“Neshama” is Hebrew for “soul” or “spirit” and it’s also the title of the new Jewish Studies journal, spearheaded by a student who wanted to provide a vehicle to promote student voices on Jewishness.
The creative force behind the journal, Bethan Johnson ’15, got the inspiration for Neshama after a conversation with her housemate, who talked enthusiastically about work on his department’s journal. Many years ago, Jewish Studies had its own journal, Black Hat, but its publication ended due to a lack of students volunteering to do the editorial work. To move forward with her idea, Johnson went to Professor Peter Antelyes—who was immediately on board.
“It’s important for us to demonstrate the ways we are multidisciplinary,” Antelyes says. “It’s important for us during this time, when there are a lot of competing voices, to be heard—and not in any uniform way. I don’t see us having one voice.”
As editor-in-chief of the Miscellany News and an intern in the Jewish Studies Department, Johnson used her networking skills to connect with students and professors—reaching out on social media—to encourage students to submit their works to the journal. Submissions came from students who had recently taken a Jewish Studies course and wanted to have their classroom work published.
The journal doesn’t inhibit Neshama contributors but instead allows them the freedom to publish a work of their choosing, Johnson says. While she is a Jewish Studies triple major, with English and History, the only requirement for contributors is that they use a work from a Jewish Studies course they took.
Coming in at 71 pages, the first edition of the journal offers a wide range of genres and subjects. Johnson’s piece, an essay titled “Guns, Gin, and Goyim: Jewish American Gangsters in the Age of the American Outlaw,” takes a look at Prohibition-era gangsters such as Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Mickey Cohen. There’s also an op-ed that delves into Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s spring speech to Congress and the U.S.’s nuclear negotiations with Iran; a critical analysis by Rogin Farrer ’15 of the controversy surrounding the 1923 Broadway production of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance; a glowing review by Aiden Lewy ’18 of an April class trip to see Israeli musician David Broza in concert; and an original poem by Emma Glickman ’18—Eternal Light—written during a visit to the Birkenau extermination camp.
“I think what’s great about the journal is that Bethan found ways to get personal voices as well as critical voices and voices on many issues. It’s a good journal for suggesting the diversity of our community,” Antelyes says.
Johnson says the help of others, such as assistant editor and designer Elizabeth Dean ’17, was crucial to the journal’s successful publication. Next year, an intern is already lined up to continue Johnson’s work.
“It took a lot of time, but I’m really pleased with it,” Johnson says, noting that she hopes the journal grows in size.