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A&S Scholar Named Zantker Charitable Foundation Professor in History

By Addison Cave

LEXINGTON, KY. (June 22) -- Sheila Jelen, interim director of the program in Jewish Studies and associate professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures in the College of Arts & Sciences at University of Kentucky, was recently awarded the Zantker Charitable Foundation Professorship in History.

Jelen has published a variety of monographs and edited volumes including, most recently, Salvage Poetics: Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies (2020) and Reconstructing the Old Country: American Jewry in the Post-Holocaust Decades (2017). Her work has appeared in such journals as Prooftexts, The Jewish Quarterly Review, The AJS Review, Religion and Literature, Comparative Literature Studies and Hebrew Studies.

The Zantker Charitable Foundation Professorship was established to support Jewish studies in the UK academic community, encompassing the study of the history, literature, philosophy, culture, institutions and traditions of the Jewish people.

During her time as Zantaker Professor, Jelen plans to work on multiple projects. In summer 2018, she began Testimonial Montage: Holocaust Testimonies by Women in Israel. As the impetus for  this project, the director of the testimony archives at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum asked her to summarize a collection of video testimonies taken in Israel in 1987.

“I became intrigued by the challenge of using these interconnected testimonies – oral and written, generated during the war and many years after the war – to construct a testimonial montage that would be free of the orthodoxies of historically driven research,” Jelen said.

As a scholar of literature, Jelen has explored new ways of considering oral Holocaust testimonies and is hoping to “theorize a new way to approach Holocaust testimonies, a way that doesn’t seek to fill in the historical blanks.”

In addition, Jelen will be collaborating with Raphael Finkel, her colleague at the University of Kentucky in the field of Computer Science, who teaches Yiddish classes for Modern and Classical Languages. Their work will be featured in a volume titled: Images and Imaginings: Menachem Kipnis’s Photographs and Folk Stories. This work will feature both folktales collected and photographs taken by Menachem Kipnis (1878–1942), a singer, critic, photographer, and ethnographer of Yiddish song who died in the Warsaw ghetto.