Those Who Can, Teach

It’s been a nostalgic week for me. Although I defended my dissertation in June of last year and officially earned my doctorate then, the annual doctoral convocation at New York University falls in May. So I had to wait a year to finally get “hooded,” and jut this week left my desk in Mississippi to travel back up North for graduation.

It feels good to be back in the city. Walking around my beloved New York, especially the area that constitutes NYU’s campus, I found myself missing my days of being a graduate student. I especially missed my closest faculty advisers. All three of my dissertation committee members were leaders in their field; all of them pushed me hard to excel while remaining supportive and kind along the way. They continue to be a part of my life and serve as an inspiration for me as I advance my career half a country away, documenting the history of the Jewish South.

I have long wondered how I can thank my teachers for all that they gave to me… but it wasn’t until this trip back up to New York that I figured out the best way to honor them: by following their lead and serving as an adviser to other intellectually curious souls.

While in the city, I met with Francesca DeRosa. She is a junior at NYU, an impressive and enthusiastic history student – and this summer, she will be an ISJL History Intern. She will head down to Mississippi in less than a month, where she will be joined by two other great interns: Jason Nadboy of Brown University, and Hannah Good, a recent graduate of George Washington University.

Francesca and I met at Boise Tea house for a proper English tea. (Having lived in England for a year while studying at Oxford, I know what makes a good scone! The ones served at Boise Tea house were very good – not too sweet, lots of butter, and a nice light dusting of crunchy sugar bits on the top.) Over tea, we talked about the Southern summer ahead. While talking to Francesca, answering her questions and telling her more about the Jewish South, I realized that my time of being an advisee was finally over. That’s a hard thing to swallow after a twelve year stint as a student in higher education. But now, it’s time for me to be the advisor.

As a professional historian, I am now tasked with the important responsibility of shedding light on a field that truly needs more attention and research, Southern Jewish history. This rich, varied and complex history deserves to be explored, analyzed, and conveyed to a wider audience. Part of how I will make that happen is by mentoring and overseeing emerging historians, like my interns this summer.

Together, my interns and I will be doing some incredible things to bring Southern Jewish history to light. The biggest task this summer will be to finally publish a revised version of our Mississippi entries for the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish communities. We are adding primary sources to all the Mississippi entries along with thematic lesson plans to attract an audience of educators in both public school and Jewish settings. I am truly excited to be going from a history department of one to four staff for a few months, and most of all I’m excited to guide these talented and intelligent budding scholars in the early stages of their academic careers.

Some say like to say “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” I disagree. Teaching is an arduous task – I say, those who can, teach! Those who teach and advise students have an incredibly meaningful calling. They must inspire, empathize, and help guide others to their future paths. I am grateful for the wonderful advisers I had, and grateful for the opportunity to honor them by advising students and interns of my own for years to come – and feel especially excited to welcome these scholars down South each summer!

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