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Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship

  1. Applicants for the Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship must be currently enrolled at or admitted to attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and pursuing an interdisciplinary major concentration in Judaic Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
  2. Applicants must be declared Judaic Studies majors or minors.
  3. Applicants must demonstrate successful academic performance, with a GPA of 3.0 in the major.
  4. Financial need may be considered.
  5. A student holding the Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship shall have preference in the selection procedure in subsequent years with all other things being equal.

Applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship. CLICK HERE to download the MS Word Document. Please complete it and submit electronically to the chair of the Scholarship Committee, Dr. Helene Sinnreich, by March 1, 2020.


Click the year to view the recipients.

Alana Bogard Alana Bogard is a major in Judaic Studies with a minor in Business Administration. She has been taking a variety of courses in Judaic Studies including modern Hebrew. Alana is also working as a student intern in event planning for Judaic Studies and the Hebrew program. Alana hopes to pursue a career in the Jewish non-profit world.
Leah Faupel is an incoming freshman double major in Jewish Studies and Psychology, with a minor in Hebrew. She comes from Roswell, GA where she is a National Honors Society member. She hopes to pursue a career as a Jewish spiritual leader.
Leslie Jessie Leslie Jessie is a junior from Pigeon Forge, TN. She has been taking extensive classes in Hebrew and is minoring in Judaic Studies. She is a 1794 Scholar. Leslie also interns at the UT Press. Leslie is continually seek opportunities to expand her knowledge in Hebrew and Israeli culture.

Philip Dunn

Philip DunnIn 2019-2020, Philip Dunn, a major in Judaic Studies, was awarded both the Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship. Philip is in his senior year at University of Tennessee. He has taken a wide range of classes in Judaic Studies ranging from Early Judaism to the Holocaust.

Brandon McWhirter

Brandon McWhirterIn 2016-2017, Brandon McWhirter, a double major in Judaic Studies and Religious Studies, was awarded both the Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship and the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Scholarship in Judaic Studies. Brandon is in his junior year at University of Tennessee. He has taken a wide range of classes in Judaic Studies ranging from Early Judaism to the Holocaust to Biblical Hebrew.

Hannah Bowling

When I first travelled to Israel, in 2012, my life was changed. Forever. I cannot put into words the experiences I had during this trip. This trip was not a tourist vacation; this was an experience that allowed me to build strong connections with so many Israelis. Through volunteering that summer at Kaplan Medical Center, and then once again this past summer, my love for Israel and the Jewish people intensified. I was able to see how these people lived, hurt, celebrated, believed, accepted and tolerated.

While seeking other ways to serve the Jewish people, such as volunteering at Heska Amuna, learning the Hebrew language, attending local synagogues, and hosting a T-shirt fund raiser, I happened to find out about majoring in Judaic Studies. I immediately changed my major the same day I learned about it. I have many plans and goals for this major, and future expectations.

Rachel Brown

Rachel BrownAs a vocal performance major and the featured singer with a local Klezmer band, I have had the opportunity to sing many hallmark pieces from this genre. In addition to performing these works, I have also done research on the history and evolution of the Yiddish songs, which has helped to inform my performances and make me a more sensitive performer. I have added a Judaic Studies minor because I want to add to my knowledge of Judaism, its history and its evolution, so that I can perform these works with more insight. As a student in the Chancellor's Honors Program, I am required to do a senior thesis project. I plan to give a lecture recital on the Yiddish song, combining German Lieder, Hebrew songs and Yiddish songs. This project will contain a large research component for which my knowledge of Judaism and the history of its music will be crucial. On an even larger scale, I believe that I have the unique opportunity to educate audiences about the history of the Jewish people and the continued relevance of our music. I am confident that a Judaic Studies minor will enable me to pass on the knowledge that I gain to an increasingly wider audience.

