I am thrilled to step into the role of the new academic director of the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life. As a faculty member at Rutgers in the departments of Jewish Studies and History for twenty years, I have been excited to be a part of the Bildner Center’s development into a world-class center of learning, an essential part of the School of Arts and Sciences, and an invaluable public resource at the local, national, and international levels.
These are uncertain times in the Jewish landscape in both the United States and Israel—the two great centers of post–World War II Jewish life. Circumstances have changed dramatically since the Center’s founding in 1996. The identities of young Americans are more polarized than ever; so, too, are those of Jews, as reported in studies by the Pew Research Center and other research organizations. While some question the value of the humanities, the Bildner Center affirms its strong conviction that the study of the humanities can help us to overcome the critical challenges of our time.
Indeed, in my view, the humanities are more important than ever. Those of us who research and teach in the humanities strengthen the broad liberal arts mission of the university. We engage students in critical thinking, guide them in open-minded discussion, and expose them to literature, film, history, philosophy, art, languages, ancient texts, and music, among other fields. We help them become more articulate in their writing as well as more poised and confident in public speaking.
Rutgers’ greatest and most distinctive asset among the top-tier public research universities is its ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, and cultural diversity. In this context, Jewish studies is more important than ever, and the Bildner Center plays a signal role in enhancing the cultural diversity of the Rutgers community and presenting it to the public.
The Center supports the Department of Jewish Studies, engages the public with dynamic programs on Jewish life and culture, and deepens the expertise of middle and secondary school teachers in Holocaust studies. Our public programs, visiting scholars, faculty seminars, and support for undergraduate research and study-abroad programs all sustain the humanistic cosmopolitanism that is the hallmark of a tolerant civic society.
Building on the impressive record established by my colleague and friend Yael Zerubavel, whose professionalism, intelligence, and commitment to Rutgers will be sorely missed, I am delighted to guide the Bildner Center as it moves into its next stage of prominence and relevance.
Nancy Sinkoff, Academic Director
The Allen and Joan Bildner Center
for the Study of Jewish Life