For now, I wanted to let people know that I was recently published in the American Jewish Archives Journal for a piece which originally began as my senior thesis at the University of Pennsylvania, over five years ago. It has gone through several drafts since then and it has now hit the world of the academic journal. Welcome, "The Excommunication of Mordecai Kaplan."
I'm quite proud of the piece, which you can find here, and will be available shortly on the American Jewish Archives website, as well.
For now, I'll paste the acknowledgements which I wrote for the original thesis. I should note that one person suggested that the acknowledgements were the best part of the thesis. So read away!
Many adjustments should be made to these thanks based on the past five years, but here they are as they were in the original:
This project did not originate as a thesis. It began as a twenty-page research paper as the conclusion of an independent study internship at the National Museum of American Jewish History. But quickly it started to consume me.
My dad says that this thesis managed to combine every segment of my college experience. I used my love of journalism unconsciously as a model for how to pursue a story and search for the last source that is out there — because that’s where the best information sits. I incorporated my love of studying Jewish texts, nurtured both in the classrooms of the University of Pennsylvania and in my own pursuit of knowledge. I have also realized that I am deeply passionate in the American Jewish experience in the twentieth century and how Jews express their Judaism. Overall, however, I love thinking and talking about Judaism.
I thrust myself at this project because it had already been growing inside of me for some time. And thus it grew from a term paper to a project that I chose to continue attacking, whether that included sorting through archival materials on one of my several trips to New York, speaking with various scholars or typing during the nights in my designated corner of Penn Hillel.
Many people aided this process, for which I am extremely thankful. To my friends, many of whom assembled a mini fan-club around this thesis, sparking a “Mordecai Kaplan fact of the day” montage throughout second semester. But above all, who supported me in this project because they knew it meant so much to me, and perhaps that is the most touching part of all of this. The crowd that came to hear me present the thesis made me feel extremely lucky.
My professors at Penn continue to draw my respect with how they combine a deep interest in pedagogy and a complete mastery of their subjects. I have loved absorbing the subject matter of the classes I have taken, but I have also taken notes on how these scholars communicate their knowledge, which is equally impressive to their scope of learning. Thank you for being such great models for the discipline and giving me a fantastic undergraduate experience.
Thank you to the many scholars across the country who showed keen interest in the project and immediately offered their insight and advice. Particular thanks to Rabbi Neil Gillman of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who invited me to follow him for a day, and whose anecdotal accounts of his own time as a student under Mordecai Kaplan proved to be particularly fruitful. Each of my interactions gave me a new respect for the academy and the notion of collaborative scholarship. The care that each of the scholars puts into his or her work is inspiring.
To Professors Beth Wenger and Ari Kelman at Penn, who nurtured this work most closely and watched it grow. I adopted Dr. Wenger as a second adviser during second semester of this year partly because she led the “Senior Seminar” for the Jewish Studies major. But more than that, Dr. Wenger was completely willing and enthusiastic to discuss the thesis. Ranging from micro issues of prose to discussing larger themes in American Judaism, Dr. Wenger continues to help me to understand broader notions of what it means to be a historian.
Dr. Kelman helped me to work through this process from my opening ideas of only knowing that I wanted to write something about Mordecai Kaplan. Throughout this project he remarkably was always able to steer me in the correct direction, even though I had done the research. He showed a keen awareness for the process and helped to direct me throughout the course of the year. With an interest in film, Ari both literally and figuratively helped me to craft a storyboard for this work, offering help in all three main segments of the process: research, writing and revising. His e-mails consistently served to inspire me and keep me going, often necessarily pulling the reins and making me laugh all at the same time. In pursuing this project, I also got the opportunity to speak about many greater issues in American Judaism, and discovered that we have similar views about most issues on the current American Jewish scene. His greater vision and easy-going general outlook on life made working under him a privilege.
Perhaps I learned most that no matter how much children try to run away from their parents, that even if they sit on benches outside of art museums instead of going in just to be spiteful, ultimately we are all truly our parents’ children. I have truly loved this experience and have now begun to realize why —and how— my dad can sit upstairs in front of a computer for up to fourteen hours at a time with only Diet Dr. Pepper, a baseball game and a stack of books about Dutch etchings. Some would say other than my choice of subject, I wasn’t so different with this project— except that it was basketball season this time.
Thank you to everyone who helped me craft what has been the most rewarding intellectual experience in my undergraduate career, one that hopefully is just the beginning of this exploration.