The Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference brings together accomplished undergraduate students to present and discuss papers on topics in Judaic Studies. The conference aims to foster intercollegiate conversations among undergraduates pursuing research in Judaic Studies, as well as to provide students with the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from peers.
Reflections from Student Participants
Anika Jones ’23
The 2021 Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference was a wonderful opportunity to share my own research and learn about what other undergraduates have been doing in Judaic Studies. I especially appreciated the chance to meet and connect with these other undergraduates in smaller groups. It was great to hear about other people’s paths in this area of study and their plans for the future.
The keynote lecture by Professor David Myers was also incredibly interesting. In it, he discussed his personal experiences with scholars whose works I had read in my Jewish Collective Memory class, which made me feel like I was truly a part of a shared history and field of study.
Seth Eislund ’22
I’ll never forget the time when I was accepted into the 2020 Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference. As an aspiring scholar of Jewish history, I was thrilled that I would finally be able to present my research on the Rzeszow Menorah, a 19th-century menorah that was discovered in the Austro-Hungarian town of the same name. I eagerly packed my bags and flew to New York, thrilled to present an academic paper for the first time in my life.
When I arrived at Barnard College to present my paper, I was overjoyed to meet throngs of like-minded presenters and professors, all of whom loved Jewish Studies and were fascinated by each other’s work. It was the first time I had been in a space with multiple people who shared my academic interests, and we discussed our research and traded ideas for hours. Eventually, I presented my paper and felt proud that I had done so. Yet, I felt equally proud to have met so many accomplished, interesting, and intelligent people.
One year later, in 2021, I returned to the UJSC in a new role: as a board member. I joined the UJSC Board in November of 2020 and spent four months planning the conference. Serving as a board member was certainly different than being a presenter: I had new responsibilities, including planning the conference, sending out a call for papers, grading submitted papers, and moderating a panel at the conference about Jewish collective memory. Yet I relished these responsibilities, since they enabled me to develop leadership skills and reflect further on my time as a presenter.
I felt extremely honored to present my research at the 2020 UJSC, sharing my knowledge with people I respected. However, I felt an even stronger sense of honor serving as a board member at the 2021 UJSC, since the other board members and I were responsible for creating an experience that would be unforgettable for presenters and attendees alike. I think that we succeeded in achieving this goal.
The 2021 Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference was a wonderful event, with presentations from talented undergraduates across the many disciplines contained in Jewish Studies. I highly encourage Carleton students who have a passion for Jewish Studies to submit their work to the conference and attend it! If you get accepted, and even if you don’t, you will be in for a unique and highly rewarding intellectual experience.
Aaron Forman ’21
My journey with the Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference began when I read the following words in a post on the Jewish Students of Carleton Facebook page on December 4, 2018: “My friend at Yale just shared this and I thought you all might be interested. Deadline for paper submissions (5-15 pages) is in 2 weeks.” Attached was the 2019 conference’s call for papers, which included information on the conference and how to submit a paper. I immediately thought that this would be a great opportunity to share some of the research I had done at Carleton.
I don’t think I had a really defined area of specialization at that point, beyond knowing that I liked history, and always chose to work on something related to Jewish history when I had the option to pursue an open-ended research project. I quickly submitted my paper on the Paris Talmud Trial of 1240 that I had written the previous year and didn’t think much of this potentially-life-changing opportunity for the next few months.
On the evening of January 23, 2019, I received an email with the following statement: “Thank you for submitting your work to the Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference. We were highly impressed with your paper and are excited to invite you to present “The Paris Talmud Trial of 1240: Camouflaged Prejudice and Contextualized Interpretation” at this year’s conference, which will be at Yale University on February 17th.” I was ecstatic. My work had been chosen in a highly competitive selection process to present at a conference at a prestigious university, and all of my travel expenses would be paid for. How fun!
