Joel Berkowitz

Joel Berkowitz, Director

Archived Messages






































Message from the Director

It has been a busy year—indeed, a busy six years since a previously unnamed center took the name of Sam & Helen Stahl, and quickly ramped up its activities. Since then we have organized or co-sponsored over 120 public programs on numerous topics and in many different formats: lectures, book launches, concerts, film screenings, art exhibitions, colloquia, workshops, and an international conference. Those events reached thousands of people who attended in person, and gained wider attention through media coverage such as local newspapers and radio stations.

Collectively, our programs have offered a remarkable education, provided by a roster of world-renowned scholars, artists, and thinkers. The subject matter has ranged from ancient texts to 21st-century culture and society, and our speakers, texts, and films have spanned the globe: from the U.S. to Europe to Israel and Palestine; from Buenos Aires to Bombay to Beijing. We have learned from leading scholars, including (to name just a few) Jill Dolan, Sander Gilman, Sam Kassow, Deborah Dash Moore, David Nirenberg, David Shneer, and Alisa Solomon. We have conversed with noted authors such as David Bezmozgis, Simon Sebag-Montefiore, and Jim Shepard, and heard from newer voices who are already shaking up the literary scene, including Boris Fishman, Paul Goldberg, and Stuart Rojstaczer. We have also enjoyed many documentary and feature films, some of them followed by conversations with their directors, like Robin Hessman, Simon Target, and Adam Zucker. Acclaimed performers such as Hankus Netsky, Joanne Borts, and Lorin Sklamberg and the Klezmatics have regaled us in Yiddish, English, and Yinglish, and Sarah Aroeste will soon expand our repertoire to Ladino as well. And culinary historian Michael Twitty even cooked for us, and attracted a diverse audience to explore the rich, sometimes intersecting histories of Jewish and African-American food traditions.

Our public programs accomplish many objectives, none more important than fostering greater understanding of Jewish history, religion, and culture—a mission at the heart of our formal curriculum as well. Our students, regardless of religious background, learn from faculty dedicated to making the undergraduate experience stimulating and challenging, while actively nurturing the students they teach. We reap the fruits of that labor in many ways: in fostering civil, informative discussions about complex and often emotionally charged issues; in seeing students go from not knowing the aleph-bet to gaining a solid foundation in Hebrew; in hearing how study-abroad experiences complement and enrich classroom instruction; and in learning that some of our finest students’ intellectual journeys take them from coursework in Hebrew Studies and Jewish Studies to graduate degrees and employment in related fields.

Having an academic center with strong community support also provides us with resources to foster another of the University’s central missions: research excellence. This year, UWM became one of 115 institutions nationwide awarded a coveted Research Level 1 designation from the Carnegie Foundation, in recognition of our high level of scholarly research activity. UWM achieved this on a shoestring, with much fewer resources per faculty member than most other institutions on the list, many of them among the most prestigious universities in the world. And faculty in Jewish Studies and Hebrew Studies contributed to that research activity, with books, articles, and conference presentations in such fields as Hebrew poetry, European Jewish history, Holocaust Studies, and Jewish theatre and performance.

The past couple of years, though, have truly been the best of times and the worst of times for UWM. On the one hand, the Research 1 designation was an unprecedented triumph, and an achievement to be truly proud of. On the other hand, devastating budget cuts and structural changes have shaken the entire UW System to its core, and threatened to permanently damage the noble, important missions it has fulfilled for many decades. We have fallen to historic low levels of state funding, and rely more than ever on alternate sources of revenue. You are therefore likely to find my colleagues and me being more assertive than ever in asking for your financial assistance to help fund our many activities. I would greatly appreciate your supporting us, or increasing your level of support, as you consider the worthy causes on your list, and I am always happy to talk to donors and potential donors about the many worthy uses toward which we put our funding.

The courses and programs on the immediate horizon continue to showcase the high quality of the Stahl Center’s offerings. In the coming months, we will again partner with the Milwaukee Film Festival and UWM’s LGBT Film Festival. We will partner with Milwaukee’s Jewish Community Relations Council to bring to campus an important discussion of reconciliation after violence. We will bring Hasia Diner, a leading historian of American Jewry and a Milwaukee native, to deliver the 2016 Faye Sigman “Woman of Valor” lecture. And we will continue the “Color of Jewishness” initiative with an exciting evening of Ladino music with Sarah Aroeste and her trio. For more details on these programs, see the page 6 calendar. Thank you for your interest, and we hope to see you at one or more of these events this fall.

Joel Berkowitz
Director, Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies

September, 2016