Centre receives third grant from Jewish Heritage Fund

Centre receives third grant from Jewish Heritage Fund

by Matt Overing

Centre College has been awarded $107,500 from the Jewish Heritage Fund (JHF) for its continued work to support a range of initiatives involving Jewish Studies and Jewish student life.

The grant, “Enriching Jewish Life and Jewish Studies,” is the third that the college has received from JHF. The two-year initiative will enable the College to build upon the work of the previous grants.

Centre Associate Professor of Religion Shana Sippy developed the grant proposals and has directed the grant activities. She said that funds have been and will continue to be used to pursue a three-pronged approach—curricular components, faculty and student research, and co-curricular programming and opportunities—to deepen Jewish life and expand Jewish Studies on campus.

First, in effort to provide support and programming for Jewish students on campus, the grant funds a rabbinic intern, who will work with Centre’s Jewish students and offer services and classes open to the entire campus.

Second, the grant supports the development of curriculum, faculty research, student summer research, and internships.

Third, the grant provides funding to bring Jewish Studies scholars and Jewish artists to campus.

“For the first time in Centre’s more than 200-year history, we’ve had a rabbinic student on campus,” Sippy said. “Not only has this benefitted the rabbinic interns, who learn and grow from working with Centre undergraduates, but our students have been able to build an ongoing relationship with a rabbinic intern, who can provide pastoral support.”

Sippy added that students were especially thankful that there was a rabbinic presence on campus during the pandemic. Chloe Zelkha, who served as an intern in the office for the past two years, delivered a convocation “Pandemic Grief: Ambiguous Loss and Meaning-Making in the Time of COVID-19,” attended by more than 145 students, staff and faculty.

With respect to research, Sippy said faculty members have developed their own focus involving Jewish Studies, which enriches the curriculum and academic field beyond Centre.

“Faculty have also integrated it into course modules and student-faculty research projects. For example, history professor Jon Earle has conducted research on the relationship between Ugandan nationalism and Zionist thinkers,” she said. “Dr. Matthew Pierce, who co-leads a CentreTerm course about Jews, Christians and Muslims in Morocco and Spain with Dr. David Hall, traveled there this past summer to further develop some of the Jewish Studies components of the class.”

The JHF grant also supported lectures and class visits by a number of scholars over the past two years. For example, Natan Meir, historian and Chair of Judaic Studies at Portland State, gave a convocation about the Cholera Wedding, which he described as “a peculiar ritual that emerged among East European Jews in the 19th century and resurfaced in the 21st century due to COVID-19.”

Sociologist Laura Limonic spoke about the complexities of identities with first-year students, drawing on her book, “Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States.”

The grant also supported the residency of artist Siona Benjamin and helped fund her six-month exhibition “Beyond Borders: The Art of Siona Benjamin” at the Norton Center for the Arts. Benjamin’s art was on display through the spring semester, bringing the world of an Indian-Jewish-American artist to the Centre and Danville communities, as well as Norton Center patrons.

Benjamin was hands-on with students in classes ranging from psychology to international relations.

“Students engaged directly with her and talked about a broad range of issues—historical and contemporary—such as identity, migration, race and religion,” Sippy said. “She also discussed how Jewish communities have changed and transformed as they have moved throughout the world.”

Two students are conducting independent research sponsored by JHF this summer: João Victor Azevedo ’24 is studying the Jewish community in São Paulo, Brazil, working with Professor of Spanish Satty Flaherty-Echeverria, and Vati Pham ’23 is researching queer Jewish communities in New York.

“We look forward to bringing more artists and scholars, as well as supporting research, curricular development and co-curricular programs,” Sippy said. “We are excited about our incoming rabbinic intern, Sara Klugman, a dancer and artist, who is studying at Hebrew College in Boston after completing a Master’s in Education from Harvard. And, as far as visiting artist and scholars, one of the many things we are working on is bringing a professor who works on Judeo-Arabic and Sephardic music to give a lecture and performance next spring.”

The $107,500 lasts through August 2024. The college has now received $157,000 across its three grants from the Jewish Heritage Fund.

“We will begin initiatives associated with this new grant in September after we conclude spending the current grant by August 31,” said Elizabeth Graves, Centre’s Director for Corporate and Foundation Relations. “This new grant allows activity to continue seamlessly, continuing our initiatives in Jewish Life and Jewish Studies without interruption.”

Pictured above: Artist-in-Residence Siona Benjamin discusses her six-month exhibition “Beyond Borders: The Art of Siona Benjamin” with Centre students at the Norton Center for the Arts.