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A celebration of progress and a change in leadership at the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies
Eric Goldstein and Miriam Udel of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies

By leveraging complementary strengths, the outgoing director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, Eric Goldstein (left), and his successor, Miriam Udel, promise innovative days ahead.

— Miriam Udel photo by Shulamit Seidler-Feller

After a decade directing the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies (TIJS) and helping catalyze its rise, Eric Goldstein will transition the leadership to Miriam Udel this summer. Central to Goldstein’s legacy is his insistence that Jewish studies be resolutely outward-looking both at Emory and beyond.

“We have led the way at Emory as a model of a successful interdisciplinary program,” says Goldstein, associate professor in Emory College of Arts and Sciences’ history department, whose vision has been that “Jewish studies is at its best when engaged with the larger fields in which it is situated,” which encompass religion, history, literature, language, political science, ethnography and more. His own scholarship, for instance, focuses on American Jewish history and culture, including an important study of how American Jews fit into the landscape of race and ethnicity in the United States.

Respected as a nexus for stimulating interdisciplinary study, the institute features scholars who learn from questions posed in other fields but also, according to Goldstein, “complicate those fields in positive ways by expressing viewpoints that might not otherwise be apparent.” This approach reflects that Jewish people, he notes, are part of a “global culture that doesn’t fit standard dichotomies of race, class and so forth.”

Emory College Dean Michael Elliott calls Goldstein “a thoughtful and wise leader who has managed an important set of faculty hires, continued the institute’s tradition of engagement in public scholarship and improved its operations.”

A decade of growth and advancement

Goldstein possessed a unique strength, understanding not just the institute’s evolution but the longer trajectory of Jewish studies at Emory. A 1992 Emory College graduate in Religion and Middle Eastern Studies, he joined the faculty in 2000 as the institute’s first jointly appointed faculty member. Goldstein describes himself as part of a “middle generation” of Jewish studies scholars at Emory, poised between the “founding titans” and the new faculty he has been instrumental in attracting.

As a result of the 2009 economic crisis, the institute went 10 years without being able to hire faculty. One of his proudest achievements is bringing on four exceptional faculty members — Craig Perry, Geoffrey Levin, Kate Rosenblatt and Tamar Menashe — in the past five years. This new talent, says Goldstein, “positions Jewish studies well for the next few decades. As we defined the new positions, we didn’t want to simply add new areas of study; we also wanted to build on existing strengths and create synergies.”

Perry credits Goldstein “with making the Tam Institute a collegial and rich intellectual home for me. I’ve been energized and challenged by his putting Jewish studies into conversation with scholarship across disciplines and subfields.“

Having inherited a departmental template that he was trying to shoehorn to fit an institute, Goldstein is grateful to Elliott for “trusting my instincts for change.” Reorganizing the staff positions in favor of a structure that better serves the TIJS mission as student- and public-facing, Goldstein created the post of executive director held by Paul Entis. He leads the staff, provides institutional memory during leadership changes and assists with fundraising and community building.

Citing “how forward-looking Eric has been steering TIJS,” Peter Höyng, professor of German Studies, now will look to Udel, a member of his department, to build on the already productive relationships that many Emory College departments have to TIJS. For Ellie Schainker, the Arthur Blank Family Foundation Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Goldstein also deserves credit for “raising the TIJS profile through engaged and relevant public programming” that includes the Tenenbaum Family Lecture Series and the Rothschild Lecture Series.

Following a sabbatical, Goldstein looks forward to teaching again, perhaps structuring an undergraduate course based on resurgent interest in his first book, “The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity.” He also will finish his third book, on the reading culture of Jewish immigrants.

‘A first-rank scholar, researcher and teacher’ takes over at TIJS

Many voices have joined the chorus welcoming Udel to the leader’s role, including Elliott, who noted her “influential scholarship and gifted teaching,” and continued, “I am excited by the energy and vision she brings to this role and look forward to working with her to ensure the strength of Jewish studies at Emory for years to come.”

Udel, associate professor of Yiddish language, literature, and culture, is a leading exemplar of the synergy that is created between scholarship and creative endeavors such as translation. Her second book, “Honey on the Page: A Treasury of Yiddish Children’s Literature,” is an anthology of primary sources she selected and translated; it won the Association of Jewish Libraries Reference Award in 2020.

As a means of “telling the story behind the stories,” Udel is currently, as an NEH public scholar, completing a study of modern Jewish culture through the lens of Yiddish children’s literature. The translations in “Honey on the Page” are indispensable to the research in this upcoming volume, titled “Umbrella Sky: Children’s Literature and Modern Jewish Worldmaking.”

Beyond the passion Udel brings to her scholarship and teaching, she also wanted to explore a leadership role in her religious community. After completing a program at Yeshivat Maharat for qualified midcareer women, Udel was ordained as a member of the Orthodox rabbinate in 2019. She describes this training as key to “how I carry myself as a scholar addressing questions about cultural and religious transmission.”

Known as an enthusiastic and creative collaborator, Udel worked with Marshall Duke and Mel Konner from 2015 to 2017 as part of Emory’s Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellowships, with Duke bringing expertise from psychology and Konner from anthropology. Notes Duke, “Miriam is a first-rank scholar, researcher and teacher. She will bring inspirational leadership to TIJS through her commitment to excellence.”

This time last year, Udel joined forces with both Theater Emory and 2014 Emory College alumnus Jake Krakovsky  to produce “Labzik: Tales of a Clever Pup,” a video of a puppet show that was seen by about 5,000 people worldwide. Udel translated the Labzik tales, a collection of stories about a proletarian puppy and his leftist family, published in 1935.

When she first pitched the idea to Krakovsky, a puppeteer and Atlanta actor, he asked himself, “Who’s going to produce such a thing?” But Udel makes believers of people — and did of Krakovsky, who took an intensive Yiddish course to aid his work as director.

Krakovsky admires Udel’s willingness to “take big swings,” something that will assuredly mark her time at TIJS. For Udel, “’Labzik’ is an example of what an entity as nimble as the Tam Institute can bring into being with other campus partners.”

Udel served TIJS as both director of undergraduate studies and graduate studies, so she knows the ropes and also has the benefit of a self-study completed in 2021. As she charts the road ahead, exciting possibilities loom, including a study abroad program in Jewish Eastern Europe. And with a renewed focus on undergraduate education, the institute will look to integrate curricular and cocurricular experiences so that classroom learning crosses over into potential field trips, symposia and guest lectures to increase impact.

“At the Tam Institute, we are harnessing the faculty strengths and creativity to make Emory more of a destination for high-level Jewish studies research on the national and even global level,” says Udel.

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