”A lot of people are surprised to know that I go to JTS and I'm not Jewish. I always tell them that it's the best place to be for anyone interested in Judaic studie and that the JTS community welcomed me when I got here. Sitting around the table on one of the first days of orientation, I opened up a Hebrew prayer book and people saw me staring at it. They said, ‘You’re not Jewish are you? You don’t know how to read this stuff do you?’ I whispered, ‘Nope.’ ‘Cool!’ they said. ‘Want to know what it says?’ And that’s how it began: I was welcomed from the start.”
Alexis Felder is not the only non-Jewish student at JTS, but she does have her own story. Born in Keene, New Hampshire, to a Christian mom and Jewish dad, Alexis, her twin sister, and younger brother grew up attending church services, celebrating Jewish holidays, and enjoying the Jewish specialties her mother prepared. Her parents modeled a deep respect for others and a penchant for community service. It was Alexis’s own service experience and a summer spent at a youth program for advanced students that made her think about all the good that can come from religion: “We started learning about Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, and I fell in love with the subject of world religions. I was always interested in religion and its literature. I was curious about Christianity and Judaism and how they work together.”
When she enrolled at Franklin and Marshall, a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, one of her professors noticed that Alexis had an interest in and special knack for studying religion. “My professor approached me and said, ‘You seem to be really good at this.’ She directed me toward other classes I could take and it all fell into place.” It was a casual conversation, but one that set Alexis on a new academic path.
Before she received her undergrad degree in Religious Studies, that same professor asked if Alexis was thinking about going to graduate school. She was, and she decided that JTS was the school that would help her best investigate the rest of her story—the story of Judaism. She’s happy to tell you that she made the right choice, because JTS stands at the forefront of Jewish studies. Entering The Graduate School, Alexis found a pluralistic and egalitarian environment, faculty of world-renowned teachers, student body that supported her in every way, and intimate classroom settings designed for the optimal learning of Jewish history, literature, philosophy, liturgy, and more.
”I love working in small classes where I can get to know my professors and peers. The professors here are amazing. I only realized how much I was learning when I began discussing the same topics in other classes. And I loved it when I got an A in Hebrew Grammar my first semester. I remember being terrified after the first class and thinking that I'd made a terrible mistake but, by the end of the semester, I felt confident and was excited to move on to the next level. I owe a lot of my success to yet another fantastic JTS professor and a good friend who helped me get through the first few weeks.”
Alexis is studying in The Graduate School’s Interdepartmental Studies program (which offers an overview of classical and modern Jewish studies, Jewish thought, and modes of literary expression, with an emphasis on developing skills for textual analysis) in order to acquire a perspective of Judaism that is rich with meaning. Her objective is to remain active in community service, work toward a PhD, conduct research, write a book, teach, and perhaps guide some of her own students toward their academic and personal goals the way she continues to be guided at JTS.
Alexis is poised to seize every moment. Her ever-deepening knowledge makes her a great asset to the interfaith and community-based work for which JTS is well-known. And she’s a perfect fit at The Graduate School, a respected institution for students who will one day become the scholars and leaders in their communities.