The Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan is excited to welcome back our faculty, students, fellows, and staff to what we hope will be a fruitful, productive, and enjoyable year. At the same time, we face the year ahead with anxiety and consternation. We are concerned about the global pandemic spreading death and disease, about the disparities the health emergency has exposed in our society, about the systemic racism that has led to the loss of yet more Black lives this summer, about the political turmoil tearing apart our nation, about the labor unrest on our campus, about rising instances of antisemitism, and about the fires and storms that continue to devour our land. Judaic Studies does not have all the answers—far from it! But I am heartened to see growing numbers of students looking toward us for some perspective, and seeking to learn from the Jewish experience.
The Frankel Center has dedicated significant attention in the last few years to some of these issues,
introducing new classes into our curriculum that offer capacious understanding of Judaic Studies. New courses on Jewish experiences with "Policing and Civil Rights,” "Race and Sexuality,” “Protests and Conflicts,” "Identity and Community in a Pluralistic Society," "Blackness and Jewishness," and
"Borders and Border Crossing" offer a range of views on some of the issues we grapple with today. Our more established courses also offer relevant lessons for our time. Studying the Holocaust, for instance, teaches students about the fragility of democratic institutions, the dangers of prejudice, and
the powers of extremist ideologies and demagogic leaders; learning about Jewish life in Spain, America, and the Ancient World offers students lessons on religious tolerance and ethnic diversity; and courses in Bible and Talmud reveal the ways these core texts speak to contemporary debates, ranging from gender to justice.
This year, the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies will also be exploring a timeless theme that continues to speak to us today: translation. “Translating Jewish Cultures” asks how we interpret texts across languages and how our values and ideas are affected by translation. Co-head fellows Maya Barzilai, Associate Professor of Modern Hebrew and Jewish Culture at the University of Michigan, and Adriana X. Jacobs, Associate Professor and Cowley Lecturer in Modern Hebrew Literature at Oxford University, have organized a stimulating year of intellectual enrichment. Fourteen scholars will be meeting virtually to explore issues of Jewish translation ranging from ancient Greek renditions of the Hebrew Bible to Russian-Israeli poetry. Whether they are studying medieval science, early modern biblical poetry, anarchist ideas, postcolonial Morocco, Hebrew literature, or Freud, our fellows will be shedding new light on how we exchange ideas across cultures. In connection with the theme, the Frankel Institute will be hosting public conversations that explore some of the challenges and rewards of translation, whether it be the Hebrew Bible or Harry Potter.
As we look forward to the year ahead, we can all benefit from thinking about the importance of translation, of listening to each other, and of working toward mutual understanding. It is a conversation to which Judaic Studies has much to contribute.