Kaizad Irani ‘22
In the midst of picking classes for next semester, students may have come across a new History course titled, “History 337: Topics in Jewish History.” The work and petition of a student collective ensured this inaugural position in the wake of last semester’s doxxing incident.
The petition for a Jewish Studies Department was released at the start of the Spring semester and received over 1,100 signatures. The general vision for the department was that it would be an interdisciplinary program, consisting of classes dealing with Jewish literature, archaeology, politics, culture, and history. The working group gained inspiration from some of the Jewish Studies programs at Davidson’s peer institutions, such as Williams College and Colgate University.
“A lot of students felt that there is a lack of cultural fluency with Jewish studies and history at Davidson,” expressed a leader of the student-working group, Dahlia Krutkovich ‘21. “Jewish life here is mostly student-driven, and I think we need to expand that to the faculty. It is very important to have someone who can speak intelligently on these issues and that has a doctorate in Jewish studies and issues.”
The history department is in the process of hiring a two-year Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern European History and Jewish Studies. The professor will be in charge of creating a curriculum for the class being offered next semester. Members of the student-working group were present and active in the History department’s interviews and selection process for the hiring of the new professor.
“Our hope is that students will find in the course, whatever the specific topic will be, an opportunity to develop a broader understanding of Jewish history in a European context and use that as a stepping-stone toward a more contextualized appreciation for the place of Jews in the modern world, including Davidson,” shared Professor and Chair of the History Department, Dr. Michael Guasco.
Along with the Jewish Studies class being offered next semester under the History department, there will be two additional Jewish Studies related courses listed for Spring 2020. The college has also received a donation for a new three year visiting-Professor position. That position will focus on Jewish identity, rather than history.
“The History Department will be making a more concerted effort to offer courses that speak to Jewish History, Anti-Semitism, Jewish Thought and Politics, and so forth,” said Dr. Guasco. “Our hope would be to build on that going forward , but our ability to do so will depend on what the institution as whole has to say about it. Certainly, I believe there is institutional commitment to making it easier for students – all students – to develop a better appreciation for a history that too often gets ignored.”
Students interested in Jewish Studies can also take classes outside of the historical realm. The Religious Studies Department has and will continue to provide courses on the theological aspect of the subject.
“Professor Karl Plank has been teaching Jewish Studies courses in the Religious Studies Department for many years, including courses on Modern Jewish Literature and Modern Jewish Thought,” expressed Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies department, Dr. Trent Foley. “He has also written a book that explores the possibility of empathizing with Holocaust victims, yet in a way that does not trivialize its horror [Mother of the Wire Fence: Inside and Outside the Holocaust], not to mention a number of articles and book reviews in the area of Jewish Studies.”
Students and faculty alike believe that the movement for a Jewish Studies Department will help Davidson be more inclusive and diverse.
“The Jewish Studies Department is undoubtedly a need here at Davidson for so many reasons,” said member of the student-working group and co-president of Davidson’s Hillel organization, Josh Lodish ‘22. “At a strongly Christian school like Davidson, I have found being Jewish to be somewhat isolating. At times there is a disconnect among my peers, not born out of any ill-will, but simply from a lack of knowledge. A Jewish Studies department would help to address these gaps in our awareness of other cultures, and I believe would be incredibly beneficial to our campus community.”
“Ultimately, we want Jewish life to be more equitable and sustainable on campus,” said Krutkovich. “I am really excited for the coming positions and to see their success. I hope they find Davidson a nourishing home for academics, as well as social and cultural experiences.”
Update: It is also worth acknowledging that forms of Jewish Studies have been offered in Davidson’s curriculum in the past, primarily through the Religious Studies Department. Dr. Karl Plank has been teaching Jewish Studies courses through the Religious Studies Department for a number of years. Next semester, Dr. Plank will be teaching “REL 244: Modern Jewish Literature,” which focuses on Jewish literature and a study of modern Midrash.