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A Word on the Weekend’s Violence from the Director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies

By Miriam Udel, Judith London Evans Director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies.

Already several weeks into the new course I’m co-teaching on “Children and the Holocaust,” in late September I found myself racing to finish translating a Yiddish children’s story about a six-year-old girl who escapes a Nazi cattle car and joins a detachment of Jewish Partisans living in the Polish forest.

Realistically written if historically improbable, “Reyzele” forms a gut-wrenching but necessary part of the syllabus. Rendering into English scenes of brutal violence against Jewish children and their parents, I took a measure of solace in how long ago and far away such historical events had seemed.

That solace was obliterated this past weekend, upon learning of the greatest single-day loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust. The nature of both the American Jewish community and the academic field of Jewish Studies is such that most of us are removed by just one or two degrees of separation from the fallen, the kidnapped, the wounded, and the terrorized civilians. Many in our community have family, friends, colleagues, classmates, and former students in the region. The scenes of brutal torture that have hurtled across the world via social media are an outrage against decency and humanity, and we can never unsee them.

Since learning of the weekend attack by Hamas on Israelis and anticipating the inevitable cycle of violence that will follow it, colleagues across the country and the world are struggling with how to teach from our customary postures of authority and critical distance, how to speak from our wisest minds when our hearts are breaking at the scale of the Jewish and human tragedy. When we return from Fall Break and convene to discuss the assigned story, my students will likely see their professor at a loss for words, struggling through the day’s assigned material as a human being first and an expert on Yiddish literature second.

I began my graduate studies on September 12, 2001, and I remember the instructor of my first class that Wednesday morning insisting that the work of humanistic inquiry that we had come together to undertake was the very antithesis of everything that the terrorists who orchestrated and carried out the previous day’s attacks had stood for. Our study, reflection, and discussion were all potent ways to oppose their program of destruction, their bleak and inhuman vision. I call on this sense of purpose now as I contemplate how we will come back together to engage specifically in the study of Jewish civilization that is the Tam Institute’s mission. I hope that we resume our intellectual task, which is also a spiritual one,

In a spirit of curiosity.
In a spirit of humility.
In a spirit of witnessing, including witnessing each other’s pain and fear. Bearing witness, with the greatest possible specificity and precision, is itself an ethical act.
In a spirit of extending compassion and grace, with the understanding that the still-unfolding events have traumatized some of those dearest to us and will retraumatize others.

Across multiple historical periods, geographical areas, and disciplinary approaches, our faculty possess deep expertise on millennia-long questions of Jewish history, memory, and meaning-making. Just as formidable as our knowledge base, however, is our honest admission of its limits. We offer students the gift of not knowing everything already but modeling the disposition to “go forth and learn.”

Like our community at large, our students and faculty represent a range of political viewpoints. The university is special, if not unique, in making space for the kind of open, respectful exchange of ideas for which there are precious few arenas. The secure base from which we all operate is a bedrock belief in human dignity and the desire for safety and peace to prevail. I pray for a swift end to bloodshed, consolation for the bereaved, and an Emory community knit more closely together in the bonds of life.

Student resources:

  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides individual, group and couples counseling; stress management classes; and community outreach to provide support for students on the Atlanta and Oxford campuses and assist them in negotiating emotional and interpersonal difficulties. CAPS on-call counselors are available Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Atlanta campus: 404-727-7450. Oxford campus: 770-784-8394.
  • TimelyCare is a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7) virtual care service available from nearly anywhere for all enrolled Emory students. Sign up using your Emory email address. Once there, you may schedule a session with a health care provider. TalkNow, a part of TimelyCare, is a free on-demand 24/7 resource for immediate access to a mental health professional.
  • Student Case Management and Intervention Services (SCMIS) provides support for basic needs, follow up care, and other resources. If you are concerned about a student (non-urgent), please submit a Student of Concern form and SCMIS will follow up with the student.
  • Student Intervention Services (SIS) assists students in times of crises, not only as an invaluable resource during emergencies, but also as a source of impartial, judgment-free counsel for students seeking guidance and assistance through life’s difficult times. 404-430-1120.
  • Student Health Services (SHS) offers free psychiatric services for all enrolled Emory students. Services include diagnostic psychiatric evaluations, medication evaluations, long-term management of psychiatric medications and community referrals. For guidance for after-hours emergencies, visit the SHS Emergency Care / After Hours web page. Atlanta campus: 404-727-7551. Oxford campus: 770-784-8376.
  • Office of Spiritual and Religious Life offers worship, prayer, meditation, and support through spiritual communities, educational programs, confidential pastoral care, and connections with service and social justice efforts. We also plan vigils and other rituals with students, faculty and staff. Atlanta campus websiteOxford campus website
  • For additional well-being resources or information, please visit the Be Well, Your Way hub at

Faculty and staff resources:

  • Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) provides free and confidential support for employees and benefits-eligible Emory University employees and family members. Services include individual, couples and family counseling, coaching and consultation, and individual or team crisis support. Daytime emergency appointments and on-call after-hours support are available. Visit the emergency services webpage or call 404-727-9355 (WELL). You can also utilize the FSAP online self-assessments to see how you are doing or scheduled a virtual well-being check-in with a licensed mental health professional.
  • Office of Spiritual and Religious Life offers worship, prayer, meditation and support through spiritual communities, educational programs, confidential pastoral care and connections with service and social justice efforts. We also plan vigils and other rituals with students, faculty and staff. Atlanta campus website. Oxford campus website.
  • BHS: Emory Healthcare has partnered with to provide EHC employees and your household members with confidential, in-the-moment support to help with personal or professional problems that may interfere with work or family responsibilities. This program is free and available at no cost to you. Services are available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Call/text 1-800-327-2251 or visit the MyBHS portal (username: EHC).
  • EmBRACE Peer Support: Emory’s Building Resilience and Compassion Enculturation (emBRACE) Peer Support Program is an interprofessional, systems approach to decrease the burdens of secondary trauma and moral distress experienced by Emory Healthcare and Woodruff Health Sciences Center employees. Trained peer supporters include physicians, nurses, advanced practice providers, chaplains, social workers and other essential staff members. To be partnered with a Peer Supporter, please email
  • Spiritual Health: Emory Spiritual Health embraces the traditional religious care provided by professional health care chaplains, but also expands to include spiritual and cultural qualities associated with whole person health. Team members come alongside patients, family members and Emory Healthcare staff who are coping with health and work-related distress. Never hesitate to reach out to a “Blue Coat” from Emory Spiritual Health. Staff support contact information is available here.

Published on 10/10/23