What are the three biggest challenges you face as director of a Jewish Studies program?

Samuel Fleischacker

University of Illinois at Chicago

My three greatest challenges are all versions of one challenge: answering the question, "Why does a secular state university with relatively few Jewish students, like the University of Illinois at Chicago, need a Jewish Studies program at all?" We've been around in some form for many years, but always on a rather low level, with little outside funding, a modest profile among other Jewish Studies programs in our area, and an even more modest profile among our own students. I think our main task, if we want a secure place at UIC and especially if we want to grow, is to justify our existence to our various constituencies. Those constituencies can be divided into three, which yields three challenges for me: the administration and students at UIC, the Jewish community in Chicago, and the international community of Jewish Studies scholars. And the answer I would give to all three communities is roughly the same: We can earn our place by providing a Jewish Studies program that has an outward-looking rather than inward-looking focus, that seeks to show what is interesting and distinctive about Jews and Judaism—as well as what represents the universally human—in relationship to Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and other cultural and religious groups. That would enable us to contribute to the other communities on our very diverse campus, to bring out aspects of Jews and Judaism in the Chicago community that are not much discussed, and to contribute something to Jewish Studies scholarship that has not, as yet, received quite the attention it deserves. But there are a number of political and financial obstacles in our way, and it will be a while before we will have any idea whether we are making headway.