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Faculty Profile: Ellie Schainker

Ellie SchainkerIn fall 2011 TIJS welcomed Ellie Schainker as the new Blank Family Foundation Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies. A specialist in modern European Jewish history, Schainker completed her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 with a dissertation titled "Imperial Hybrids: Russian-Jewish Converts in the Nineteenth Century." She spent the following year there as the Golub Family Fellow of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, looking further into the topic of Jewish conversions in 19th-century imperial Russia and also co-organizing the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies' 17th-annual Gruss Colloquium "Taking Turns: New Perspectives on Jews and Conversions."

At Emory Schainker is teaching courses on East European Jewish history, modern Jewish history, and conversion in Jewish history, and this year has served on the undergraduate committees of both TIJS and the Department of History. She is forging connections with colleagues in other departments and programs, particularly in the Russian and East European Studies program, for whom she presented the brown-bag talk "Shtetls, Taverns, and Baptisms: Locating Conversions from Judaism in Imperial Russia."

Schainker brings a wealth of experience to her new position—in nonprofit and community organizations as well as academic institutions, and in Australia, Germany, and Belarus as well as in the US. Initially inspired by an excellent AP US history teacher in high school, Schainker did her undergraduate work also at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in intellectual history with an honors thesis titled "Beis Yaakov: Molding the Educated Woman of Valor." When asked about the development of her scholarly interests, Schainker says,

I honed in on intellectual history with the inspiration of a history professor at Penn who brought the great Western intellectual thinkers to life in our college classroom. I enjoyed the challenge of inhabiting the mindset of a particular thinker and trying to tease out the various strands of historical context and timeless ideas animating a given writer or school of intellectual thought. During college I struck upon a volunteer program that sent college students to the former Soviet Union to work in Jewish summer and winter camps. Through my biannual trips to Belarus, I took an interest in Russian language and culture, and I began to take Russian language classes. After college I worked for a few years in Germany and Belarus in informal Jewish education, where I was able to bring together my interests in teaching, Jewish education, and exploring European life and culture. When I decided to pursue a PhD in history, I was drawn to the field of modern Jewish history, and Russian Jewish history in particular, so that I could better understand the long history of Jews in the region and give some context to the fascinating contemporary Russian-Jewish diaspora across Europe, Israel, and the US.

Breaking down stereotypes and teasing out complexities became a theme of Schainker's work, particularly in "wresting East European Jewish history from the images of Fiddler on the Roof" and challenging "the idea of Old World Jewry living in a bubble of tradition and cultural isolation that only burst when they arrived in the New World." Looking at modern East European history through the lens of religious conversion not only offers another view of assimilation issues in the ethnically and religiously diverse Russian empire, but also helps to demonstrate the social and cultural diversity of life in the shtetl.

As with all new professors, one of the first priorities for Schainker is publishing her first book, based on her dissertation, the working title of which is "Jewish Conversion in an Imperial Context: Confessional Choice and Multiple Baptisms in Nineteenth-Century Russia." Her fellowship at the Katz Center for Judaic Studies last year allowed Schainker to expand the scope of her research to ask "how religious choice, a sine qua non of modernity for Europe's Jews, took the form of confessional choice in imperial Russia, allowing Jews to convert to non-Orthodox denominations of Christianity, thus recasting assimilation in an imperial context in regional rather than national terms." By studying "religious boundary crossers" and the ongoing relations between converts and Jews, Schainker intends to trace the evolution of East European Jewish communities from "the insular, pre-Holocaust 'shtetl' to its radically secular Soviet counterpart marked by high rates of intermarriage and conversion." With funding from the history department and the Evans Directorship Fund in TIJS, Schainker spent two weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia, this past spring, combing the central files of the Catholic and Lutheran churches regarding Jewish conversions and confessional politics as well as the Russian National Library and other archives.

Rounding out a busy first year, Schainker submitted two chapters for edited volumes and two book reviews. At the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies in Washington, DC, in December, she presented the paper "Apostasy or Return? Relapsed Converts from Judaism in Imperial Russia" and she presented the paper "Shtetls, Taverns, and Baptisms: Locating Conversions from Judaism in Imperial Russia" at the conference Space and Conversion: Institutions, Urban States, and Interiority (16th–20th Centuries) at Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy.

This past summer Schainker and her husband welcomed their third child, and she is on parental leave for fall semester. Click here for more faculty news.

 

 

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About this Publication

New TIJS Graduate Fellows

Graduate Fellowships in Jewish StudiesIn fall 2011 four Emory graduate students were awarded TIJS Fellowships, which are offered annually by the Laney Graduate School to excellent applicants and to current students with a research interest in Jewish studies.
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Is there such a thing as a "Jewish" filmmaker in the way that we think of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Bernard Malamud as Jewish writers?
Alumni Profile:
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: A Global Leader


For Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi 86C—founder and president of Laszlo Strategies and founder of the Israel Project (TIP)—standing shoulder to shoulder in thoughtful conversation with Israeli President Shimon Peres, President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority Salam Fayyad, and former presidents George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton is all normal work.
Endowed Directorship Honors Judith London Evans 69C

To honor and celebrate the life and work of Judith London Evans, the Evans family has created the Judith London Evans Directorship of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies.
TIJS Faculty Advance Scholarship with Evans Directorship Funding

Income from the new Evans Directorship endowment is already benefiting the TIJS academic program by cosponsoring public events and by providing supplementary funding to TIJS faculty in their research projects.
Student News:
Congratulations to TIJS Graduates


TIJS students earn degrees, go to higher endeavors.

Thanks to Our Donors

Thanks to our donorsWe are grateful to the friends of TIJS for their generous donations that make so many of our programs possible.

 

 
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Fall 2012
Candler Entrance


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