Jessica Gala, “Creation and Love: Where They Meet in the Hidden World of Women”: This comparative study of Rebecca Goldstein’s Mazel and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Slave uncovers “a hidden and repressed world of feminine imagination.” The female protagonists of these novels “have the potential to unlock amazing powers of creativity, which will either save or destroy them, as they struggle against a patriarchal society not made for women as different as themselves.” Murray Baumgarten regards this paper as “one of the best I’ve ever gotten from a student and … close to publishable.” The author “puts Goldstein and Singer in conversation with each other and articulates the relation of character to theme….”
Katherine Orton, “Branches of Identity in America: One Family’s Story”: Drawing on letters and photographs from her own family’s collections, as well as the published writings of a distant cousin, this excellent paper traces two diverging branches of the author’s family tree, which converged at mid-century in the wake of the Holocaust. Beginning with two cousins from Rozwadow, a shtetl in Galicia, one branch of the family migrated to California and underwent a rapid process of assimilation. In contrast, the other branch of the family were Holocaust survivors who—with the indispensable assistance of the California branch—migrated to New Jersey after the Second World War, following a path that re-confirmed their Jewish identities. Ranging from Poland to California, this exemplary essay succeeds admirably in situating family history within the wider contexts of European and Jewish history during the first half of the twentieth century.
Sharice Hyde, “Jewish Mysticism in ‘Tailors’ Dummies'”: Bruno Schulz was one of the most brilliant European Jewish writers of the twentieth century, second in originality only to Kakfa. This outstanding essay on one of Shulz’s funniest stories in The Street of Crocodiles, “Tailors’ Dummies,” shows how the seemingly mad protagonist of the piece delivers an oration that incorporates a version of creation drawn from the sixteenth-century Lurianic Kabbalah: more specifically, the Kabbalistic doctrine of TzimTzum, which supposes that God withdrew (or concealed) Himself to allow space for the creation of the material universe. Perhaps, this fascinating paper suggests, the protagonist is not quite as mad as he seems, because his oration is nothing less than a brilliantly poetic or metaphorical transposition of Kabbalistic creation theory to the homely world of a tailor’s workshop.
Aaron Uecker, “The Ancient Near Eastern Conquest of Israel & Judah: Relation Incentives Between Empire and Marginal Kingdoms”: This outstanding paper takes a rigorously analytical approach to the contrasting fates of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the first conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BCE; the second withstanding an Assyrian siege in 701 and surviving until the Babylonian Conquest in 587. The paper begins with a paradox: “It is an odd circumstance that Judah, the nation that would preserve the traditions and legacy of its brother kingdom in the north, happened to be the very nation that brought about Israel’s destruction.” The paper goes on to examine how the closely related yet divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah tried to parry or adapt to Assyrian and Babylonian pressure. A complex, dynamic portrait emerges of the choices made by Assyrian, Babylonian, Israelite, and Judaean kings, in pursuit of their own political, economic, and religious agendas.