Bernard Cooperman, professor of Jewish history, sits in his office at Francis Scott Key Hall. Vanessa Reis/Mitzpeh.

By Vanessa Reis
For Mitzpeh

The Jewish studies major at this university is being redesigned after numbers in the program dropped significantly, said Hayim Lapin, director of The Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies.

Lapin said the Jewish studies program has between five and 10 students currently enrolled. Just five or six years ago, there were up to 40.

“We’re going to take a real serious look at the fact that we don’t have a lot of majors and what
can we do to encourage majors,” he said.

The Jewish studies program was first established in 1974, when “philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff and the Associated Jewish Charities of Baltimore endowed the Louis L. Kaplan Chair in Jewish History,” according to the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies website. From there, the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies was created in 1980.

Lapin said the recent decrease in students in the program comes from campus recruiters’ “emphasis” on bringing in STEM majors as well as “the interest in career-oriented majors on the part of students.”

Bernard Cooperman, a professor of Jewish history at this university, agreed.

“Every humanities at this university, and at every university around the country, has gone down,” he said.

Cooperman has taught at this university for 30 years and helped design the Jewish studies major.

“We redesigned it about 20 years ago and it’s being redesigned now,” he said. The major has changed in a number of ways since he first came into the program, and other programs like the Israel studies major and Arabic have “spun off” of it, Cooperman said.

He added that the Jewish studies courses have changed as well, with more offerings on Israeli sociology and history and politics. The program has seen a new professor of modern Israeli film and Jewish literature, with more people teaching Hebrew and comparative languages and even an archaeologist.

Lapin said another big change in the program will be in having students develop an area of interest and concentrate on that area of interest. The department is also questioning how much Hebrew the curriculum should have.

“We require more Hebrew than most other majors, which makes it more like a language major in some respects,” he said.

The program is working on creating other majors as well, Lapin said.

“We have a new major in Ancient Middle Eastern Studies,” he said, and these changes are in the process of being reviewed by the university.

Sara Boston, who will graduate in May with a Master of Arts degree in Jewish studies, connected with the major’s appeal to student interests. “It’s designed to encourage students both to expand their horizons and develop their writing and critical thinking skills, but also to give students the opportunity to learn about subjects that interest them.”

Boston also serves as an undergraduate adviser in the Jewish studies program, and the teaching assistant for a class called “What is religion?”

“I think that that’s an extremely important opportunity, and I’m very glad that I’ve had it and would encourage others to pursue it as well,” she added.


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