By Brittany Britto
University of Maryland’s Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies intends to go above and beyond the traditional Jewish 101, incorporating new interdisciplinary classes and revamped material this fall and for semesters to come.
Jewish studies faculty and the Meyerhoff Center, in the wake of its 40th anniversary, have recognized that times have changed.
“Over the past four years, there has been a decrease in [the study of] Jewish history,” said Meyerhoff Director Charles Manekin, who teaches this semester’s Fundamental Concepts of Judaism (JWST250), a restructured introduction to the basics of Judaism and Jewish history.
“We’re trying to reach out on topics we think are interesting and nontraditional, while also focusing on topics that represent traditional subjects in a new way. We want to attract students and be receptive to what they want,” Manekin said.
This fall alone, Meyerhoff offered students new and restructured content in eight different courses, including new courses like Alternative Voices in Israeli Media and Popular Culture (JWST289F) taught by Professor Ali Mahalel, and Professor Shirelle Doughty’s course, Beyond Black and White: Jews and Representations of Race (JWST325).
“It is a compliment to a lot of Jewish and Israeli history,” Doughty said, who analyzes a broader concept of race through a Jewish lens in her class this semester. “The course looks at different perspectives so that even students that have experience in Jewish History can gain a new perspective.”
“I’ve learned history before, but this is learning about how race is reviewed throughout history, which I don’t think you get in a normal history class,” senior psychology major Nathan Lenet said of Doughty’s course, which he decided to take as an elective to expand his knowledge after a summer of working in the psychiatric ward of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem.
Doughty will also teach a Hebrew literature course for Hebrew enthusiasts in Spring 2015. The course, taught in Hebrew, will analyze short stories in depth and explore the politics of literature, said Doughty.
While Hebrew is valued at Meyerhoff, the Center is loosening the Hebrew language requirements for Jewish Studies majors, Manekin said, and also gives the option for students to delve deeper into Yiddish with Elementary Yiddish II (JWST282), a course for students interested in the historical and controversial language’s revival.
“We, at Meyerhoff, always want to take care of our various constituents and their interests,” Manekin said. “We also want to create courses that compete in the marketplace that is the university.”
Jewish Studies’ recent collaboration with UMD’s General Education program I-Series has aided Meyerhoff in course competition, according to Manekin. Courses categorized in the I-Series program are considered contemporary and non-traditional in approach, intending to rear student’ imaginations and stimulate big picture thinking.
“I usually look for an I-Series course when looking for an elective, because the assignments involve more creativity,” Lenet said, who has taken EDSP289I, a course on the history, culture and exploitation of disabilities, and another course on Medieval history and the Crusades. “In my experience, they’ve been more interactive and interesting.”
The I-Series includes Jewish Studies Professor Matthew Suriano’s revised course Jerusalem in Antiquity, The History of Sacred Space in a Holy City (JWST289J). Taught for nearly three years, Jerusalem in Antiquity explores ancient Jerusalem through its physical construction with regards to the major religious groups who inhabited the city. The course has seen a recent surge in enrollment, an occurrence thanks to word of mouth, Suriano said.
Meyerhoff also houses The Joseph & Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, which creates cross-relational courses and a partnership between Jewish and Israeli studies for students to explore.
Seminars like Professor David Zisenwine’s Battle of Narratives (ISRL448N), which works closely with Tel Aviv University throughout the semester, build bridges between the two departments by assessing different perspectives in Israel, Gildenhorn’s Program Coordinator Samantha Levine said.
“It is part of a broader initiative to collaborate and achieve academic progress,” Levine said, an initiative Meyerhoff and Meyerhoff Director Manekin both value.
Professor Ali Mahalel’s course Alternative Voices in Israeli Media and Popular Culture, along with Doughty’s course on race, doubles as both a Jewish and an Israeli studies course (JWST289F or ISRL249F), also exploring the cultures and perspectives Israel holds.
“Growing up and going to Hebrew school, we kind of had the same values thrown at us, and now it’s about learning about a different culture,” sophomore economics major Miranda Kadis said, who just finished learning about Yiddish and its place in the Holocaust and Israel in Mahalel’s course. “We’re seeing how important language is to these people and that there are other languages rather than just Hebrew.”
The course explores the different languages in Israel through poetry and essays, which requires extensive amounts of reading, Kadis said, who mentions it as her only downfall.
Doughty’s course on the different races is also offered as both an Israeli and Jewish studies course, which was at first misleading to Lenet, who desired to learn more about Israel specifically, after his internship in Jerusalem. Lenet, however, claims he is now more than satisfied with the class.