Professor Jill Fields cherishes the rich roots of her Jewish culture. She wants students to have the opportunity to learn about it as well.
The Torah is the book central to the doctrine of the Jewish faith. Fresno State’s Jewish Studies Certificate program introduces students to such facets of Jewish history and culture.
With that wish comes the fulfillment of her goal – starting the Jewish Studies Certificate Program.
“This program is developed to provide students with opportunity to learn about the history and culture of Jewish people in the United States and around the world,” Fields said.
Fields is truly passionate about the culture and history of the Jewish people, in both their long tradition of study and debate, as well as their analysis of history.
“Jewish people are known as the people of the book,” she explained. “And so studying the Torah – the Hebrew Bible – has traditionally been extremely important to Jewish people, and it is one of the factors in the survival of Jewish people after so many centuries and the different persecutions we’ve experienced.”
Her idea came about when she first started a Jewish Studies Association with her students in 2010. Fields not only wanted to create a certificate program, but turn the program into a minor. The program started in fall 2012.
“We started the club, and I did have a long term goal of starting a program,” she said. “I thought a certificate was a good first step before having a fully fledged program that would offer a minor. The idea was to start putting together the classes that were already operating and to develop more classes.”
Fields is trying to get the word out about the program and encourage faculty to be a part of it. “Just knowing that there’s an audience that’s developing for their classes is encouraging them to follow through and get new ideas and be inspired to offer a class to be part of the program,” she said.
The Holocaust class, HIST 149T, is one of the more popular classes available through the program, which is taught by history professors Melissa Jordine and Michelle DenBeste. While Fields was busy preparing the program, Jordine and DenBeste already had the idea to start a class focusing on the Holocaust.
When Fields found out what they were doing, she approached them and asked them to be a part of her program.
“We wanted to support her in any way that we could to create the Jewish Certificate,” Jordine said.
Jordine said Fields has been very supportive of not only her Holocaust class but also the program as a whole. Fields has given a tremendous contribution to the Jewish Studies program as the coordinator, she said.
Through this program, the Hebrew language class was revived. It had been left out of class options for more than a decade.
It was an exciting experience for Fields going from being faculty to becoming a program coordinator, she said, but it was a lot more than what she had expected.
The program also plans to launch a supervised internship program as part of the required classes for Fall 2013. Fields is still learning on how students can get credit for supervised internships.
Although still unconfirmed what the internship would involve, it will likely involve work with the Jewish community, but Fields says there are other options.
“It could be working on campus projects like publicizing the certificate program and making connections with other student groups or other programs as part of diversity week or other events like that. So it’s kind of wide open at this time in terms of what the internship could be.”
Jordine feels that this program, and any other specialized programs are important and helpful to students.
“To have students be able to take all these multiple classes that all address various aspects of Jewish culture and tradition and potentially take the language as well, is really going to give them the kind of knowledge that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get,” she said.
It was also a great experience for Fields working with other professors to start up this program, se said. It gave her opportunities to talk to other professors about their their interest in Jewish studies.
“It’s fascinating to hear people’s interest in Jewish studies and where it comes from,” she said.
Students who learned about the Jewish culture from relatives or friends grew interested in the Jewish culture.
“Students talk about friends of their immediate family who are Jewish and led them to be more curious and have an interest in Jewish studies,” Fields said. “Some people want to know more because of the Holocaust. They want to understand more about why that could happen.”
Students can learn more about the program by contacting Fields, or reading about it in the university’s catalog. There will also be a website up soon dedicated to this program, Fields said. She hopes to continue working toward turning this certificate program into a minor program and make it as a permanent curriculum at Fresno State.