Jewish Studies Module Students Engage in Compelling Independent Research

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Every spring Jewish Studies minors gather for the Jewish Studies Module, a unique one-credit capstone class in which students create an original project that brings together an aspect of Jewish Studies with an aspect of their major. Through a series of shared readings, the students – as well as the faculty involved – learn about each other’s interests in addition to conducting their own independent research.   As usual, this year’s students are engaged in a wide range of fascinating projects.

heatherHeather Viola, an International Affairs and Human Services major and Jewish Studies minor who is also this year’s Gideon Klein Scholar, is conducting research in conjunction with her Gideon Klein project.  A devoted vocalist who sings with The Northeastern University Choral Society and Chamber Choir and the Zamir Chorale of Boston, Heather is exploring the experience of the Terezin concentration camp through the lens of children’s music – children’s folksongs, choirs, operas, lullabies, etc.  She has interviewed Terezin survivors in the United States and the Czech Republic, toured Terezin itself, and conducted extensive research.  On April 8, Heather will present her research and perform children’s music at the Northeastern Holocaust Commemoration.

margolitMargolit Sands, an Environmental Science major minoring in both Jewish Studies and Environmental Studies and recipient of the 2011-2012 Ruderman Scholarship in Jewish Studies, has focused this semester on agricultural halakhah, or Jewish law relating to agriculture and how it encourages or develops sustainable agriculture techniques.  In March, she participated in a service-learning Alternative Spring Break program in New Orleans run by The Jewish Farm School, taking part in sustainable agriculture projects, learning about food justice, and engaging in relevant Jewish text study.

mikeMichael Silverman, an Engineering major and Jewish Studies minor and recipient of the 2012-2013 Ruderman Scholarship in Jewish Studies, is taking this opportunity to explore halakhic (Jewish legal) discussions of why the use of electricity is forbidden on the Sabbath.  He has shared with the class a variety of legal arguments on the topic, highlighting the diversity of opinions present among Jewish legal scholars throughout the ages.


Jacob Thaler, a Political Science major and Jewish Studies minor, is interested in the jacknature of the Jewish identity of Jewish Supreme Court justices.  This semester, he is focusing on Louis Brandeis, the nation’s first Jewish Justice, who was raised in a highly assimilated family but eventually became the leading spokesperson for American Zionism.  Through an examination of Brandeis’s biography, Jack is exploring whether or not Brandeis’s Jewish identity influenced his jurisprudence.

Working with Prof. Laurel Leff, author of Buried By the Times:  The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper, Janine Shub – a Journalism major and Jewish Studies minor – is examining media coverage of the Holocaust.  Her research has led her to address complicated questions of journalistic ethics and the realities of anti-Semitism in 1940s America.

Chloe Sakhaie is working towards a degree in Psychology and Education, with a minor in Jewish Studies.  She is bringing these interests together through the creation of a unit plan designed to teach older elementary school students about the Holocaust, especially in urban schools where knowledge of the Holocaust is often lacking.  Teaching the Holocaust at the elementary school level is controversial, and Chloe is working hard to create effective lessons that inform without traumatizing.  She is crafting approximately 10 lessons on the Holocaust, including studying Lois Lowry’s powerful young adult novel, Number the Stars.

Jessica Burke has been integrating Jewish Studies with her Psychology major through a study of the children of Holocaust survivors and the ways in which trauma may be “inherited” by subsequent generations.   Through research and interviews, Jessica is learning that families continue to experience the reverberations of traumatic experiences and that the particular experiences of survivors have an ongoing impact in the lives of their children and grandchildren.

At evening meetings over snacks, the students plan their presentations and support one another in their independent research.  The group also discussed short stories by Nathan Englander and excerpts from the work of Daniel Mendelsohn, in advance of the visits to campus of these renowned speakers.  Professors Lefkovitz and Sartori both participate in these meetings and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing students who have advanced through the program demonstrate their competencies, learn from one another, and integrate the study of Judaism with such a wide range of academic pursuits.