Ira Stup is “in the building” and taking classes at the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary. A twenty-one-year-old, third-year undergraduate enrolled in the Joint Program at JTS and Columbia University, Ira is majoring in Jewish Studies and Jewish History—and in the Jewish tradition of activism.
“I decided to attend JTS because I wanted to pursue serious Jewish studies and be in a place where decisions were made and Jewish leaders bred. It is rare to find an institution that offers exemplary Jewish learning and some of the most important Jewish leaders and religious developments. There is an extraordinary power and energy that goes into the JTS experience.”
For Ira, who builds vital coalitions in his role as president of Columbia’s Everyone Allied Against Homophobia and member of Columbia/Barnard’s Jewish LGBT group, Gayava, that experience includes his daily activities. When his JTS Postmodern Jewish Identity instructor took his class into the field to conduct anthropological and ethnographic work that involved Jewish youth, it changed his world: “It was an eye-opening class. We studied and explored the meaning and conceptualizations of postmodern Jewish identity. We explored communities and intersections of social identities—race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and so on. These things are rarely afforded to Jewish history students outside JTS,” says Ira.
Ira’s personal history dates back to life in Philadelphia with his ‘60s activist mom, Sharlene Kalendar, and dad, Richard Stup (rhymes with “stoop”), who is a former international officer of United Synagogue Youth (USY). All the Stup children were very active in USY and attended Solomon Schechter and public day schools, including Ira’s fun-loving, seventeen-year-old sister, Hannah, and his twenty-three-year-old sister, Michelle, who is also an activist. Ira and his family are clearly powerful examples of the Conservative Movement and its call to action by way of Torah, mitzvot, tzedakah, and tikkun ‘olam.
While Ira sees his future in advocacy and the non-profit world, he is also “strongly considering law in order to pursue a career dedicated to impact litigation and legal aid for marginalized communities.” To that end, he is contemplating a postgraduation year of interning at one of New York City’s pivotal legal firms—along with trips back to places he loves, such as Israel and Amsterdam—before making a decision about graduate school. In the meantime, Ira’s Conservative roots keep him happily occupied at JTS, where he loves living the communal life with his classmates and studying toward his degrees. He cleans, cooks, and takes on administrative responsibilities at his “urban Jewish commune” of twenty-eight students, and says, “It is exciting to live among the next generation of communal leaders, and to work and study with students who are at the forefront of Jewish development. Having a discussion with a fellow JTS student can go from being an everyday conversation to illuminating the next great Jewish project or religious innovation. To know these people and interact and contribute to these ideas is invaluable.”
One particular JTS development is especially meaningful to Ira: “One of the best moments I have had at JTS was watching the steps leading to the greater inclusion of gay and lesbian students in the school in general, and in the rabbinical and cantorial schools specifically. As a concerned Jew, student, and activist, it was gratifying and exciting to be at JTS, to add to the discussion, and then watch JTS take historic steps to make it a more inclusive, diverse, and stronger community.” Most people, says Ira, already consider JTS to be the global center of Jewish studies; it makes him especially proud to know that it is also the center of progressive Jewish change, pluralism, and inclusion, and that his presence “in the building” is a source of celebration for the JTS community.