ROYCE HALL – Tuesday, October 4th witnessed the inaugural rendezvous of an under-appreciated league of UCLA Jewish academics, both faculty and students – the Center for Jewish Studies. With it came an invitation to commune and converse with both peers and mentors of the highest caliber, over some stereotypically Jewish foodstuffs (pita and shawarmma, and arnold palmers). In attendance were some of the brightest stars on campus: Dr. David Myers, Chair of History Department (and former director of the center), Dr. Carol Bakos, Associate Professor of Late Antique Judaism, Dr. Andrew Berns, Viterbi Visiting Assistant Professor, Dr. Sara Stein, Dr. Steven Spiegel, and even Dr. Ra’anan Boustan, currently a visiting Fellow at the University of Texas. The Open House provided a rare casual and intimate environment with which to socialize and schmooze with academic mentors intellectually and personally.
The Center, founded in 1994, is responsible for approximately 70 courses and 50 lectures and symposia annually. It acts as a nexus and resource for local Universities, UCLA faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and most interestingly the broader Los Angeles community. The core faculty is made up of professors in a variety of fields from Film to Yiddish, Political Science, Sociology, Economics, and Literature. But beyond being a simple roundtable, the CJS is a symbol of the coming together of research and education – two things that too regularly remain at odds.
The inter-departmental synergy allows for a fertile conflation of ideas and a source for creativity born of perspective-based friction. I witnessed a productive exchange between one particular teacher-student engagement that died with the birth of the profound question “How does one create a robust theology?” There was a discussion about the linguistic use of the word “Kappara” (ch-p-r, literally “clean out” but normatively “atonement”) in the Talmudic description of the priestly service of emptying out a Yom Kippur sacrificial vessel.
In addition to the exchange of passions, there appeared to be a lot of getting-to-know-each-other type conversations. I was introduced to the precocious son of Dr. Todd Presner, the current CJS Director, and finally met Dr. Sarah Stein over a discussion of my classes.
I came away feeling inspired and grateful for the intellectual support and energy of the Center, but I wonder is the informality a good thing? Is one supposed to know and relate to professors on a personal level? Is the inter-departmental conglomeration over culturality a good thing? Does it create artificial elitism? Why are campus Jews not more interested in the CJS and why is Carol Bakos devoting her life to Jewish thought?
Respond. Lapin out.
Photos provided by indefatigable David Wu.
UCLA Center for Jewish Studies Newsletter 2011 – 2012 – http://issuu.com/uclacjs/docs/cjs_newsletter_2011
2011 – 2012 CJS Annual Calendar – http://www.cjs.ucla.edu/images/stories/pdfs/cjs_annual_calendar%202011-12.pdf