by Kristine Sholty '11
A team of Kalamazoo College faculty, backed by the support of dedicated students, created the formal Jewish Studies concentration at "K." Approved this past June, the concentration requires students to question complex historical phenomena, explore the relationship between majority and minority social groups as well as religion and secularity, and interpret the formation of one's own identity.
The array of courses surveys a spectrum of subjects including history, religion, political science, and foreign language. The result is "Jewish literacy," an awareness of the past's effect on the present and future of Jewish tradition.
Since 2005, Associate Professor of History and Religion Jeffrey Haus has taught various classes that have prompted students to pursue Jewish Studies. Rising student interest in the subject culminated in June 2010, when faculty members came together to create a constitution for the concentration.
Long before the concentration's official institution, many students embarked on their own endeavors of Jewish Studies. Jennie Smith '08 had a deep relationship with Jewish Studies at "K" even before its official designation as a concentration. She attended several Jewish studies courses and was deeply involved in "K's" Jewish Student Organization. She also spent a summer interning with the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. After graduating, she spent a year with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corporation, a program to fight poverty in the American-Jewish community.
Involvement like Smith's helped the program grow in strength and size. The concentration's courses stretch over four years and connect with study abroad and service-learning opportunities, as well as several themes for Senior Individualized Projects.
In past years, students' journeys in Jewish Studies began with Haus' a first-year seminar about immigration, community and identity, and how those issues relate to a college student's own distinct path. On the other end of the continuum, Smith completed her immersion in Jewish Studies with a SIP focusing on American Jewish philanthropy and community building. "It was rooted in social justice and philanthropy and has been the foundation for my career path and my passion," says Smith.
K'tanaw Schiff '10 was fascinated with the diverse intricacies of Jewish culture and community compared with other religions. Because Jewish Studies had yet to become an official concentration at the time, she graduated with an independent interdisciplinary minor in Jewish Culture and Identity.
"I found that the Jewish Studies courses allowed me to critically engage in materials, dialogues, and debates on a level I had never experienced before," Schiff says. "The texts for these classes were from multiple backgrounds and opinions, and they brought forth discussions on controversial topics in the Jewish community." K'tanaw was drawn to "K" because of Haus's Jewish Studies courses. She knew that she would be an integral part of the program's growth and development, a constant supporter of the local Jewish community, and a strong activist in the Jewish Studies Organization.
The Jewish Studies program has sponsored many events and lectures that have further enhanced coursework. Among the numerous scholars who have come to support Jewish Studies is Rabbi Michael Ungar '85, who returned to "K" to lecture about his mission to help the Jews of Cuba in April 2008. During this visit to Kalamazoo, he also spoke to Haus' American Jewish Experience class regarding his role as a congregational rabbi in contemporary America.
In winter of 2010, Professor Anthony Polonsky of Brandeis University and the Holocaust Memorial Museum came to deliver the lecture "Coming to Terms with the Dark Past: Confronting the Holocaust in Poland and Lithuania." He also visited Dr. Haus's Zionism class to discuss the history of that movement in Poland.
Each year, a greater number of the diverse
"Jewish life is a multicultural gem waiting to be explored."students at "K," representing a variety of ethnic backgrounds, are curious about the history and impact of Judaism in all aspects of life. For this reason, Haus believes that the Jewish Studies concentration will continue to gain ground at Kalamazoo College.
Schiff agrees: "Most of the students taking these courses were not Jewish, and that was the best part of the Jewish Studies classes at 'K.' I could share my background and previous knowledge while hearing everyone else's point of view."
With time, Haus hopes to develop more classes, forums, and lectures - the more courses that are available in this concentration, the more specialized they can become. Smith and Schiff are among the many students at "K" who firmly believe in the program's multiple opportunities. "Without Jewish Studies and the mentorship of Dr. Haus," says Smith, "I never would have found my passion for social justice, or the courage to pursue that passion outside of the academic community."
Step by step, this new "K" concentration opens students' eyes as they move forward to form a better world reflecting fresh perspectives. "Jewish life," says Haus, "is a multicultural gem waiting to be explored."
Jewish Studies core courses for academic year 2010-2011
- Introduction to Jewish Traditions
- Jews in a Changing Europe, 1750-1880
- The American Jewish Experience
- Zionism: from Idea to State
- Politics of the Holocaust
- Visiting professor Taylor Petrey will contribute two courses a year to the program, beginning in Spring 2011.
Professor Anthony Polonsky (right) and Jeff Haus.
Polonsky delivers a lecture on Zionism in Lithuania and Poland.
The occasion of Jewish Studies lecture by Rabbi Michael Ungar '85 brought together (l-r): Jennie Smith '08, Jeffrey Haus, Ungar, and K'tanaw Schiff '10.