Summer Of Opportunity: Joy Ladin's "Shekhinah Speaks"

By: Shayna Herszage  |  August 31, 2020

By Shayna Herszage, Managing Editor

This summer, I found myself in the same position as many other college students: at risk for being idle. With the coronavirus pandemic causing many summer opportunities to be suddenly cancelled, thousands of college students in the United States were suddenly left without plans for summer break. In response, Yeshiva University’s Career Center organized the “Summer of Opportunity,” an initiative focused on bringing opportunities such as internships and research positions to YU undergraduate students.

One of the research positions available was under Dr. Joy Ladin, a professor in the Stern College for Women English department. On the Career Center’s online CareerLink database, Dr. Ladin’s project description stated, “Shekhinah Speaks is a book-in-progress that consists of poems and an essay related to the Shekhinah [a form of G-d’s presence]. The research I need includes tracking down references to the Shekhinah in rabbinic, Kabbalistic, and other ancient sources, and also in creative works such as poems and songs.” Having taken two classes with Dr. Ladin, as well as having heard her discuss some of her poetry in relation to the Shekhinah at a 2019 event hosted by the Poetry, Feminist, and Jewish Activism Clubs, I was interested in contributing to the research for this project.

Doing research for Dr. Ladin’s project was by no means an easy task; in our first meeting via phone call, she explained the project in depth and told me the first step in my research was to collect and decipher as many sources as possible that refer to the Shekhinah. An initial search for mention of the Shekhinah on Sefaria brought well over 20,000 results, and I saw clearly that I was no longer at risk for being idle for the summer. For Dr. Ladin’s project, I spent the summer collecting, translating, and summarizing sources from various categories of Jewish texts that refer to the Shekhinah.

Throughout the summer, I learned more about Dr. Ladin’s project and her interest in the concept of the Shekhinah through phone calls, emails, reading her own works, and attending an event she hosted through the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. The Shekhinah, throughout Jewish texts, is often depicted as a female, often a passive component of G-d that is present in the world and often accompanies the Jewish people — both in times of joy and in times of exile. Dr. Ladin, in her Zoom event through the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, emphasized the fact that the Shekhinah, despite lacking a physical form, is considered a feminine entity. As such, She defies the gender binary and the traditional way of categorizing G-d and gender.

Through the Career Center’s “Summer of Opportunity” and the opportunity Dr. Ladin has given me, I am learning more about the Shekhinah in literature and Jewish texts, getting firsthand experience in the Judaic research process, and gaining new information across a wide range of topics.