'Especially now, in-depth knowledge about Judaism and Jewish history is important'
The newly established Leiden Jewish Studies Association aims to bring together Leiden scholars working on Judaism. The first annual conference will take place in Leiden on 6 and 7 December. Leiden professors and co-organisers of the LJSA Sarah Cramsey and Jürgen Zangenberg talk about their plans.
Since 7 October, everything related to Judaism has been sensitive. How do you relate to this?
Sarah Cramsey: ‘We've formed this association at an auspicious time in the history of the Jewish people and Jewish studies, but I believe that Jürgen, myself and so many of our colleagues have something to offer that goes beyond opinion pieces, TikTok videos and even hour-long podcasts. Although those formats are valuable in their own way, these genres often focus very little in-depth attention on primary sources. At the LJSA, we offer a deep and broad understanding of the Jewish experience throughout historical time, while at the same time we problematise and explore the differences in that experience across the study of literature, archaeology and history. If the current crisis attracts students to us, we might be able to help our students see longer chronologies and put in perspective the subtleties of the information that they are receiving from other places. ’
Why was the Leiden Jewish Studies Association needed?
Jürgen Zangenberg, professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity: 'There is rather a lot of knowledge in the Faculty of Humanities, but researchers aren’t always aware of each other's existence. As professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity, I was therefore always scouting for people who had the same interests as me. Then you find that people are involved in all kinds of facets of Jewish culture, from Hebrew and paintings to architecture, philosophy and migration history. Sometimes they’re not even aware that their work could also contribute something to the study of Judaism, but their knowledge is very useful. I wanted to find a way to build bridges between all these islands of knowledge. Fortunately, Sarah was also immediately enthusiastic about this when she was appointed professor. Together, we submitted a grant application to the faculty, which led to the formation of the Association. Our goal is to streamline communication about everything related to Jewish history and culture and to strengthen people-to-people links. Our first step towards that is a website and the forthcoming conference “Jews at Home. From Creation to Corona” on 6 and 7 December.'
The launch of the Leiden Jewish Studies Association will be marked with a congress. What can we expect from this?
Cramsey: ‘Besides welcoming one of the top scholars of Jewish history, Professor Elisheva Baumgarten from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I’m looking forward to drawing attention to Jewish studies at a time where there’s an increase in anti-Jewish sentiment, anti-Semitism and thinking that reinforces “otherness” more generally. Of course, we’ll be very mindful of the fact that there are many people who have very raw emotions and direct connections to what’s happening right now in Israel and Palestine.’
Zangenberg: 'I hope a lot of people will come to our congress to make contacts. I am happy to hear that a number of students plan to come and even actively participate with a paper. Furthermore, it is good to see that the purpose of the Association - to strengthen connections within the faculty - is already visible here. Almost all the speakers have a Leiden background. In addition, I hope we will become nationally visible and that people from outside Leiden will also come to the congress. We certainly don't want to compete with the national associations of Jewish Studies, but we would like to make our presence known and show that we in Leiden have something unique to contribute to the discussion. That is also why we are organising a public lecture on the evening of 6 December.'
How do you see the future of the Leiden Jewish Studies Association?
Zangenberg: ‘I hope to make sure that the doors remain open, so people can always come along, develop their own ideas and do things together.’
Cramsley: ‘I hope we continue to have support from our Faculty and the University. We don’t need a lot of infrastructure, but the continued commitment to financial support for the LJSA will make it possible for us to focus attention on all the Jewish Studies work that's already being done in Leiden.’
The congress Jews at Home. From Creation to Corona will take place on 6 and 7 December. The congress includes a public lecture by Albertina Oegema: 'Wie is de baas in huis? Joodse families in laatantieke parabels'.