This past year, the faculty of Virginia Wesleyan College approved a minor in Jewish studies, one of only seven such programs in the Commonwealth, and the only one of the seven at a liberal arts institution dedicated solely to undergraduates.
Under the direction of Professor Eric Mazur, the Gloria & David Furman Professor of Judaic Studies and unofficial “shammes” of the Jewish studies minor, participating students take three traditional courses (an introduction to Judaism and two courses of related content) and one directed reading course in a Jewish studies topic of the student’s choosing. But unlike most minors in Jewish studies, participating students are also required to spend a semester earning college credit interning with a local Jewish organization— in a synagogue or with any of the many Jewish civic and philanthropic organizations in Tidewater.
“One might not think of Jewish studies at a small Methodist school like Virginia Wesleyan,” notes Mazur, “but it is a natural fit, and it reflects the College’s dedication to spiritual growth and cultural awareness to compliment intellectual and personal development.”
Mazur also identifies the College’s interests in “real world” experience. “The minor’s required internship reminds participating students that Judaism is a lived experience, and not just something that can be read about in texts.”
Mazur notes that the introductory Judaism course, titled “Judaism through Food,” is very “hands on,” exposing students to traditional and religious foods while they study. Over the course of the semester, students enjoy a kiddish lunch (after Shabbat morning services) at a local synagogue, participate in a Passover seder, fill up on “kosher-style” foods at the Rt. 58 Deli, and get treated to occasional class-time “snacks” (including gefilte fish) while they learn about the history, culture, life-cycle, rituals, and beliefs of Judaism. Last year, the class was treated to the 5th Annual All-Tidewater Invitational Latke- Hamantashan Debate, which was held on the VWC campus. “The class,” Mazur volunteers, “has become surprisingly popular.”
In conjunction with the new minor, Mazur has initiated an effort to expand the Henry Clay Hofheimer II Library collection of Judaica at Virginia Wesleyan, and is seeking donations of books and other learning materials (including music CDs and films/documentaries on DVD) from local Jewish individuals and organizations.
Already the home of a significant library donated by the family of Rabbi Michael Panitz, Virginia Wesleyan has recently received materials from the Congregation Beth El synagogue library, as well as local contributors.
“Members of the local Jewish community have been very generous to the College over its comparatively young life,” Mazur says, pointing to the gracious gifts given to endow his own position, as well as other programs around campus. “But I’m sure that there are books, music CDs, and films sitting around unused that would find a safe home here while they benefit young minds pursuing a deeper understanding of Judaism in its many manifestations.”
Anyone wishing to contribute to the library’s collection, or who represents an organization interested in working with VWC Jewish studies minors, may contact Professor Mazur at 757-455-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org or become a Facebook “friend” of “Jewish Studies at VWC.”