By: Sara Schatz, Layout Editor
This year, the Rebecca Ivry Department of Judaic Studies on the Beren Campus welcomed a new Judaic Studies academic advisor: Ms. Miriam Levy-Haim. She has a BA in Political Science from Touro’s Lander College for Women, and is completing an MA in Middle Eastern Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. She was also a fellow at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. She spent several years developing Jewish Studies curricula for the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, CTeen, and other Jewish educational organizations. She’s also written and guest-edited for Tablet Magazine. You can find her articles online at https://www.tabletmag.com/author/mlevyhaim. We are honored to welcome her to the Beren Campus community!
Sara Schatz: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Miriam Levy-Haim: As an undergraduate, I majored in political science, initially planning to go to law school. When the investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed, I registered for some economic classes to understand what was going on and decided to minor in economics as well. I ended up taking some advanced theory classes on political economics and distributive justice, that fused these interests. I thought it was fun and interesting, and then it all suddenly became hugely relevant at the time with movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.
SS: Whoa, that’s really cool!
MLH: It was! I’m still in touch with my professor to this day. At that point, I decided to ditch law school and do something in public policy. However, the economy was doing very poorly when I graduated, and grad school and student loans didn’t seem like a great choice during the Great Recession, and I ended up doing very different things.
SS: What was your first job straight out of college?
MLH: My first job out of college was teaching editing and writing for Ami Magazine, a Charedi weekly magazine, which had just launched. I worked there for about 6 months until I had a baby.
When I was ready to go back to work, a friend connected me with an editorial position at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, which develops Jewish Studies curricula for adults and [focuses on] continuing professional education. That later led to a freelance gig at CTeen and a couple of other organizations. So I freelanced for a few years, producing, editing, researching, and developing Jewish education curricula for adults and teenagers.
SS: Did you ever teach yourself?
MLH: I did! I taught high school — American history and an elective in economics. I actually met a former student on campus, but I think she’s graduated by now.
SS: This is a pretty unlikely path to a career in Jewish education.
MLH: Yes, probably! Even though I’ve always loved learning—and I spent a year as a fellow at Drisha — I definitely did not envision this as something I would do as a career.
This actually might be helpful for students to consider: I think career paths for people who major in hard sciences tend to be more rigid. If you major in biology and then go to dental school, in all likelihood, you’re going to practice dentistry for the next forty years. I was a liberal arts major. If you major in liberal arts or the social sciences, you develop softer skills: you’re learning how to think, write, research, analyze information, etc. These skills tend to be more fluid and more easily transferable between different fields and careers.
SS: I was reading some of the articles that you wrote for Tablet Magazine, and the topics were awesome! I love your focus on Middle Eastern Jewry, which you don’t see very often.
MLH: Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed my writing. I’m interested in the history of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, and am pursuing a[n MA] in Middle Eastern Studies toward that end. I’ve written a few articles for Tablet and also guest-edited a series reflecting on the Iranian Revolution on its 40th anniversary last January. I’m also involved editorially with haSepharadi (www.hasepharadi.com), which I welcome you to check out if you’re interested in pan-Sephardic history, thought, and tradition.
SS: What is exactly does your role as academic advisor for Judaic Studies entail?
MLH: My job, foremost, is to help students succeed academically. I’m available for advisement to review students’ academic requirements and to help them register for appropriate classes.I also work with Dr. Rabinovich, the newly-instated chair of the Jewish Studies department, to create the course schedule every semester, and to evaluate seminary transcripts, among other projects.
SS: What’s your favorite part of working on the Beren Campus?
MLH: Oh, the students! I’m inspired every day by the students who come into my office, who work incredibly hard at a dual curriculum because they prioritize Torah learning. I see students are learning how to read Hebrew for the first time, pushing themselves to learn more every semester, or students who are here at 7:45 a.m. to prepare for a Talmud shiur.