Meet the 2016 Gilda Slifka Interns
Every summer, HBI welcomes interns from across the country and world who complete original research related to the HBI mission of fresh thinking about Jews and gender worldwide and support the work of scholars affiliated with HBI and Brandeis.
During the eight-week program, the interns also attend educational lunch sessions with scholars, visit Jewish sights of interest in the Greater Boston area including Mayyim Hayyim, and a walking tour of Jewish Boston.
The Gilda Slifka HBI Summer Internship is supported by a generous gift from Gilda Slifka.
Meet the 2016 interns and their work.
Farrell Greenwald Brenner is a rising senior at Syracuse University who grew up in Sugar Loaf, New York. At Syracuse, Brenner double majors in Women’s and Gender Studies and Citizenship and Civic Engagement, minoring in Russian. She combines these fields to study feminist and decolonial Holocaust historiography.
While working at HBI, Brenner is researching the women and girl couriers of the Jewish resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland who passed as Aryan and Polish. She has been working on various projects on this topic that will culminate in her honors capstone project next year. Brenner became interested in this subject while living in Poland and participating in “Culture and Politics of Reconciliation”, where she studied memory politics, the border politics and conflict in Central and Eastern Europe.
In addition to her individual research, Brenner is working with Penina Adelman on a fictionalized family memoir entitled “Witches In The Family” that examines the interactions of Adelman’s female ancestors with the darker forces of Jewish theology and history. Brenner’s research will focus on Jewish women and witches in the Middle Ages and their relation to possession, mysticism and folklore.
When she isn’t busy studying, Brenner is hard at work as the editor-in-chief of Syracuse’s LGBTQ publication, The Out Crowd.
Claire English is from Montreal, Canada, where she is earning a doctorate in Religion at Concordia University. English studies disability in the context of Jewish communities, history and texts. She will write her thesis on Jewish deaf communities in American urban environments from the 1880s to the 1940s.
While at HBI, English is interested in stepping away from the traditional medium of academic writing and attempting a piece of textile art. Inspired by the space at HBI, where art hangs on every wall, she is interested in experimenting with research-creation in order to explore different ways of producing and conveying knowledge. The theme of the work will take up representations of disability in Talmudic texts and attempt to relate them to contemporary realities through consultation with local community organizations in the Greater Boston area.
English is also working with Professor and Rabbi Jane Kanarek of Hebrew College to examine a portion of tractate Arakhin, as found in the Babylonian Talmud. This research will contribute to the production of a complete feminist analysis of Arakhin for inclusion in the Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, an ongoing scholarly project conceived by Professor Tal Ilan, of the Freie Universität Berlin.
In her limited free time, English enjoys swimming and watching films. She would love to travel, but for now is busy earning her doctorate.
Ruth Fertig grew up in Bloomington, Indiana and will be a senior at Brandeis University in the Fall. Fertig has a double major in Gender and Social Policy and Music.
For her individual research project at HBI, Fertig is examining representations of Jewishness in popular television. She has observed that Jewish characters in television must portray a specific type of Jewishness in order to be palatable to general audiences, and often cannot take their Jewishness seriously. Fertig is interested in exploring this pattern in mainstream media and relating it to her own experiences with being Jewish in non-Jewish spaces, particularly in liberal spaces and those in which she has been the “token Jew.”.
At HBI, Fertig is also working with Janet Freedman on a project entitled “The Words To Say It, The Ways To Do It”, which is a study of the language used for activism. Freedman and Fertig started the project together last fall to explore language and feminist activism. But the research has evolved to focus on how language can affect being a Jewish activist and how Jewish people fit into activist circles.
Fertig also sings in a Jewish acapella group at Brandeis called Ba’note. She is involved in Jewish life and queer life on campus and is interesting in creating intersections between the two communities.
Rachel Gabrilowitz, from Cranston, Rhode Island, is a rising senior at Brandeis University. Gabrilowitz has a double major in Biology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
While working as an intern at HBI, Gabrilowitz is researching assisted reproductive technologies and the ways they intersect with Jewish law. She will also be looking at how individuals’ understanding of Judaism affect their reproductive choices.
