When I was asked to join the distinguished group of signatories to the Statement on Jewish Vitality, I was pleased to do so. I am not, by disposition, a hand-wringer. If anything, I tend towards optimism. But I agree that the American Jewish community faces a set of significant challenges that we should not ignore.
This, I think, is the main message of the statement. Many of the signatories differ about the specific policy recommendations, the most obvious being the one about tax policies related to day school tuition – a recommendation that is surely far too tentative for some, and wholly anathema for others. And as some have already noted, these ideas are hardly revolutionary. But that’s the point. We already have a toolkit of well-developed and well-documented ways to build stronger Jewish communities. What we seem not to have is a communal and philanthropic commitment to support them, or a sense of urgency in doing so.
I was pleased that the invitation to sign the statement also included the encouragement to offer commentary or additional perspectives. The goal, in other words, is to provoke discussion. In that spirit, I offer three caveats:
Lila Corwin Berman, of Temple University, and Noam Pianko, of the University of Washington, contribute this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.
In 1939, sociologist Robert Lynd published a polemical book called Knowledge for What? The book was a call to rethink why scholars studied what they did, and what their work had to do with the world in which they lived, and it came to mind as we thought about gathering a group of Jewish studies directors together. We found ourselves asking, “Jewish studies for what?” Continue reading
Sarah Benor, associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, contributes this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I became interested in Jewish languages as a college student. Initially I had only heard of Yiddish, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Judeo-Arabic, but eventually I learned about endangered languages/dialects like Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Malayalam (from Southern India), and Judeo-Tadjik (Bukharan, from Uzbekistan), as well as emerging languages/dialects like Jewish English, Jewish French, and Jewish Hungarian. For the past two decades, I have been researching and teaching about the phenomenon of Jewish languages, and I find great satisfaction in sharing what I’ve learned with scholars and students.
But classroom teaching, academic publications, and conference presentations have limited reach. Only a few dozen students each year encounter my ideas in the classroom, and given that linguistics and Jewish studies are both small fields, maybe a few hundred people hear my presentations or read my articles. Continue reading