When Jeffrey Veidlinger, professor of history and Judaic studies, traveled to the Ukraine in search of Yiddish speakers, he encountered a man who ultimately led the way to the residence of the community’s sole Jewish woman.
“Hey, Jewess!” called the man. “Get out here!”
Veidlinger’s journey and interviews with about 400 Ukrainian Jews are the subjects of his most recent publication, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine. Ultimately, said Veidlinger, his experience left him inspired by the Ukrainian Jews’ perseverance, hope, and the strength that their Jewish identity provided.
The book was one of four works presented at the Ann Arbor JCC Frankel Scholar Night on November 14. The event, in the words of Frankel Center Director Deborah Dash Moore, truly provided a taste of the diversity and excellence of Frankel faculty. While the books focused on completely different topics, the scholars all shared something in common.
“We all connect,” explained Dash Moore, “around different ways of studying Jews.”
Dash Moore could hardly lift her book, a 1000-page volume of the Posen Library of Jewish Civilization and Culture, which she co-edited with Nurith Gertz. The publication, which focuses on the period of 1973-2005, is the first to be published of a 10-volume compendium of Jewish culture and civilization.
Determining what should be included was not an easy task, and Dash Moore explained that she and Gertz chose to define Jewish culture in a “deliberately pluralist fashion,” by proposing that Jews make culture Jewish in various ways.
Rachel Neis, associate professor at the Frankel Center and in the Department of History, presented her new book, The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Ways of Seeing in Late Antiquity. Her publication focuses on the significance of sight, and how rabbinic cultures attempted to understand and rethink the manner in which people saw.
“What does it mean to ‘see like a rabbi’?” she posited, along with other thought-provoking questions such as: How do rabbis see God? What can be done about the promiscuity of the eye?
Finally, Ryan Szpiech, associate professor of Spanish and Judaic studies, explored the use of narrative with regards to conversion during medieval times, as described in his book, Conversion and Narrative: Reading and Religious Authority in Medieval Polemic. Szpiech described the compelling first-person accounts he researched, many from the Cairo Geniza, which focused on rejecting one faith and embracing another.
“You can’t talk about religion,” he noted, “without telling a story.”