, it is not only that. Ask yourself, what do you really know about Jewish life and culture outside the context of anti-Semitism, bagels, and Hanukkah? This is not a guilty plea, but rather a simple statement to encourage Davidson students to learn about what they may be ignorant towards and expand their knowledge,” Lodish continued. 

Currently, the class has nine spots filled out of a max of thirty. However, professors interviewed for this article were not overly concerned with the level of interest in Jewish Studies at Davidson. 

Dr. McQuinn said that one of the challenges facing CIS 140 is that “without a dedicated Jewish Studies department the class is standing alone,” and does not fulfilled major or minor requirements. “We hope that there will be the creation of a minor and major for Jewish Studies in the future. In order for it to take hold at Davidson, it will be essential that it continues to have faculty in a variety of different departments because of the inherently interdisciplinary nature of Jewish Studies.” According to the course catalog, Intro to Jewish Studies will fulfill the Social-Scientific Thought and Cultural Diversity distribution requirements.

“I believe most of the Jewish Studies-related courses being taught this semester and next semester are pretty full. I think it speaks to the prominence and motive for Jewish studies,” said Dr. Hilgartner. “I am not concerned with the relatively small enrollment in CIS 140. We have made a lot of advancements this year, and it takes some time to build popularity in new classes.” 

A joint statement provided to The Davidsonian by the Visiting Faculty for the Jewish Studies Initiative, including Dr. Neuman, Dr. McQuinn, Dr. Lang Hilgartner, and Dr. Frazier-Rath, shared how they are working with members of the JSU and other student groups to “bring greater visibility to Jewish issues on campus.” Initiatives include more programming with Jewish content through speakers, a reading group, and a lunch table at Vail Commons. Additionally, they believe their integrated Jewish Studies offerings are part of an ongoing effort to diversify Davidson and look forward to collaborating with other groups such as the Asian-American Initiative, Africana Studies, and Latin American Studies. Their full statement can be downloaded below.

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