Western Jewish Studies Association Conference Features Diversity of Scholarship

May 15, 2014

The first weekend in May, the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies hosted the 2014 meeting of the Western Jewish Studies Association. Taking place in the Student Union Memorial Center and the Marriot University Park Hotel, panels ranged from topics like North African hip hop artists to Italian Jews and Fascism. Attendee Gerald H. Barkan wrote that, “the relatively small numbers allowed for an intimacy between presenters and attendees that encouraged interactions and greatly enhanced the learning opportunities.”The WJSA is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 to organize a Jewish Studies conference every Spring at alternating sites in the western United States and Canada. The conference serves as a forum for Jewish Studies scholars in this region to present their research, discuss pedagogical issues, network with colleagues in their disciplines, and share information about the funding and organization of Jewish Studies programs.  This year The University of Arizona was selected as the site of the conference.The diversity of content in the conference really underscored what an interdisciplinary field Judaic Studies is. In a panel on Israel and the Middle East, attendees heard from Adam Howard, of George Washington University and the U.S. State Department, speak about peacemaking during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Immediately following Dr. Howard, attendees heard from Naomi Sokoloff, who teaches in the Comparative Literature department at the University of Washington, present about representations of Israel in recent American Jewish fiction.The keynote speaker was Dr. Theodore Sasson of Brandeis University and Middlebury College. He spoke about American Jews’ new relationship with Israel to the conference’s 56 attendees. Barkan summed up the conference when he wrote, “this conference gave us a unique survey of the field, both by topic and often with considerable depth.”