Message from Dr. Schwartz
Dear JTS Community,
I feel deeply privileged to have been chosen to be the eighth chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
For over a century, JTS—through the leaders it graduates and the ideas, resources, and values it disseminates—has played an essential role in fueling the intellectual, religious, and communal vitality of Jewish life. As a historian of American Jewry, I have seen its sweeping impact—in university Jewish studies programs, synagogues, federations, camps, schools, JCCs, and Jewish social service and justice organizations. I have seen its impact in my own life as a third-generation JTS alumna, and in the lives of the thousands of students I’ve had the good fortune of teaching and mentoring as a long-time dean, professor, and provost. Our students and alumni provide intellectual, religious, and communal leadership across the country and the globe, and bring a Jewish ethical lens to their careers, volunteer efforts, and personal lives.
I am honored to have the opportunity as chancellor to shape this institution’s future with each of you. JTS’s mission has never been more important. We are living through trying times, filled with unprecedented challenges and uncertainty as a result of the Covid-19 virus. Even in the past three months as we transitioned to virtual learning and community building, we at JTS have learned so much about how to best engage with each other—wherever we are. Each of us is hungering for a greater sense of meaning and coherence in a world plagued by pain and insecurity. JTS offers an intellectual encounter with both our tradition and the current moment that can serve as a gateway to engaging the heart, soul, and spirit—essential elements to shaping a meaningful new normal.
During this current moment and in the years that follow, JTS must expand upon its strengths and seize new opportunities to strengthen the foundation for the future of the Jewish people. For over a century, JTS has played critically important and overlapping roles in the Jewish world; my vision for the future builds upon each of them.
● Together, we will further strengthen JTS as a premier institution of higher learning, for knowledge lies at the core of everything that we do. As JTS’s first female student, the brilliant and renowned founder of Hadassah, Henrietta Szold asserted, “The Jewish heart has always starved unless it was fed by the Jewish intellect.” Through critical and reflective Jewish learning taught by a renowned faculty dedicated to a robust Jewish future, JTS engages students with the varied texts and experiences of the Jewish people—from biblical poetry to Israeli poetry, 16th-century mysticism to contemporary memoirs, Jewish theology to gender studies. I want to amplify JTS’s distinctive approach to Jewish learning by enhancing our academic and library offerings in a variety of fields and making it available not only to our degree students but to a wider audience of intellectually inclined adults eager for challenging study with leading scholars and attentive peers. Learning is, after all, a lifelong pursuit, and JTS can broaden its offerings to promote new levels of engagement.
● I see JTS’s role as a religious institution as a hallmark of its identity, a place where serious academic Jewish learning is integrated organically into a sacred, caring community and where the rhythms of the Jewish calendar pulsate throughout the institution in ever expanding ways. To animate Jewish life and realize Jewish values in the future, JTS students will first experience—hopefully soon in our gorgeous new spaces—vibrant Jewish religious and communal living, through prayer, ritual, artistic endeavors, and acts of lovingkindness and justice.
● The Jewish community looks to JTS as a guiding hand, and JTS’s moral voice helps frame and clarify the complexities and challenges of our ever-changing world. I hope to share that voice more broadly, both in North America and abroad, at a time when the world desperately needs compelling ethical leadership. Daily we witness poverty, inequality, environmental devastation, and more; each of us can do more to improve our world, to pursue justice as the Torah commands. JTS as an institution can amplify the Jewish wisdom that will inform and propel our efforts.
● JTS’s relationship to Conservative Judaism has always played a significant role in its identity. Conservative Judaism provides a unique approach to Jewish learning and living, Jewish law, and Zionism, an approach that is authentic both to the past and to the current era. I look forward to working with Conservative and Masorti Movement leaders in identifying opportunities for enhanced cooperation and collaborative efforts.
I care profoundly about this institution, and I know that you do, too. Over the next weeks and months, I plan to hold a series of discussions with the full range of constituencies that make up the JTS community. I hope you will join me. And for those of you whom I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet, until we are able to meet in person, I invite you to visit the section of our website where you can learn more about my background and vision for the future.
I am humbled by the confidence that the Board of Trustees and members of the Search Committee have invested in me. I am so grateful for the collegial support and friendship of JTS faculty and administrative colleagues with whom I’ve worked for so many years. I especially want to thank Chancellor Arnold Eisen, who has led JTS with clarity of vision, passion, and wisdom for the past 13 years, for his support and guidance. I am eager to get to work, harnessing the energy, passion, and dedication that so many feel for our beloved institution.
Together we will ensure a flourishing future.
Shuly Rubin Schwartz