Celebrating a Decade of Jewish Studies:
Education, Engagement and Excellence at Elon
This year, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Jewish Studies Program at Elon. Launched in the 2012-13 academic year, the program has since established connections across the state, nation and world as a hub for interdisciplinary study of varied aspects of Jewish culture and identity.
“Watching Jewish studies develop from an idea to a few classes, to even greater exposure across Elon University has brought us much gratification. University leadership, outstanding faculty, and engagement across many facets of academia have propelled Elon to national recognition in Jewish Studies.”
Lori and Eric Sklut P’14
Elon’s Jewish Studies program explores the historical and contemporary experience of the Jewish people. Courses spanning the liberal arts explore Jewish history, language and literature and the diversity of Jewish religious, cultural, philosophical and political traditions. These studies lead students to consider the distinctive ideas and practices of Jewish communities, the ways in which Jewish ideas have influenced and have been influenced by other civilizations, the conditions under which Jews have been the victims of persecution and the significance of the establishment of the State of Israel in the 20th century.
The Jewish Studies Minor was approved by the University Curriculum Committee in 2012, drawing together courses from Religious Studies, Philosophy, History and Geography, Sociology and Anthropology, English, and what were then the Foreign Languages and General Studies programs. Dr. Geoffrey Claussen served as the program’s founding coordinator, and the faculty advisory committee included Drs. David Crowe, Lynn Huber, Yoram Lubling, Kathy Lyday, Michael Pregill, and Omri Shimron. An endowment gift from Elon parents Lori and Eric Sklut through the Levine-Sklut Family Foundation significantly expanded the Jewish Studies program by establishing the Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies.
In May 2013, the first students to graduate from Elon with minors in Jewish Studies were Sarah Beese, Melissa Kansky, and Eva Yaffe.
March 1, 2023, Reception and Celebration
On March 1, 2023, the university community gathered to mark the tenth anniversary of the Jewish Studies Program at Elon.
Welcome and Introduction
Dr. Andrea A. Sinn, O’Briant Developing Professor, Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of Elon’s Jewish Studies Program
- Dr. Connie Ledoux Book, President of Elon University
- Dr. Gabie Smith, Dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Science and Professor of Psychology
- Dr. Geoffrey Claussen, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Lori and Eric Sklut Scholar in Jewish Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies
- Anna Okum ’25
- Faith Minor ’23
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Lori and Eric Sklut Scholar in Jewish Studies Geoffrey Claussen served as the program’s founding coordinator. The inaugural faculty advisory board included Drs. David Crowe, Lynn Huber, Yoram Lubling, Kathy Lyday, Michael Pregill, and Omri Shimron.
“Dr. Claussen has been the center of the Jewish Studies Program’s tremendous growth, and with his leadership and the surrounding faculty support, he has brought Elon national recognition in Jewish Studies,” said Lori and Eric Sklut. “We are grateful to him, to the university, to prior and current leadership, and the board for the
Since 2017, Associate Professor of History and O’Briant Developing Professor Andrea Sinn has coordinated the Jewish Studies Program.
“The program has flourished under Dr. Andrea Sinn’s leadership over the past five years,” Claussen said. “Dr. Sinn has developed innovative courses and engaged learning opportunities for students, including programming, study away experiences, and outstanding undergraduate research projects focused on the Holocaust.”
Current advisory board members are:
Research and scholarship
Program faculty have expertise in a variety of Jewish Studies fields and regularly publish books and peer-reviewed articles.
Recent publications include:
- Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar (2015) by Geoffrey Claussen
- “Features of Foreign Policy Birds: Israeli Prime Ministers as Hawks and Doves” (2020) by Baris Kesgin
- German Jews and Migration to the United States, 1933–1945 (2022), co-authored by Andrea Sinn
- Modern Musar: Contested Virtues in Jewish Thought (2022), by Geoffrey Claussen
“One of our outcomes is that students will be able to discuss the importance of gender, race, national identity and sexuality in relation to Jewish studies. Those dimensions encourage collaborations across programs, and it’s been important to us that Jewish studies events are co-sponsored by so many different programs at Elon. We also want our students to understand how Jewish traditions and identities can be understood in many different ways, including in religious, political, cultural and secular terms.”
“The Jewish Studies program has added a dimension to campus of enormous richness. The power of the work we do here at Elon is our strong grounding in academics that are parallel to vibrant programs of practice. Those pillars stand side by side. Developing the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — is central to an Elon education, no matter what religious or spiritual practices students bring to campus. College should be a time of exploration along all of these dimensions of being human.”
Leo Lambert, President Emeritus of Elon University
Students in the Jewish Studies Program complete remarkable research under the mentorship of program faculty.
Some recent projects of note are:
- 2021– present: Faith Minor, “Exploring the Intersection of Trans and Jewish Thought and Tradition”
- 2020–22: Hallie Milstein, “Jewish Identity and Wall Street: Challenging and Legitimizing Capitalist Systems”
- 2019–20: Liora Wittle, “Experiences of LGBTQ+ Jewish Women”
- Research published as “Acceptance, Empowerment, and Change: The Experiences of LGBTQ Women at Camp Ramah and Beyond,” Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 8 (2022), pp. 21-43.
- 2018–20: Hannah Thorpe, “Race, Religion, and Nationalism: Jewish Responses to White Nationalist Movements”
- Research published as “‘We Were Strangers in a Strange Land’: Jewish Racial Identity and Universalism During the Trump Era,” Journal of Interreligious Studies no. 35 (2022), pp. 2-19.
- 2016 Allison Ginsburg, “Conceptions of Spirituality among Informal Jewish Educators”
Alumni and Student Reflections
“At the time, the program’s courses aligned with many of the questions I was asking as a college student. The growth in programming and opportunities signaled Elon’s commitment to creating a space where Jewish students are welcome to exploring their identities. In my career now, the Jewish Studies Minor has given me broader knowledge from which to pull when talking with students about their understanding of Jewish identity and other areas they are thinking about. It taught me about the malleability of religious interpretation, and to think critically about religion and how it’s used.”
– Melissa Kansky ’13, Director of The Grad Network at Columbia/Barnard Hillel
“I’m so grateful to the Jewish Studies Program and the people in it because I’ve had wonderful opportunities and so much whole-hearted support and encouragement. The person I’ve become, I don’t think would have been possible outside of Elon.”
– Faith Minor ’23
“I love the experiences the Jewish Studies Program has given me. I took Hebrew my first semester with Prof. Boaz Avraham-Katz and I loved it, so I took it again and again. Dr. Claussen’s REL 1850 Jewish Traditions class was so interesting to understand why Jews believe certain things. The GBL 2400 Holocaust Journey course was an amazing experience.”
– Anna Okum ’25