Jewish studies department aims for expansion, attempts to reach more people

When Michael Cohen became chair of the Jewish studies department, he saw great potential. He had big hopes to reach more students, hire the best professors and provide more variety within the curriculum than ever before.

Cohen and the rest of the Jewish studies team are working to increase the size of their faculty and offer new student enrichment opportunities and additional programming.

“We have a lot of exciting initiatives that we’re working on that will transform our department into the world-class department that we know it can be,” Cohen said.

One out of every four undergraduates, or about 750 students per year, take a Jewish studies or Hebrew course at Tulane, according to Cohen. Courses such as Arab-Israeli conflict, Jewish-American history and other courses about Israel often end up with many students on the waitlist.

“These changes that we’re talking about are designed in large part to ensure that we meet the student demand and capitalize on the momentum that we already have, all while offering the best education possible,” Cohen said.

Jewish Studies Professor Sarah Cramsey said she hopes more students outside the department take advantage of Jewish studies courses, regardless of their major.

“What I like so much about this initiative or people getting more excited about Jewish studies classes is that it brings very interesting perspectives into the Jewish studies department, and it allows both students and professors to look at sources and look [at] history and look at the experience of Jews throughout the world in new ways,” Cramsey said.

There have also been efforts through the department to encourage professors all across Tulane to incorporate an element of Jewish history into their courses, according to Cramsey.

“There are lots of different courses that can have a Jewish studies component, so that’s also something we are trying to encourage our students to think about in terms of writing an advanced research paper, be it just in a class or thinking about writing a senior thesis,” Cramsey said.

Jewish studies major Leo Henkin said he hopes that all students take the time to take a course in Jewish studies.

“It’s worth just getting to know some of these professors and learning from them because they’re incredibly smart individuals and learning Jewish history is … about persecution and is about what it means to suppress identity, and these are things that people experience on a daily basis,” Henkin said.

The Jewish studies department has been rapidly expanding in the past few years. The department is working to meet the needs of the entire Tulane student body as it works to educate as many undergraduates as possible on Jewish history and culture.

“We envision a revitalized, world-class Department of Jewish Studies that familiarizes people of all faiths and backgrounds with the richness of the Jewish experience,” Cohen said.

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