A Passion for the Public Humanities
For five years, I served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, traveling throughout my home state visiting community centers, public libraries, and senior centers to offer humanities talks on topics that I was passionate about: Jewish culture, Yiddish literature, and musical theater. While I had taught in college classrooms for a number of years and loved being with students, there was something particularly rewarding about taking my love of scholarship and sharing it with a wider community. I was especially flattered when the Pennsylvania Humanities Council asked me to tape my talk "Blacks and Jews on Stage and Screen" in front of a live TV audience for community television. The program was never going to get the ratings of The Bachelor, but it was rewarding to share this work with an even larger audience on TV and online.
It's this excitement for both public humanities and traditional scholarship that I bring to the Association for Jewish Studies as its next Executive Director, a role whose challenges humble and excite me. As a scholar of Jewish culture and American literature, I am awed by the pathbreaking and innovative work of our AJS members as they advance our knowledge with new scholarship, and I celebrate our sharing that scholarship in the classroom and with wider audiences. The field of Jewish Studies is extremely strong at the moment and my vision for AJS in the coming years is to find new ways to build on this strength, in collaboration with the AJS Board and our members, and to continue to advance AJS's mission to "foster greater understanding of Jewish Studies scholarship among the wider public."
This commitment to public scholarship and public humanities has been a driving force of my own career. For over five years I was the head of arts and culture for the Gershman Y, a Jewish Community Center in the heart of Philadelphia, where I programmed dozens of book talks, panel discussions, and classes on a wide variety of Jewish topics. What I came to realize working outside of the academic world is that there is a large lay audience that is searching for thought-provoking educational programming that will engage them and teach them something new. As a graduate student and later as a professor in classrooms of my own, I was excited by the scholarly books I would read and the talks I would attend, but was also interested in learning how to translate those ideas to lay audiences who might not have had specialized academic training. This ability to "code-switch" between these modes of communication is a necessary skill in the twenty-first century, an area where I hope AJS can offer more guidance and training in the future. Most importantly, I want to make sure that the stimulating, thought-provoking work that our members produce finds reception outside the walls of the academy, contributing to a world where the humanities can be celebrated and enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and educational levels. Because, at least for me, that was always my driving force in becoming a teacher and scholar: to open the minds of others and have impact on how our society thinks about topics such as identity, history, memory, and culture.
I look forward to meeting and working with all of you in the coming months, especially at this year's annual conference in Washington DC at the Marriott Marquis. Until then, I hope to hear from you, our members, and look forward to our many conversations in the years ahead. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Association for Jewish Studies