I contacted my high school friend Charlie at Yale to ask if I could stay with him for the weekend, informed Professor Bill North (who taught the class for which I wrote the paper), booked flights, and got to work on my presentation. Before the conference I got a glimpse of the schedule, which included the institutions that each presenter represented: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, UChicago, Stanford, Carleton. I was proud to ensure that Carleton would be represented in this arena.
The conference both seemed to last a long time and passed in a whirlwind. I entered the building and navigated the strange elevator system (the conference was on the top floor of an old library) with Professor Steven Fraade, a superstar in Jewish Studies though I didn’t know it at the time, and I introduced myself to him. I was the first presenter on the second panel, so I watched the first panelists carefully to observe their techniques.
As a sophomore, I was one of the younger students at the conference, and the room was full of people who seemed to have much greater knowledge of Jewish Studies than I did. I hadn’t seen so many men wearing kippot since I had been in Israel the previous summer; I appeared to be in the minority by not wearing one.
I went up and gave my presentation as I had rehearsed it, leaving room for off-the-cuff remarks to keep the audience engaged. Everyone laughed at one of my slides that I had intended to be a little bit funny, boosting my confidence further. The hours of research I had done that did not directly go into the paper enabled me to field a range of questions from the audience. I was loving every moment of it, and felt a great sense of accomplishment when my panel ended.
With the stress of presenting over, I spent the rest of the day chatting with the other attendees about Jewish Studies and their schools, playing Jewish geography, and doing my best to create a network of peers for myself. It was on this day that I realized that Jewish Studies was my passion, that the interdisciplinary nature of the field called on me to make a meaningful contribution to it in my life. The encouraging words of senior presenters and board members who made a point out of telling me how much they enjoyed my presentation further bolstered my confidence that I was already becoming a member of this undergraduate scholarly network.
The 2020 conference was defined by its location at Columbia University, among the towering skyscrapers and bright lights of New York City. Having been through the conference before, I had a better sense of what to expect and how to make the most out of the experience. Moderating a panel was something new and different, and I felt that I really provided my panelists with an introduction and atmosphere that amplified the success of their presentations.
To borrow from a recent session of Professor Victoria Morse’s Learning and Teaching Center, I was the bass player that set the tone for each panelist. I felt like a true professional, wearing the new dark blue jacket that my grandfather had given to me for my birthday in anticipation of the conference. Again, I used the day to widen my network in Jewish Studies and established a relationship with the keynote speaker, Professor Ross Brann from Cornell.
A notable aspect of this conference was the presence of a Carleton colleague, a young up-and-coming specialist on Jewish life in eastern Europe named Seth Eislund. After the conference, Seth and I took the subway to get ice cream and walk through Central Park to Times Square in all of its illuminated glory — the last normal travel experience I had before the COVID pandemic.
As a member of the 2021 conference board, I took on a leadership role from the initial discussions of putting the conference together. I helped Avi, the conference chair, plan what we needed to include in the meetings, and assign tasks and panels. After the board divided the papers for review, Avi and I made the final call on which papers would be presented. When it came time to decide on the introductions, I was chosen to introduce the keynote speaker, Professor David Myers. I helped Avi with numerous logistical bugs and did everything I could to ensure that the conference would run smoothly.
Putting the conference together was a true team effort and all of the board members contributed through their skills and ability to think on many levels of Jewish Studies and maintain the attention of an audience over the medium of Zoom. One of the board members, Shira Silver, created a beautiful brochure including the schedule and profiles of all presenters and board members. I am proud of how my team responded to the circumstances of the pandemic to create a worthwhile event for all who participated.
Being a part of the UJSC has been a defining experience of my time at Carleton. I feel that I have pushed the envelope of what a liberal arts college Jewish Studies department can be with the right motivated students. Carleton has now been represented at the conference for three consecutive years, and I hope that this tradition continues beyond my graduation. I look to the next generations of Carleton students to maintain Carleton’s connection to this field and, much more importantly, to continue to explore the rich tapestry embedded in 4,000 years of Jewish culture.