Jewish studies students start organization focused on Jewish academic and social aspects

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

The Jewish Studies Undergraduate Students’ Association is kicking off its first full semester as an organization — its focus is to fill an unmet need organizers say they noticed on campus.

The organization is for students both inside and outside the Jewish studies program who are interested in learning and discussing Jewish studies with other students. The group aims to showcase and discuss the diversity present within Jewish history and experiences through an academic lens.

JSUSA president Simon Gerst said he was surprised there were no Jewish studies focused clubs on campus. He said he started the group to help students within the major find common ground.

“There wasn’t really any sort of Jewish studies committee (in the past),” said Gerst, a German studies, Jewish studies, and Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies senior. “I want the club to expose people to what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be Jewish in Texas.”

Samantha Pickette, faculty adviser to the group and Jewish studies professor, said the organization is a great way for students to get involved in an academic way that differs from other Jewish student groups like Texas Hillel and Chabad. 

“It’s very heartening to see Jewish studies students and students interested in Jewish studies coming together on their own volition just because they want to be there,” said Pickette, assistant director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish studies.

Gerst said the group plans to host a number of events that foster academic and social relationships, including movie nights, talks with professors and socials. 

JSUSA event coordinator Elijah Kahlenberg said the group is open to and includes people from different Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds. 

“Many are coming from their own unique Jewish community, and it’s really hard to branch out of that,” said Kahlenberg, a government, Middle East studies and Jewish studies sophomore. “We’re not just focusing on, say, one aspect of Jewish history; we’re focusing on anything and everything.”

Mia Hay, social media chair and fellow founding member, said the group’s programming is built around members’ varying interests, which range from topics like female Jewish poetry to Jewish storytelling and playwriting. 

“Every time someone new joins, we have another interest to explore,” said Hay, a gender studies and Jewish studies junior. “It’s really exciting to see how it’s going to branch out”

As the group looks forward, Hay said they hope to include service opportunities and to offer more programming in specific areas of Jewish study. 

Gerst said he is excited for the group to continue expanding and providing a learning space for even more students.

“I think we make each other better just because we get to be more well-rounded, better informed people,” Gerst said. “It’s a way to have community but then also to expand your horizons.”

The group meets every other Thursday at the Schusterman Center in Patton Hall at 5 p.m. and has ongoing membership.

“Everybody’s from a different discipline, different major, different area of study, and so nobody knows about everything.” Pickett said. “You don’t have to come prepared. You just really have to come open-minded and wanting to learn something, wanting to communicate and build connections with the people around you.”