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Faculty Spotlights

Gilya Schmidt

Professor Gilya Schmidt celebrates two decades at helm of Judaic Studies and recent book on rural German Jewry

Gilya SchmidtOn October 24, 2013, Daniel Boyarin, Herman P. & Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, University of California at Berkeley, gave a lecture, "Imagining No Judaism," to help celebrate twenty years of Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee.  In 1993, Professor Gilya Schmidt was hired in the Department of Religious Studies to begin a program of Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee.  With the support and assistance of a twelve-member advisory committee, Professor Schmidt built a robust academic program for the study of Judaism, the Holocaust, and Israel.  Over the years, more than sixty well-known speakers covering many different topics lectured at the University of Tennessee.  During the past two decades, the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies has organized Holocaust conferences, cultural events on Israeli films and art, and hosted three Schusterman Visiting Israel Professors and four Diane and Guilford Glazer and Lea and Allen Orwitz Teaching Fellows in Modern Hebrew.  The program has received generous funding from donors, and since 2008 has been able to award two different scholarships to students of Judaic Studies. (See the most recent newsletter of the Judaic Studies program here.)

In addition to administering the Judaic Studies Program, teaching, and extensive professional and community service, Professor Schmidt has been a prolific scholar in her field, with the publication of eight books since 1995. Her most recent monograph, Süssen is Now Free of Jews—The Holocaust, World War II, and Rural German Jewry, was published by Fordham University Press in July 2013.  Dr. Schmidt began a decade of research into the subject of rural Jewish life in southern Germany in 1999 with a visit to the Süssen City Archive, District Göppingen, in the state of Württemberg-Baden.  After painstaking sleuthing in local, regional, and national archives, Professor Schmidt was able to construct a powerful narrative of the harmonious existence of two local Jewish families, the Langs and the Ottenheimers, from 1900 to their destruction by the Nazis.  Fifteen members of the exended Jakob Lang family were deported in 1941, and only three of them returned in 1945.  The Ottenheimers fared somewhat better, losing one family member and all of their property.  This micro-history fills a lacuna in the history of this region and contributes to the scholarship of Landjudentum, or rural Judaism.

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