By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — A group of academics from Dallas-Fort Worth area universities and institutions have banded together to create the North Texas Council of Jewish Studies Professors.
This council, convened by the Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, includes academics who teach Jewish studies courses at Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University’s Brite Divinity School, University of Dallas, University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Texas, and the Dallas Holocaust Museum, explained Meyer Denn, CJE executive director. (The group also hires private researchers.)
An estimated 25 of 48 area professors came the inaugural meeting, Denn said.
The council’s current chairman is Joshua Parens, dean of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts and professor of philosophy and politics at the University of Dallas. His long list of expertise areas includes Jewish medieval philosophy.
Parens said the creation of this council goes a long way toward uniting local Jewish studies professionals, the bulk of whom had previously never been in touch with or connected to one another in a meaningful way.
“We now are connecting and a lot of good things will come out of it,” Parens said. “Under the auspices of the Center for Jewish Education, we will meet twice a year, around the time that school starts in the fall and the spring.”
Dr. Nils Roemer, director of Richardson’s Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, agreed that the many Jewish studies experts in the Metroplex have been far too isolated.
“Collectively, all of us make up a substantial group of almost 50 academics,” Dr. Roemer said. “I have high expectations and hopes in connection with this council. This is just the beginning in North Texas. It’s possible we could draw more people from elsewhere.”
The council approved the creation of a special directory for Jewish organizations and synagogues Aug. 28 as their first major decision.
This directory will spotlight local Jewish professors as scholars who can be recruited to speak at local institutions, officials said.
This directory will be compiled and distributed by CJE officials. It is expected to serve as a community resource for Jewish organizations and synagogues and feature the professors as scholars in a way that would allow the community to engage scholars to speak at their institutions.
It will include particulars about who the scholars are, their contact information, the institution they represent, their expertise or area of research, course topics, availability to serve as speakers and/or scholars-in-residence, and honorarium range, Denn said.
With at least 44 professors listed in the directory, their profiles will probably fill up at least two pages apiece, said Karen Schlosberg, coordinator of projects and administration for CJE.
The directory will be published in PDF form to save printing and mailing costs and emailed to area synagogues and whichever other institutions wish to have a copy, Schlosberg said.
“We are hoping to have it finished between the end of December and the beginning of January,” she said.
Dr. Shira Lander, professor of practice and director of Jewish studies at Southern Methodist University’s Religious Studies Department, said as someone new to North Texas and to Jewish studies in North Texas, the idea of a directory makes a lot of sense to her. She said she actively contributed to that idea as a member of the council.
“One of the main goals or objectives is to create synergy amongst the various institutions that host Jewish studies programs and scholars — to enable collaboration to bring in speakers and even perhaps hire new faculty,” Dr. Lander said. “Another objective is to just make us all aware of the brand of programs going on in Jewish studies to avoid being duplicative and avoiding conflict with each other’s programs.”
She added that the directory would allow professors to better effect professional collaborations.
“This would be great for those of us who might consider (working) with one another,” Dr. Lander said.
The CJE, incidentally, regularly convenes the heads of our Jewish day schools, congregational religious schools, early childhood centers, youth directors, and the like in the spirit of collegiality and professional enrichment to meet and discuss issues pertaining to their areas of mutual interest and operational management, Denn said.