Why did you go into Jewish Studies?

Froma I. Zeitlin

Princeton University

I came to Jewish Studies, by the back door, as it were. The granddaughter of two rabbis and (a Litvak to boot) raised in a deeply committed family to all things Jewish, my own Jewish education was quite remarkable for its time. Yet despite my very strong background from an early age on, including Hebrew and much more, my major academic field turned out to be Classics. Luckily, I was given an opportunity at Princeton both to found and build a program in Jewish Studies (which I directed for nine years) as well as an appointment in Comparative Literature that gave me more flexibility in teaching. The courses of Jewish interest I have taught take two paths: the first was "Gender, the Body, and Sexuality in Judaism from the Bible to Contemporary America." I had already taught gender courses in antiquity and it was an exciting moment to transfer (and expand) my expertise into a broader cultural context. But what held much greater urgency for me was the Holocaust and the desire to bring relevant courses to the curriculum. I was a child of the time. Growing up in the years of World War II, I was haunted by what might have been in my own life, and my absorption in the topic only increased as the years went on. My richest experiences at Princeton have been the two courses I teach under the aegis of Comparative Literature. The first is entitled "Texts and Images of the Holocaust" and the second, which branched off from the first, is called "Stolen Years: Youth and Adolescence under the Nazis in World War II." Oddly enough, these courses increasingly attract non-Jewish students, many of whom return again and again to seek my advice (and write recommendations for them), since more than one has declared to me, even many years later, that this was a course that changed their lives. While I have published several articles on the subject of Holocaust literature (and film) and have given presentations and participated in conferences, ranging from Dreyfus to Berlin Holocaust memorials, my primary engagement has been in my teaching, although I hope that further writing is on the horizon.