The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Gales’ Gevalt: Finally, Some Good Jewish Content


By David Gales and Edo Biluar,

To be Jewish at Grinnell is confusing at best. And while we can’t speak for the experience of every Jewish student on campus, there are institutional through lines that impact every Jew at the College. In order to better contextualize the state of Judaism on campus, Edo Biluar ‘23 and I sat down with Professor Katya Gibel Mevorach, anthropology, and talked about the history of the institution as it relates to Jewish identity.

While this article won’t be a detailed narrative of Judaism at Grinnell, there are a few important things to know before we talk about our own experiences as well as some of the problems we would like to point out to students at Grinnell, be they Jews or goyim (that means non-Jews, for all you goyim out there). So, let’s get some facts straight:

There has never been a Jewish Studies major or concentration at Grinnell College.

We do not currently have a Rabbi on campus.

We do not have a designated Jewish space on campus.

There is no consistent Kosher option at D-Hall.

While Grinnell offers a Hebrew Bible course and occasionally special topics relating to Judaism, there are little to no regularly programmed classes on Jewish people, culture, identity or history.

And therein lies the problem; Grinnell, both the institution and the student body at large, views Judaism as just another Western religion, not as a people group with shared (yet diverse) history, stories and traditions. Stop for a minute and think: how many classes that you’ve been in have had any discussion of Jews beyond the surface level? Did your art history class bring up Jewish art? Did your music history class bring up the unique musical tradition of eastern-European Jews? Did your Quranic studies course go in-depth about Mohammed’s complex relationship with Judaism? What about your classics course: did it talk about Hellenistic Judaism or the Jewish Quarter in Rome?

Friends, we have a hole in our curriculum. Historically, the Jewish people have been recklessly left out of discussions of multiculturalism. As Jewishness has become equated with whiteness (though many, many Jews do not have white skin), Jews have found themselves in the unfortunately precarious position of having no defined ground to stand upon.

And every time Edo and I try to bring up the lack of Grinnellian Jewish studies with our peers, we find ourselves faced with opposition. The very notion of bringing the discipline into the public eye at Grinnell is shot down with whataboutisms like “What about Black/Africana studies?” or “What about Islamic studies?” as if the need for one invalidates or eclipses the need for the other. We suspect the reason for this pushback is the unwillingness to see Jewish people

on campus as anything other than privileged white people who need to stop asking for special permission.

Hot take: ignoring the cultural background of a group of people is bad. When you refer to Jews, you refer to them as the Jewish people. You don’t hear people say “the Catholic people” in the same way, because Judaism is more than just a religion – it’s a people. Judaism is about far more than faith. Therefore, Jewish Studies transcends the departments that are currently present at Grinnell. It involves everything from political science to history to economics to music to — you guessed it — religion.

So, what can be done about this? Well, we’re certainly not the first to bring up institutional issues with being Jewish on campus. If you look through The S&B archives, you’ll find numerous articles on the matter from as far back as the 1960s and as recently as 2019. We have no illusions about the amount of power we wield. We know that the two of us probably can’t do with one article what decades of students before us have failed to. However, there are concrete steps to be taken here, and not just about the addition of Jewish Studies but also about the problematic Grinnellian culture around Jewishness in general.

First, please email us at [galesdav] or [biluared] if you would be interested in joining an extra-curricular Jewish studies group with Professor Gibel Mevorach (Jews and goyim welcome). Hopefully, with enough traction from students, we can prove interest in Jewish studies to the administration and get course offerings in the future.

Also, and this next bit is for the goyim, please think more carefully about how you view and treat Jewish identity on campus. Judaism isn’t just a religion to be critiqued, and it’s also not just one single demographic of people. There are Jews all over the world, and we do not all have the same perspectives and experiences. Generalizing about Jewish identity is just as problematic as generalizing about any other minority group on campus. It’s just not a great look for y’all.

(Also, Jewish and Israeli identity are not the same. Okay, thanks bye.)

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