Friday, November 21, 2008

update on Jewish Studies classes

I spoke to the dean and he suggested to try and get one of the Jewish Studies classes off the ground, so I made a flyer and keep hoping for the best. To my relief, my dean assured me that I would not have to teach 5x a week, a not unlikely scenario. And since last night, when I had my students over for a carb- and fun-filled dinner, I am in a much better mood. What a difference 1.500 calories and some diversion make!

At the same time, I remain suspicious as to the success of a Jewish Studies Program here.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

my courses...

I was tentatively told that I will be teaching 2 survey classes next semester. While I am not particularly thrilled about these particular surveys, I am much more bothered by the fact that they are scheduled for every single day of the week. Not only will I not have any full (week) days for research which is supposedly the number 1 priority at my school, I also won't be able to travel for research or go away for Shabbat, the latter not being an argument that is likely to sway anyone. But until now, I figured that, if I am already toughing it out in the south, without a Shabbat community and more or less without a library, at least the job and the experience of teaching Jewish Studies should be really good. What do I do if this turns out not to be the case? Or only after a good number of years?

If none of this can be changed, however, I will not be ambitious next semester. I will go in every day, teach my class and otherwise try to get "the book" out. It might not be so bad then to teach this Intro course.

I thought I was doing just fine until last night when I got a massive migraine that lasted all day. And tonight, after some deliberations and lots of chocolate, I wrote an email to my dean and requested a meeting. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Jewish Studies classes for me

This week I found out that a total of four students has registered for the two classes I was supposed to teach in spring. Needless to say, they will probably be canceled. Considering that a third Jewish Studies course on the Holocaust has also been closed for lack of registration, I am now wondering if my school is really ready for the Jewish Studies Program we are planning to set up.

If students are not even willing to watch Shoa movies, a topic hugely popular with American teenagers, what chance do my far more pedestrian courses have?

Certainly, a number of factors came together: Because of the recession, my school is implementing minimum requirements for courses, and many, many courses have been canceled to cut costs, especially in the Humanities. But a number of these classes fulfill mandatory requirements, and not everybody can have switched to Accounting, so what is going on?

And yes, as a newcomer, I still have a reputation and an audience to build but this also works in my favor, not enough time to scare off potential students. Our classes are perhaps not yet sufficiently cross-listed, no PR etc. But my main question remains: has my school done its homework? Is it sure that this program is viable?

Or are Jewish Studies so fabulously popular that is simply assumed that the program will fly? And if so, why? Because ethnic studies are so popular? Or to attract Jews and Jewish money, as some have suggested?

Monday, November 17, 2008

no ice scrapers in the south

It's "cold" now at night and every morning, I have to get that ice off my windshield. So far, I've been using my Barnes & Nobles membership card but this leaves my fingers exposed to the ice and so I have been trying to find a scratcher--so far without success. None at Target, and the Advanced Auto lady told me that she imported hers from Michigan. Fabulous. What do people do? Rubbing alcohol? Is this why I see all these drivers sitting in their cars for 10 minutes with the engine running before taking off?!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"kosher style" chicken

This week, the local Jewish student organization organized a student-professor Friday night dinner. It took place at a colleague's place who was nice enough to invite me for Shabbat. The students stressed that it would be a meat dinner, so we all took care to prepare parve side dishes and I was getting excited (meat!!!). When the meat showed up, it was "kosher style"--i.e. the chicken was treife, but the breading parve. Whaaat? Since I got off the plane, I've encountered quite a few people with three sets of dishes--meat, dairy, and treif--and I've seen "kosher style" restaurants but "kosher-style" chicken on Friday night?! Must be a southern thing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

more on food (not for the faint of heart)

I consider myself a veteran.

In Jerusalem, I watched a mouse jump out of my room, pursued by 2 roommates and a young cat just getting the hang of the chase. I caught a (harmless but disgusting) spider the size of a small plate that had wandered in from the garden and heard my roommate scream when he discovered a giant moth that had chosen the tight space in between toilet bowl and toilet seat to die. And my first conscious act on my first morning in the goldene medine, in Brooklyn, was to slay a roach with my right sandal. With time, I got used to various infestations. In Washington Heights, e.g., we took to rinsing every plate twice: after and before each use and I never left my food out unsupervised. I've woken up to a rat floating in my Upper West Side toilet (these big American toilets with big water basins) and, incensed, immediately wanted to freeze it to send it to my landlord. I should add that my street was called "rat alley" by the locals. That, of course, beat “crack alley” which was the next block. Once, I even had two kinds of mice: tiny little grey balls living in the oven and slightly bigger ones that came out only around 1:30 from underneath the radiator in the living room.

Then I moved to the Deep South.