Kimberly Mizell

Kimberly MizellAs a child, I learned about Ancient Jews from a Protestant point of view. I was intrigued by the temple, stories, and people. I had a foundation of some of the holidays and rituals. As a college student, I visited Temple B'Nai Israel in Jackson, Tennessee. Through more learning and Dr. Schmidt's classes I have found a love for learning about the Jewish peoples that reside in all places on Earth.

I am excited to use this minor to help future students to understand the past and present culture of Jews. I will use what I have learned through Voices of the Holocaust to share what I learned from survivors. I will share what Mira Kimmelman taught me through her book: each generation is the future and must not allow another holocaust to happen.

Taylor Thomas

Taylor ThomasI began to forge my new path when Dr. Shepardson introduced me to Dr. Erin Darby—someone with interests strikingly similar to my own, whom I have grown to both respect and admire. Under Dr. Darby, I began studying in the departments of Religious Studies and Judaic Studies, focusing on Israelite and early Jewish religion. I have gone on to pursue such research topics as figurine-use in Persian Period Yehud, Babylonian influence upon religious life of diasporic Jewish communities, the transition from henotheism to monotheism in the ancient world, and the role of asherah in Israelite religion, engaging research for my honors thesis, representing the Humanities for the Undergraduate Research Student Association Executive Board, and presenting my research at undergraduate conferences.

Lily Dropkin

Lily DropkinAs I got older, I became involved in my Jewish community's Sunday school. I worked as a teaching assistant for four years and enjoyed it immensely. I continued teaching for several institutions and was eventually promoted to a full teacher in my congregation's Hebrew program. Yet, I still resisted the idea of considering myself a teacher. I wanted, instead, to study Judaism or English. A friend that I worked with while teaching once mentioned that she thought that I would be a good teacher. As she had been a teacher before retiring, I started to think seriously about a career in teaching. Eventually, I came to a conclusion. I love teaching, and really can't imagine doing anything else with my life. Teaching is what I feel that I am good at, and it allows me to incorporate my interests.

Alissa Reeves

Alissa ReevesIn the fall of 2011, I returned to UTK after a 15-year hiatus in order to complete my BA in English, Rhetoric Writing and Linguistics. During that time I enrolled in Judaic Studies 311, "Ancient Hebraic Religious Traditions," with Professor Erin Darby, and, to be cliché, that class literally changed my life.

Since then, I have finished my degree in English and delayed my graduation by two semesters to acquire a secondary major in Religious Studies. The Religious Studies department does not allow for a concentration within the major, but if it did I would concentrate all my courses on Ancient Hebraic studies.

In the past four semesters, I have taken three courses specifically involving Judaic Studies and am currently auditing a fourth class. Interestingly, I find myself concentrating on a cross-contextual concept of Judaism every chance I get in my other Religious Studies courses; be that class an early Christianity seminar or a class on Rastafarianism.  Further, in additional to forming a firm academic relationship with Dr. Erin Darby, this semester I have begun attending a Hebrew Reading Group at UTK. Judaic Studies is my passion and my delight.

With help from the Dr. Rubin P. Robinson scholarship, I will attend a UTK sponsored Study Abroad Trip to Jordan this summer. On this five-week trip, I will be studying the ancient world while learning about the modern Middle East. My study will involve participation in all aspects of archaeological field work, as well as attending lectures led by specialists in archaeology, history, religion, and art history. In addition, I will be led by scholars through important sites of ancient and modern Jordan.

After returning from Jordan, I will graduate in August 2013. Most undergraduates are excited to leave academic life, but I am saddened by the impending fate. My academic future is yet-to-be-determined. As a non-traditional, 40 year "old" student, I have learned to "follow my path" by taking advantage of situations placed in front of me. I have begun discussing the likely possibility of graduate school at Duke University or Tulane University, and my course of study there would definitely be Biblical Archaeology. Further, I have considered remaining at UTK and attending graduate school in History; this way I can keep my primary focus with early Israelite society.

