A new three-way collaboration among Concordia University, the Université de Montréal (UdeM) and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh is enabling Judaic scholars to bridge both the linguistic and the national divides.
A grant has enabled the Jewish studies programs at the three universities to present a public lecture series this fall and engage in academic exchanges.
The funding is from the American Academy for Jewish Research (AAJR), based in Ann Arbor, Mich., which describes itself as the oldest organization of Jewish scholars in North America, devoted to enhancing Jewish studies at universities.
The public series began in September at Concordia with a lecture by one of the leading scholars of American Jewry, Deborah Dash Moore, the Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. Her topic was "The Urban Origins of American Judaism," a survey of the growth and shifting demographics of Jewish communities in large U.S. cities.
In 2014, she published a book with the same title at the University of Georgia Press.
SUNY Plattsburgh president John Etting praised the initiative at the series' launch, citing its importance to the small university's development of Jewish studies.
Joan Sinclair, public affairs officer of the U.S. Consulate in Montreal, which was a sponsor of a reception in honour of Dash Moore, underlined her delight in this Canadian-American joint venture, especially as a Jewish American living in Montreal.
The series resumes Nov. 9 at SUNY's Angell College Center at 7:30 p.m. when Lee Shai Weissbach speaks on "Jews in Smaller Urban Spaces: The History of America's Small-Town Jewish Communities."
Weissbach, professor emeritus of history at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, is the author of Jewish Life in Small-Town America: A History (Yale University Press).
On Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m., he speaks at the Museum of Jewish Montreal, 4040 St. Laurent Blvd., on "Synagogues in the Urban Environment: What These Buildings Tell Us."
Although he will speak in English and off-campus, this third lecture is the UdeM leg of the series. Weissbach will answer questions in French.
The series is organized by Concordia's Institute for Canadian Jewish studies, chaired by Ira Robinson; SUNY's Jewish studies program, co-ordinated by Jonathan Slater; and UdeM's new Microprogramme en études juives, directed by Robert Schwartzwald.
"The call for grant applications from the AAJR was intended to encourage Jewish studies programs within a certain vicinity to co-operate," Robinson said.
"The idea is that once they begin collaborating on one project, they will get to know each other and collaborate on others in the future. I am very hopeful this liaison between us will continue and will bring about other joint initiatives.
"This is not the end of our collaboration, but the beginning of further collaboration."
The series fits with the 17-year-old institute's mission. Being accessible to the public and working with community and academic partners is central to its mission of cultivating an appreciation of the Canadian Jewish experience, Robinson said.
The institute does not offer courses, but rather serves as the go-to place for faculty throughout the university interested in the subject. Undergraduate, master's and doctoral programs in Jewish studies are offered in the Department of Religious Studies, in which Robinson is a professor.
The fact that a Montrealer heads SUNY's Jewish studies program has made the connection between this city's scholars and their peers across the border more fluid.
Slater, a native of New York who lives in South Shore Brossard, makes the one-hour commute to SUNY daily. Fluent in French (he majored in French at university and is married to a francophone), Slater can liaise with his UdeM counterparts with ease.
He became Jewish studies director a year ago, while continuing to hold the post of chair of the journalism and public relations department.
This undergraduate program offers an 18-credit Jewish studies minor designed to acquaint students with Judaism and Jewish history and culture, with a focus on Jewish contributions to western society and the Jewish presence in the world today.
The UdeM Microprogramme, launched last year, is the only program of its kind at the graduate level in French in Canada. Its creation represents a revival of Jewish studies at UdeM, which eliminated the program in the 1980s.
Worth 15 credits, the Microprogramme explores Jewish tradition, culture and thought through an interdisciplinary approach. Professors of a wide range of liberal arts, from anthropology to religion, teach in it.
Schwartzwald is a professor in the department of literature and world languages. Before coming to UdeM, he was a professor of French at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with additional duties in its department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies.
Three non-credit courses are also offered to the public at large.