I learned to catch half-dead bugs in paper cones (they can't climb out fast enough) and release them outside where they belong. I don't gag anymore when I feel them wiggle inside the cone either. I also discovered that people have bug philosophies. One friend is convinced that they come out to die in the middle of the living room when there's no movement for a while and they feel it's "safe". Of course, here, the bugs are a little bigger and take a while to die. Having wandered into the bathroom while a giant roach was hugging the bristles on my tooth brush, my brushes are now permanently housed in these little travel cases and I bought a bunch for visitors, too. They look something like this and I feel much better since I have them:

And then, last night, after a long day, I bought some crispbread, took out the hummus I'd just made and plopped down in front of the telly to watch be-tipul, my latest addiction (I brought back the first 2 seasons). The crispbread was a bit crumbly so I got a knife to spread the humus and, incidentally, looked down--to see literally dozens of little crawly things escaping the slice I'd just broken in half. I started sobbing hysterically and only calmed down after I'd spend a half hour on the phone. This morning, a colleague told me that she takes out a slice and waits a minute for any bugs to come out. They call this civilization? How can people put up with this?!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The food

There are many ways in which I don't fit in: my accent marking me as a rare foreigner, I'm a Democrat in a sea of Red--a color choice that, considering the anti-socialist hysteria in Republican quarters, never ceases to amaze me--and, of course, there's the food. Could there possibly a treifer culture than southern American cuisine? Boiled p-nuts are not really worth the time it takes to peel them, and lard is everywhere, as are shellfish, and, of course, pork.

This Shabbat, I listened to an entire conversation on how to prepare hogs on sticks (or something like that) and what fun it was to pull the meat off WITH YOUR FINGERS! I'm turning green just thinking about it... How can this be fine while fish with heads is gross? The latter I learned when, a few months after I'd gotten off the plane, I proudly brought in trout and watched my guests slide off their chairs at the sight of their individually cooked and, of course, unbeheaded fish. Strange. The last vegetarian restaurant closed down last year, the next kosher place is about 95 miles away and I've begun to schedule my trips to urban centers around my food urges. I eat a lot of meat when I visit cities. I have ordered burgers when deplaning, and, last week in Chicago, inhaled one of Spertus' Reubenesque sandwiches the spot. One day, I might even drive those 90something miles, just to have a burger. How did people do this for decades?!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Back to work...

The elections are over, the parties are, too, and most of next week's classes are prepared, thanks to a panic attack that had me write out 2 months of lectures over the summer. My computer is still getting fixed (to the tune of $420) and I am unpacking my last boxes, but it seems--gasp!--that I will be ready to begin my own work this week-end. Yay!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama in the classroom

Still full of last night's impressions, I couldn't just go back to business as usual and I printed out some international reactions, among them a Jerusalem Post article on Abner Mikva's talk of Obama's "yiddishe neshama". Great confusion in the classroom. Obama Jewish?! Quite of few of my students bought it without questioning and, apparently, without reading the article in the first place. It's amazing to me that after all this, after months of inflammatory "Barack HUSSEIN Obama" cries, College-age students still could be so uninformed. Sigh.

Yes, they can!

Amazing. While I still wish I was American right now, I also know that my voice was not needed. What a day we're having here in my little Republican state, in spite of a considerable loss of diversity in the local political representation. With the images from Chicago fresh in mind, I crossed a poor neighbourhood on my way home from an election party, and there, kids were standing outside, cheering on the occasional passer-by. I hope they--and all Americans--remain if not this excited but at least involved. Wouldn't that be a nice change?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I spent the last five days before the elections in Chicago and there was a decidedly upbeat buzz in the air, international TV stations were staking out space, students of the many universities on Michigan Avenue were excitedly chatting while waiting for their coffees at Starbucks, and not because classes would be canceled. Even the CVS pharmacy was advertising one-way cameras “for the rally”. This is going to be the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, even Celine canceled her concert and it's going to take place on the very ground where, only 40 years ago, hundreds were wounded in an anti-Vietnam demonstration and under the man whose father was the mayor during the 1968 protests. I wish I could have stayed, even without a ticket!

At home, school was canceled for the day, and when I went to the deserted student coffee shop, the coffee lady, a Black post-middle-aged woman, started chatting with me. While preparing my coffee, and safely perched between the machine and the wall, Easter (really her name!) leaned in and demanded: “Whom did you vote for? “ This wasn't the first time a southerner was unexpectedly direct but I was still surprised; this is, after all, America, and people do not like getting too personal about certain subjects, including politics, in public. I told her I wasn’t eligible to vote but that I was hoping for an Obama victory. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she never thought she’d live to see the day (of a serious African-American candidacy). Many have commented on the historical character of the elections and so it's almost trite to note the obvious. But hers was a sentiment I've encountered a lot, especially from folk who grew up on the wrong side of Segregation, a period that is still in living memory here in the south. Lieberman’s candidacy and the excitement it created among Jews can’t even begin to compare.

Like me, Easter was still worried, but also giddy with excitement. She was quite aware of the difficulties laying ahead--my school e.g. is in the process of "absorbing" a 15% budget cut and more is to come. But her dream is to walk the streets of our (staunchly Republican) town tonight with a camera in hand. I hope I will get to see her photographs soon.