I entered UConn as an undergraduate intending to major in Spanish with a minor in Judaic Studies. But after taking only a couple of courses with Professor Miller and Sherry Shamash, I found them so informative, substantive and fascinating that I decided to pursue a double major instead. UConn only offered a minor in Judaic Studies, forcing me to do an individualized major; a long bureaucratic process, but one that, in my case, was well worth it.
While my interest in Judaic Studies and Hebrew stems from the fact that I am Jewish, I think that even if one is not of the Jewish faith, that any student who loves history and languages, and who wishes to acquire a thorough appreciation of the world’s oldest monotheistic people and their journey through time, would greatly appreciate the wealth of knowledge that comes from taking these courses that UConn has to offer.
While there may have been new additions to the faculty since I graduated, I remember the Judaic Studies program being wonderfully structured, with Professor Miller covering ancient history, Professor Einbinder covering medieval history, and Professor Shoulson covering early modern and modern history. I had the pleasure of taking courses with each of them and was amazed to discover just how ignorant I had been of my own people, our history, and how much I still had to learn. I acquired so much knowledge of Jewish history from ancient times to the present, in addition to learning about the various civilizations under which Jews have lived while in the Diaspora, from the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, to the worlds of Christendom and Islam.
As far as Hebrew is concerned, Sherry Shamash is not only a great language instructor, but one of the most delightful and remarkable people whom I had the pleasure of befriending while at UConn. With her vivacious and personable spirit, she has a way of drawing students in (including those who are not Jewish) and stimulating their interest by intertwining her knowledge of the Hebrew language with her knowledge of Israel and Judaism in general.
For many students at UConn, college means taking lots of large classes taught by teaching assistants, who, while very hard-working, simply do not possess the same wealth of knowledge and expertise that lifelong academics have to offer. Whenever I took a Judaic Studies course, I always felt like I was being taught, not by someone who was simply being paid to teach a course, but by someone who was an established scholar in that field and whose passion for it was palpable. It was a real privilege to sit and listen to their lectures, as I knew that I was getting a real education.
While I have ultimately chosen to pursue a career involving my other major, Spanish, I am so glad that I made the decision to also major in Judaic Studies because it taught me the joy and satisfaction that can come from learning for its own sake.