Read about Alissa's trip to Jordan here!

Jesse Feld

Jesse Feld"I am a journalism major but decided that I wanted to be a Judaic Studies minor after spending my summer (2011) as a camp counselor at Camp Sabra. Sabra is a Jewish sleep away camp in Rocky Mount, Missouri, run through the St. Louis JCC. Although I am practicing to be a sports journalist, having a Judaic Studies minor is important to me for several reasons.

Being a part of the Jewish community means a lot to me because of my faith and how I was raised. Both of my parents' professions are involved with the Jewish community.

As a child I was known as a synagogue hopper because my father always wanted to be several places all at once.He made me appreciate the differences within the religion and I was curious to learn more. Being at camp reaffirmed the way I feel about my upbringing and how I chose to live my adult life. I want to get into the world of sports journalism for a couple of years and really see what it's like.

I hope to have a rich life in the Jewish community. I will be able to teach Sunday school and continue to work with Jewish summer camps as a professional. My plan is to do a variety of things throughout my life, and the knowledge I get from taking the Judaic studies courses will make me well-rounded."

Nikki Swartwood

Nikki Swartwood"By studying the development of the Jewish civilization, one is able to gauge the changes throughout the Western world. Jews were a displaced people, and their movements and treatment are telling of the world that surrounded them. Furthermore, analysis of the historic dealings with Jews provides an insight valuable for the exploration of minorities in the modern world. These groups and the behavior toward them can be better evaluated through comparison with the trends in Jewish history.

Despite an undergraduate concentration in the scientific fields, I have taken several academic measures to ensure a solid foundation for my exploration into Judaic Studies, especially within Germany and Eastern Europe. I have studied the languages and histories of these geographic locations and have gained an intellectual framework in which my studies of Judaism are placed.

Regardless of which graduate program is selected, studying this history and culture will never end—as cliché as it may be, my passion for the subject and my love for learning will always provide the kindling."

Mike Derocco

Mike De RoccoIn 2009, Mike Derocco joined the program as a major in Judaic studies and Religious Studies.  He is on the swim team for the school and is this year's co-captain.  Mike writes:

"Coming into college I was not sure of what I wanted to study or even do after for that matter, but as my first year went by I found that I had a desire to study religion and history.  I remember looking through the catalogue and seeing that there was a major for Judaic studies, and right away it sparked my interest because of my engagement with history and religion.  I am most intrigued with Judaic studies because Judaism was founded nearly 4,000 years ago with Abraham and Sarah and has existed throughout history up to the present time.  Throughout the historic timeline the Jewish community has had an impact on the world and has survived through times of exile and genocide.  They have been, and still are, a target of persecution, and I believe that the best hope for peace is the understanding of each other's differences.  This is also why I am fascinated with the study of religion, because it often serves as the guideline for how people live their lives." 

"As for my career goals, I have always had a desire to serve in the military and help other people. Swimming has been a major part of my life as it has opened up many opportunities for me and I want to be able to use it, so I am in the process of making the decision to join the Navy as a rescue swimmer.  With this career I will be able to do the things I love which are swimming, traveling, helping others, and more importantly meeting people from all over the world and sharing the knowledge I have gained from the University of Tennessee."

Mike graduated in summer 2011.

Amy Canter

Amy CanterAmy Canter, a double major in Religious Studies and Judaic Studies, spent the academic year 2008-09 at Ben- Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, partially supported by a Dr. Ruben Robinson Scholarship. Amy writes:

