This summer I had the good fortune to attend a wonderful film screening: a live broadcast from London of the National Theatre's outstanding production of Tony Kushner's epic seven-hour play Angels in America. While the play is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, Kushner's opus about the AIDS crisis during the Reagan years feels (sadly) relevant as ever. Watching his larger-than-life characters grapple with questions of life and death, love and loss, I left the screenings simultaneously moved, saddened, and enlightened. And like with any good text that bears new fruit and insights with multiple viewings, I was struck by a certain theme this time around that, while hardly buried in the work, spoke to me more than usual: the topic of migration, which also happens to be the focus of this issue of AJS Perspectives.
Migration is of course very much in the news right now, with ongoing concerns about travel bans and the building of walls. In Kushner's play, though, migration takes on both literal meaning in the movement of people—the very Jewish play opens with a rabbi discussing the immigration of Jews to America, "the ones who crossed the ocean, who brought with us to America the villages of Russia and Lithuania"—but also the more metaphoric migrations of people, the move toward progress and change. In Kushner's work, filled with magical realism, Prior Walter, an AIDS-stricken drag queen, is visited by an Angel who has chosen Prior to be a prophet to the people. The message that he should tell society is to "stop moving," as the migrations of humans have seemingly brought chaos into the world and may have even caused God to disappear forever. Prior, modern gay man that he is, though, refuses to preach this message, and like the biblical Jonah, runs away from his charge. As Prior says, "We can't just stop. We're not rocks—progress, migration, motion is . . . modernity. It's animate, it's what living things do." While Prior's words ultimately serve as Tony Kushner's rationale for how progressivism is needed to solve the crises of our day (in this particular case, the AIDS epidemic), Prior's words are applicable to more mundane issues as well.
As the new Executive Director of the Association for Jewish Studies, I take Prior's words to heart. Progress, change, and migration are all unavoidable phenomena that must be embraced. Here at the Association, we are "spinning forward," albeit in less grandiose ways than Kushner deals with, but moving ahead nonetheless. From finding new ways to serve our members to addressing a changing academic market to piloting new public programs, AJS refuses to sit still. Here are just a few of the changes that have taken place in the last few months and some inklings of further changes to come:
- The launching of our brand-new redesigned website and URL: associationforjewishstudies.org
- The successful piloting of our Writing beyond the Academy workshop this past summer in Ann Arbor, Michigan
- New activities at the annual conference, including a theater outing and a Jewish walking tour of Washington, DC
- A new mobile app for the conference
- An upgrade to AJS Perspectives as a glossy full-color magazine
- Coming soon! New membership portal
- Coming soon! New "look" for AJS
- Coming soon! New pricing structure for future conferences
The world spins forward and so too does the Association for Jewish Studies. As the Executive Director, I am always open to talk to you, our members, about your ideas for change, how we can better serve you, and how we can work together to strengthen the field of Jewish Studies both within the academy and in the wider world. To invoke Prior's final line at the end of Angels in America: "The Great Work Begins," and I look forward to doing that work with all of you.
Association for Jewish Studies