Jewish Studies looking for growth

Joseph A. Stanonik

When the Jewish Studies program returned in Fall 2004, new director Richard Steigmann-Gall knew reestablishing the program would be difficult.

The program, which only offers minors, took an absence in the 2003-04 school year after declining interest. Steigmann-Gall’s main objective, therefore, was to reinvigorate interest in the program and make students aware of the benefits of taking a Jewish Studies minor.

According to Steigmann-Gall, one of the major benefits of the program is the Samuel Mendel Melton Scholarship. The Melton Scholarship is a $500 scholarship given to Jewish Studies minors. In 2004-05, there were only seven Jewish Studies minors and no Melton Scholarship recipients.

“I think it’s a problem of communication,” Steigmann-Gall said. “Students just don’t know about the scholarship. If I have to go down to the Student Center with a sandwich board with ‘free money’ written on it, I will.”

Steigmann-Gall said he also hopes restructuring in the curriculum will draw interest. Starting next fall, incoming Jewish Studies minors will have to complete 21 credit hours opposed to the current 35. For the first time, an Intro to Jewish Studies course will also be offered in fall.

Because the campus has no Jewish Studies Department, a Jewish Studies minor is pieced together from classes in the history, philosophy, English and modern and classical language departments. Credits in any of the four classes offered this semester can also count towards a student’s major.

While Steigmann-Gall said there is no short-term threat to the program, the lack of minors prevents the growth of the program.

“The way administrators gage success is through student enrollment,” Steigmann-Gall said. “The long-term prospects of any program are diminished if the numbers are not there.”

Reestablishing the program’s presence on campus is also important. In 2004-05, it hosted three internationally respected speakers on Jewish history and culture. The most recent speaker was Thorsten Wagner, a Danish scholar at Technical University Berlin, who spoke about the role the Danish people played in saving thousands of Jewish lives during Denmark’s occupation in World War II. Steigmann-Gall said each speaker drew more than 80 listeners.

Steigmann-Gall has also worked to reestablish the Jewish Studies relationship with Hillel. In February, it participated in Hillel’s eighth-annual trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

“Many of the students in Hillel take classes or get their minors in Jewish Studies,” Hillel executive director Jennifer Chestnut said. “It’s important that they get to study their culture and religion in an academic setting.”

Steigmann-Gall said he would like to see the program grow to 20-25 students. Such growth could help increase funding for the program, allowing them pursue more diverse course selections, full-time opposed to part-time staff and potentially a Jewish Studies department at Kent State in the future.

You can contact College of Education reporter Joseph A. Stanonik at [email protected].