SCJS hosts largest Latin American Jewish Studies Association conference yet

Mon, July 15, 2013
SCJS hosts largest Latin American Jewish Studies Association conference yet
Attendees mingle at the reception for LAJSA's XVI International Research Conference. Photo by Loli Kantor.

The 16th International Research Conference of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association, hosted June 9–11 by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, drew more than 100 persons from the U.S., Canada, Israel, Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe to The University of Texas at Austin, making it LAJSA’s largest conference yet.

Seventy-five participants presented their scholarly work on 25 panels over the course of the three-day gathering, which had been two years in the making. Other conference events included two tours of the university’s Latin American Jewish Studies resources, a catered reception with live music by local singer Yemima Kantor, and an open mic night, during which authors had the opportunity to read aloud from their own creative works. (View the full conference program here.) The Glickman Conference Center in the new College of Liberal Arts Building proved to be an especially welcoming and attractive venue for the sessions and reception.

Kantor, a local singer, performed an eclectic set with her band at the reception, including traditional Jewish Ladino songs, other Jewish folk music, and contemporary material.

Besides LAJSA members who had travelled to attend the conference, many representatives of the university and Austin public attended, including UT faculty, SCJS staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and members of the Austin Jewish community. SCJS Director Robert H. Abzug called the conference “one of the high points of the center’s six-year history." 

“The camaraderie of its participants as well as the quality and variety of their work was a model of what academic get-togethers can be all about,” Dr. Abzug said.

Indeed, institutional and citywide support proved to be one of the conference’s most outstanding elements. SCJS Associate Director Naomi Lindstrom, who spearheaded efforts to host the conference, called the university and public’s participation “unusual and impressive.”

“It was particularly gratifying to me to experience the support that the XVI LAJSA conference enjoyed from the university and the fast-growing Austin Jewish community,” Dr. Lindstrom said.

In particular, Dr. Abzug was present throughout the entirety of the conference, and Richard Flores, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, welcomed participants to the university in both English and Spanish. Bryan Edward Stone (Del Mar College), a frequent visiting professor at UT, gave the keynote address, “Texas Jews: History, Heritage, and Myth,” which attracted a number of community members as well as academics.

Additionally, many departments, academic units, and centers offered their support, from co-sponsors like the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies and the Departments of Spanish & Portuguese, History, and Religious Studies, and the Program in Comparative Literature to the research facilities that offered tours. Conference attendees were invited to tour the rich Jewish Studies resources at both the Benson Latin American Collection and the Harry Ransom Center; many participants cited a look at Isaac Bashevis Singer's collection in the HRC—which includes his famous Yiddish typewriter—as a conference highlight.

Dr. Lindstrom also said she was “thrilled” to see the range in age of participants. LAJSA Founding President Judith Laikin Elkin arrived for the conference the day after celebrating her 85th birthday, while undergraduate and graduate students alike attended panels and even presented work. LAJSA Co-President and Vice President of Tel Aviv University Raanan Rein called the conference “fascinating” in its diversity.

“Well organized and with a rich program, it brought together researchers from different disciplines and different generations,” Rein wrote. “I was particularly impressed by the strong presence of ‘new faces,’ that is, young scholars who are about to complete their dissertations or have recently done so. Such presence serves as an additional proof of the vitality of our scholarly association and assure the future of LAJSA.”

As the conference drew to a close, many attendees expressed their deep satisfaction with the event, and numerous participants communicated similar sentiments afterward. Shulamit Goldsmit Brindis, Director of the Program in Judaic Culture at the Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City), praised the conference’s “high level” and “great feeling of camaraderie,” while Valeria Cababié-Schindler commended UT’s institutional support for Latin American Jewish studies.

“You truly work in a wonderful university,” Cababié-Schindler wrote. “The content of the conference was enriching and I was glad to meet and share ideas with other scholars of Jewish Latin America.”

Adriana M. Brodsky served as Program Chair for the 2013 conference; other program committee members included Sandra McGee Deutsch, Florinda F. Goldberg, Liz Hamui, and Naomi Lindstrom. The next international research conference will take place in 2015 at a location yet to be determined, but a regional conference is planned for the North American spring of 2014 in New York City. LAJSA Co-Presidents Edna Aizenberg and Raanan Rein will circulate a message about future conferences later this year.

For more photos from the conference, visit the SCJS Facebook page.
The Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies would like to extend special thanks to the Departments of Spanish & Portuguese, History, and Religious Studies; the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies; the Program in Comparative Literature; the Benson Latin American Collection; the Harry Ransom Center; Adriana M. Brodsky, Program Chair; Alisa Baron and Adriana Pacheco-Roldán, Assistants for the Conference; Christian J. Avilés-Padilla, LLILAS Research Intern; student volunteers Megan Coxe, Jonathan Fleck, Stephenie Malak, Nancy Tille-Victorica, Raelene Wyse, Tracy Frydberg, and Elizabeth Anderson; Texas Hillel; and the Jewish Community Association of Austin.
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