December 2015

Topic of the Week: Meet Our Scholars

December 21, 2015

Tamar Biala, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence

The texts of the Jewish canon were written by and for men, reflecting their experiences and ideas. How would Judaism look with sacred Hebrew texts written by women, reflecting their varied experiences and ideas? Tamar Biala began to answer this question when she published, in Hebrew, "Dirshuni: Midrashei Nashim" (Yediot Acharonot, 2009), the first-ever collection of midrashim written by contemporary Israeli women.

As co-editor of the collection (with Nehama Weingarten-Mintz), Biala watched as the book both sold out and was banned by some in the rabbinate who considered it subversive. Now, Biala is at it again, putting the finishing touches on a new volume of Dirshuni during her residency at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, and starting to work on an English translation to be jointly published by HBI and Brandeis University Press in the HBI Series on Jewish Women.

Biala received her B.A. in Jewish studies and in literature at the Hebrew University, and her M.A. in Women's Studies and Jewish Studies at the Schechter Institute. Her M.A. thesis, directed by Professor Tamar Ross, was on "Feminist Theology's Critique of Divine Transcendence as a Means of Changing Conceptions of the 'Self.”

She has taught at IASA, Jerusalem's high school for gifted students, at the Hartman Institute's teacher training program, in pluralistic batei midrash in Israel and for the Israel Defence Forces.

Topic of the Week: Meet Our Scholars

December 9, 2015

Katka Reszke, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence

It started with a hunch, led to a book and a number of research and film projects... and who knows where it will end? Katka Reszke, a writer, documentary filmmaker, photographer and researcher in Jewish history, culture, and identity, always had a hunch she was Jewish. It turns out she was right. Read more about the story of her Jewish identity and how it inspires her work in We are all in this sukkah together, a piece she wrote for the 614 HBI ezine.

Katka holds a Ph.D in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is the author of Return of the Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland (2013). Recently, she served as chief screenwriter of the acclaimed film Karski & The Lords of Humanity (2015). 

During her residency at HBI, Reszke is developing her new research-creation project, The Meshugene Effect, a book and an experimental documentary film featuring personal narratives of several Polish women, who embark on a pursuit of Jewish identity following an irrational feeling, a hunch about having Jewish ancestry. The project explores cultural and discursive contingencies surrounding religion, gender and authenticity and how they affect the way we make sense of experiences of memory and transition. All of this set against the landscape of troubled Polish-Jewish history and a new curious Polish-Jewish present.

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Topic of the Week: Meet Our Scholars

December 2, 2015

Rachel Gordan, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence

When Rachel Gordan first read the book, Gentleman’s Agreement, and saw the movie, one of her initial questions was, “What kind of person wrote this story?”

A scholar of American Jewish religion and culture, Dr. Gordan is currently answering that question as she completes a book that will be a “biography” of novelist Laura Z. Hobson, and her most important book, the best-selling novel-turned-Academy Award-winning film, Gentleman’s Agreement.

After receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in religious studies and at the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, where she served as the advisor to the undergraduate program in American Studies. At Harvard, Northwestern, University of Toronto and York University, Dr. Gordan has taught courses in Jewish Studies and American religious history. Her first book, How Judaism Became an American Religion will be published by Harvard University Press.

Gentleman’s Agreement, about a gentile reporter who poses as a Jew in order to write an article about anti-Semitism, was one of several novels about American anti-Semitism that were published during the 1940’s, but it was the most ”culturally momentous” of this genre, according to Gordan. Hobson’s biography sheds light on why she was uniquely positioned to tell a story about anti-Semitism that would appeal to a broad, postwar American audience.

To learn more, listen to Dr. Rachel Gordan introducing the film, Gentleman’s Agreement, to a group of Brandeis University students during her residency at the HBI, and then discussing it with Amy Powell, HBI’s communications director.