Gabrilowitz is also working with Matt Boxer to compile a literature review of social science research on LGBTQ Jews to supplement the Cohen Center’s demographic research on Jewish people in the Greater Boston area. For the first time, the Cohen Center has gathered a sample size of LGBTQ identifying Jews that is large enough to allow them to analyze trends within the community.
In addition to studying the relationship between the sciences and gender studies, Gabrilowitz is fond of dancing, reading and hiking.
Nora Smolonsky is from Silver Spring, Maryland. She recently graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, where she majored in Western Society and Culture and minored in Religion.
Intrigued by the graphic novel community and social scene in Montreal, Smolonsky’s growing interest in reading graphic novels and memoirs has inspired her independent project at HBI. She will research the representations of Jewishness and gender in graphic novels and foresees the themes will revolve around the self, sex and Jewishness.
Smolonsky is also working with Amy Powell, HBI’s director of communications, on Fresh Ideas from HBI: The HBI Blog, assisting with research, interviews and writing. She is interested in learning how to write practically in terms of academic content, in a digital environment.
In her free time, Smolonsky enjoys exploring her surroundings, attending music concerts, cooking, and is an avid reader.
Sarah Snider grew up in Oak Park, Michigan and presently resides South Bend, Indiana. Snider currently attends University of Notre Dame's Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing with an emphasis on prose.
Snider’s individual research project at HBI is a continuation of what she refers to as her meta-memoir, which is a personal, familial, and communal memoir written in the form of “factectodes”, fragments of facts and anecdotes written without regards to chronology. Snider is interested in writing about her own life as an Orthodox woman because she has not seen her story represented in popular literature. She aspires for her work to be a part of the growing movement of female Orthodox authors writing about their unique experiences and perspectives.
In addition to her personal writing project, Snider is working with HBI Co-Director Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman doing research on author Philip Roth. Fishman and Snider will be examining a number of Roth’s texts from different time periods to identify his changing views on Jewish motherhood, the Jewish family structure and trends of the American Jewish community. They will also look at preexisting critical works on his texts to understand how others have perceived him.
Arianna Unger is a Massachusetts native now attending Brandeis University, where she studies Neuroscience with a minor in Philosophy. Unger is interested in pursuing psychiatry, and enjoys learning about 20th Century German philosophy and Jewish philosophy.
At HBI, Unger is researching how contemporary knowledge of female reproductive biology might have affected the Talmudic rabbis’ rulings on the laws of Niddah. Last year, Unger and a friend studied tractate Niddah in Chavruta and came across passages where the rabbis’ logic did not correlate with modern scientific notions. She believes that a re-evaluation of the rabbis’ jurisprudence may affect the way that birth control usage and certain fertility technologies are perceived in the Orthodox world. She will be focusing on the first chapter of Niddah, which discusses when the onset of menstruation is thought to occur, and whether a woman can “retroactively” be a Niddah.
Unger is also working with Lisa Fishbayn Joffe to develop resources for the Boston Agunah Taskforce. Unger is looking at available resources for agunot and Jewish female divorcees as well as resources for Muslim religious divorce.
She has played the violin for 12 years, writes and edits for Brandeis’ newspaper The Justice, and works in a neurobiology lab.
Hilary Wasserman is from Toronto, Ontario. She recently completed her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Ottawa. She also holds a bachelor’s degree with an honors specialization in History and a master’s degree in History both from the University of Western Ontario.
At HBI, Wasserman will be researching the Islamic divorce process. Her work will focus on Canadian mahr cases. The mahr is a sum of money paid to the wife if a couple divorces or the husband dies. Wasserman’s research will focus on the clauses in an agreement that have and have not been upheld in Canadian courts. Her goal is to create a database for solicitors so that they can become more culturally competent of their clients’ needs.
Wasserman is also working with Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, associate director of HBI, to develop a continuing professional education course for the Massachusetts Bar Association to inform practitioners about the Jewish and Islamic divorce process.
When she is not busy studying law, Wasserman enjoys travelling and reading fiction.