The Jewish Theological Seminary: Why did you choose The Graduate School and The Davidson School?
Etta Abramson: I chose JTS because I wanted to study Midrash academically while simultaneously developing my pedagogical knowledge; I had been teaching Jewish texts for the past few years using a theatrical spin to delve deeper into the texts. I was interested in Dr. Burton Visotzky's work in Midrash, especially The Genesis of Ethics, and decided I wanted to study with him at an institution where Jewish texts are interpreted by people aiming to work not only as academics and educators but also as spiritual leaders.
JTS: What do you enjoy most about being part of our community?
EA: I love being a part of this active Jewish community. People seem to really care about each other. I have developed great relationships with fellow students and professors. Between this and the overarching passionate curiosity within this institution to learn as much as possible, I stay motivated and relatively social. My favorite aspect of this community is being present to support students offering divrei Torah and senior sermons during Minhah services. I feel invested in this community.
JTS: What do you enjoy most about studying at JTS?
EA: I have access to excellent professors, brilliant minds, and abundant books. I also love that I am part of an academic institution that values spirituality and ritual life.
In addition to studying with my Davidson School and Graduate School colleagues, I also find it meaningful to study Jewish texts and education alongside students from the Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School. I am grateful for the connections I am making, and also for the layering of opinions that people are able to bring to the texts.
JTS: Tell us about your favorite class.
EA: A class on Jewish Theology was probably the most provocative class this past year, because the readings and assignments challenged me to confront and articulate issues that had seemed either too personal or too theoretical for me to discuss. I found myself reading the Yehudah Amichai verses, "I want a God . . . " from the lens of Rambam, Heschel, and Kaplan.
JTS: What are your professional goals?
EA: I hope to continue working as a Jewish educator both with students and other educators, coordinating and creating Jewish Studies curricula with a focus on Midrash and ritual. I will always be inspired by and moved to synthesize Jewish texts with music and drama in order to highlight the creativity of our textual roots. I plan to make the study of this genre of texts accessible for students and educators in day schools (and perhaps other organizations in search of great material) to effectively understand midrash as oral performance, and to delve into the sources with curiosity and wild imagination as our Sages did. I believe the study of Midrash in such a way strengthens our connections to Jewish values and to other people, and makes us more compassionate.
JTS: What has been the best JTS "moment" for you, so far?
EA: I'd have to say it was comparing manuscripts on Midrash Mishlei in the Rare Book Room. I also loved pulling up a chair in the courtyard to listen to a live concert and then joining the line for a great BBQ last spring.
JTS: Name your favorite place on campus.
EA: Probably the cafeteria. I love the teriyaki tuna and kale.
JTS: Do you live on campus or off?
EA: I live in Manhattan, about a 20-minute walk south of JTS.
JTS: Are any of your family members JTS alumni?
EA: My uncle is a rabbi ordained by JTS.
JTS: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
EA: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. I'm the only American in my family of Canadians. Random. But I'm lucky to be a dual citizen!