A young woman in an elegant dress speaks into a microphone at a podium.

Jewish studies minor Leah Hatzialexiou speaks at the end-of-year celebration for Jewish studies students and faculty

By Leah Hatzialexiou

“So, if you’re not even Jewish, why are you taking Jewish studies?”

When my peers would pose that question, I would either laugh it off or get defensive, because it was still something I was wondering myself. I am the daughter of a Greek man and a Scandinavian mother; I grew up spending summers in Greece and holidays making lutefisk and lefse. Aside from my Hebrew name, nothing about me is Jewish. What was attracting me so much to a culture that wasn’t even my own?

It all began with taking the Jewish Cultural History course with Professor Devin Naar. Those were some of the best lectures of my entire undergraduate experience — I know I don’t need to tell you about how captivating a talk by Professor Naar is. Then, I started getting coffee and talking about everything under the sun with Lauren Kurland, the Stroum Center’s Student Engagement Director — a ritual that has lasted all four years!

Courses even blended into my political science major and bioethics minor; a sign of how much overlap exists in Jewish studies with other fields. I remember being so surprised that the department offers a bioethics course that focuses specifically on the Jewish perspective for bioethics. As for political science, there were classes centered around the Arab-Israeli conflict, and any good political science course always focuses on current events in Israel.  Completing a Jewish studies minor feels right, like a symbol or reminder of some of the best courses of my undergraduate years.

One of my main goals when I first started university was to have a kind of mentor. I didn’t realize that I would gain four, and all from Jewish studies. Dr. Devin Naar inspires me to continue researching my deepest interests. Dr. Hadar Khazzam-Horowitz reignited my passion for bioethics. Dr. Yoav Duman encouraged me to aim high with my career aspirations, and to not let anything stop me. Most of all, Lauren Kurland has always been there to support me in every aspect of life. I am indebted to all of them for their support.

I thought I would feel like an imposter. Instead, I feel like I’m in a second home. At a university of over 40,000 students, the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies is one of the most welcoming, festive, and engaging communities on campus, and one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience. It continues to grow and flourish, and I know for certain it will inspire and motivate more students to come, just as it did for me.

Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.