To chart a path for his future, Saul Zaritt looked to the past. A scholar of Hebrew and Yiddish literature before arriving at The Graduate School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Saul is pursuing a career in academia that focuses on the study Jewish literatures—specifically Yiddish and Hebrew literatures—and their role in the matrix of modern Jewish experience.
Why did you decide to pursue your PhD at JTS?
As I neared the completion of my master's in Hebrew and Yiddish Literatures at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I felt that after five years of living in Israel, it was time to return to America. I also knew that my doctoral studies in the United States would be funded in a way that would not be possible in Israel; in Israel I would have to work while studying, whereas in America my time could be entirely devoted to study. In the world of Yiddish literature, there are a limited number of places to go. When you are shopping for a PhD, you are looking for someone to work with, and David Roskies was the person I wanted to work with. He is known as one of the foremost Yiddish scholars.
The opportunity to study in New York City must have been a bonus as well.
Absolutely, I was immediately drawn to New York City, once a center of secular Yiddish culture and still a hub of contemporary Jewish creativity. More importantly, it was the home of the central figures of Jewish academia, many of them here at JTS. There are few, if any, places in the world where you can find in one building such scholars of Jewish tradition and Jewish modernity. The generous funding provided by JTS and the dedication and generosity of the professors ultimately convinced me that JTS would be a place for great intellectual growth.
JTS seems to have exceeded your expectations. What makes The Graduate School such a standout?
I most enjoy the kind of rapport I've developed with the professors—in particular those in my department. They are intensely involved in my development as a scholar, from fruitful conversations in their offices about stages of my academic journey to helping me present papers at conferences, contribute articles, and more. I truly feel that they are invested in me as someone who has something to contribute to the field, to Jewish scholarship, and beyond.
What sorts of opportunities have they helped you with?
With the help of Dr. David Roskies, I spoke at the Association for Jewish Studies Annual Conference, and Dr. Barbara Mann and Dr. Alan Mintz pushed me to publish a paper that I wrote. The fact that Dr. Mintz took the time to read two drafts is extraordinary in academia. I really feel as though the professors are very supportive of everything I do and vested in my success.
What departmental or Graduate School activities are you involved in?
I co-chair—with Zach Mann and Stefanie Halpern—The Graduate School Forum, where we invite fellow graduate students to present their work. The forum is a place to discuss the role of Jewish studies in the academy and outside of it, and how our individual research is relevant to both. No matter the topic, the dialogue is beneficial as a way to both improve our work and to create a productive graduate student community.
It sounds as though the JTS community is a great fit for you.
I like the intimacy of The Graduate School and of my department specifically. I can hear and listen to the questions that the Jewish community faces nowadays, analyze the answers, and then provide my own comments in conjunction or even in opposition to my professors' or fellow students' conclusions.
But you also take advantage of other academic institutions close by.
The proximity to Columbia University has allowed me to learn from Professor Dan Miron, one of the foremost scholars of Jewish literature. These juggernauts of scholarship at JTS and the surrounding universities possess endless amounts of knowledge, and I am presented daily with the opportunity to learn from them.
The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary is also a fantastic resource. Whatever I am looking for, The Library usually has exactly what I need.
And you are also a fan of The Library's book sales.
Yes, as I collect mostly Yiddish and Hebrew literature. My collection is approaching 700 books.
In other words, JTS has been a place where you can grow a book collection as well as grow academically and personally.
Right—I feel very lucky to be at JTS and can't imagine being anywhere else.