"I had always wanted to study abroad and at the end of my sophomore year at UT I decided to spend the next semester in Israel. The desire to travel and experience life abroad was a large part in choosing to do this, but Israel meant more to me than that, I chose Israel because I have a personal connection to it. I am Jewish but was raised by a completely secular family and never experienced much of anything having to do with my religion or culture. When I was a young child I had no idea I was even a different religion or ethnicity than my peers. I was raised in an almost absolutely Christian town, I had Christian family members as well as Jewish and everything became conflated… doesn't everyone have matzah ball soup for Easter, or light a Hanukkiah beside a Christmas tree? This realization hit me pretty hard, I had never even known I was Jewish, I never asked, we never talked about it. From this point on I learned everything about Judaism that I could and longed to be part of this culture and religion I had never known, which in part led me to become a Judaic Studies major. I felt left out for never having been to Hebrew school, for never being given the opportunity to develop a Jewish identity and no matter how much I learned I never truly felt a part of it until I went to Israel. I had imagined I would still feel somewhat out of place and not know as much about Jewish life as the others in my program but there were only a few religious students and most were about on my level or much more secular than myself."

"I decided to attend Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva instead of Hebrew University in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University, which the majority of study abroad students choose, but I still only lived about an hour away from them. I wanted to live in a place that was more Israeli and less Americanized as the other two cities have become. Beer Sheva is Israel's fourth largest city and is tied to events of biblical times, and its history even predates Abraham, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also a very diverse city with a large Arab and Bedouin population; in fact during my time in the dorms I had two Arab roommates and two Jewish ones. I loved living in a city with so much history and one of my first trips was to another, Jerusalem. I had dreamed about going to Jerusalem basically my whole life, to be where so many important events in history occurred, to be at the site of the Temple and the kingdom of David and Solomon, and to feel that personal connection so many had told me about. First we went on a tour of the city. I saw the ancient preserved market place from around the Roman period along with the new markets littering the streets. Throughout the day I saw most of Jerusalem and loved all of it, but our last spot was something more special than I knew it would be, the Kotel. Seeing the the Temple Mount, standing at its walls, being at a place filled with the hopes and also suffering of so many people, of my people, was one of the most amazing and indescribable feelings I've ever known. As usual the wall had many people around it praying as well as tourists, I made my way through them, touched the Kotel and prayed there. This was only my first trip to Jerusalem; I took many more throughout my time in Israel which soon turned into a year because I just couldn't leave. While I learned more about Judaism in a scholarly sense, when living here I also experienced life as a Jew among other Jews, not only did I meet new friends and have new experiences and see new places, but I finally found my identity within Judaism, as cliché as it may sound."

Adam Hershel Schwartz

Adam Hershel SchwartzAdam Hershel Schwartz is a psychology major at the University of Tennessee and spent fall 2008 at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with some financial support from the Dr. Ruben P. Robinson Judaic Studies Scholarship Fund. Adam wrote:

"I had a fabulous time in my semester overseas.  I got to know and love an ancient city, Jerusalem, as well as the land of Israel.  In the beginning of August 2008 I got on a plane for Hebrew University, one of the world's top 100 universities.  I spent 2 months in Ulpan, which is intensive Hebrew language development.  My class was a real international experience, as the 10-person class came from 8 different countries.  After this 200-hour course, we had a slight break for the High Holidays, during which I went to no less than 5 synagogues and afterwards went to Tiberias and Elat.  After the break school started again, this time for the real semester.  I took Hebrew, Talmud, Cognitive Psychology, and my favorite course, Urban Tourism in Israeli Cities.  For this last course we studied tourists, with a great focus on Jerusalem and Nazareth, culminating in field trips to these historic cities."

"Some of the main benefits for me were an enhanced link to the country of Israel, a much greater knowledge of Hebrew, and a real growing up experience.  I had to navigate a strange city and country with little pre-knowledge.  I had to feed myself without a meal plan (the shuk is awesome) and I had to make sure I was making the right choices in my day-to-day decisions.  I also grew globally, as I made many non-American friends.  My closest friends were from Holland and Finland, so I now know more, and care more about, some of these European countries that I was apathetic to before.  I also care more about Israel.  Whenever I hear the name on the news, I think about my friends there.  My semester in Israel was well spent, and I am grateful that I was able to go."

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