Student Experiences

Meet Talia Schabes, May 2019 Graduate

Talia Shabes

Double-Major in Nutritional Sciences and Jewish Studies (SEBS '19)

Talia Schabes thought her day-school education and a gap year at a women’s Torah study program in Israel had given her all the Jewish knowledge she would ever need. Then she took her first Jewish studies class at Rutgers and realized there was an entire world of information she had yet to discover.

Professor Gary A. Rendsburg calls Talia “one of the department’s finest students.” She double-majored in nutritional sciences and Jewish studies, and she received the Rudolph and Mary Solomon Klein Award this past spring.


Q: Tell us a little about your background.
A: I grew up in Englewood, New Jersey, where I had a pretty typical Jewish day-school education. I also dabbled in hands-on experiences that piqued my interest in health and the environment and shaped my Jewish identity. For example, I’m now vegan and live in an environmentally conscious way, both lifestyle choices I see as an organic extension of my Jewish values.

Q: What motivated you to take Jewish studies courses?
A: I originally intended to pursue a degree just in the sciences. But I enrolled in Professor Azzan Yadin-Israel’s course “Jewish Society & Culture I” to fulfill a liberal arts requirement. It was exciting to learn about Jewish history from an academic perspective, which offered a wider lens on the topic than what I was used to. The more I studied, the more I wanted to know, so declaring the double major was an easy choice. Each class added a layer of complexity to my understanding and knowledge of Judaism, Jewish culture, and Israel.

Q: What drives you as a student?
A: I have a general love of learning that has shaped my work ethic. It has paid off both in the breadth of knowledge I gained at Rutgers and other opportunities, including a 2017 scholarship from the Dr. Benjamin F. Glasser and Lillian Glasser Endowment.

Q: What was the relationship between your two academic disciplines, and how did they influence each other?
A: The double major enabled me to merge two parts of myself—the historian and the scientist. In my Jewish studies majors seminar with Professor Rendsburg, entitled “Scroll Down: Classical Jewish Texts, from Parchment to Internet,” I was able to combine my interest in Jewish studies, including my fascination with Maimonides (also known as Rambam), and nutrition. My seminar research looked at several of Rambam’s medical texts found in the Cairo Geniza, in addition to his Guide to the Perplexed, especially the beautifully illuminated manuscript now housed in the Royal Library in Copenhagen and accessible in high-resolution digital images online.

Q: Did you experience any life-changing moments during your time at Rutgers?
A: Fall 2016 was my favorite semester. I took three Jewish studies courses: “Advanced Modern Hebrew,” “The History of the Holocaust,” and “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” The classes gave me a framework to do a lot of writing that proved integral to my religious and cultural identity. I wrote an interdisciplinary essay in Hebrew, something I never imagined myself capable of, and another about my grandmother’s personal Holocaust experience. Thanks to the Barry and Deborah Venezia Adler International Study Scholarship, I spent the summer before my senior year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I took a mind-blowing New Testament archaeology course that included a visit to Qumran and another course that gave me an entirely new perspective on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I also volunteered at a women’s health clinic, an opportunity that inspired my independent research at Rutgers with Professor Michal Raucher on the reproductive rights of Palestinian women living in the West Bank.

Q: What kind of experiences did you have outside the classroom that both impacted you and enabled you to impact the Rutgers community?
A: Rutgers is a big school, but the Jewish community is so warm and giving it never felt that way. Being a part of that kind of Jewish community both expanded my horizons and made my college world seem small and intimate. My extracurricular activities reflected my diverse interests as well as my commitment to nurturing the Rutgers Jewish community. I was a member of the Cook Organic Garden Club, the Veg Society, and the Compost Club. Through those memberships, I began composting at Hillel, where I also served as the Orthodox prayer community’s gabbait [one who assists with the Torah reading] for a year and a half. In addition, I interned with both Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy and the David Project, which empowers student leaders to build meaningful partnerships that integrate the pro-Israel community on campus. Both Shamayim and the David Project cosponsored events I organized at Hillel over the years, including Tu B’Shvat seders, vegan challah baking, and yoga classes.

Q: Is there a Jewish book or idea that has influenced your worldview?
A: There are a few lines in the Bible, in the book of Deuteronomy (20:19–20), that liken man to a tree. I believe these words encourage humankind to cherish nature and treat it honorably.

Q: What does your future look like?
A: I made aliyah after graduation, fulfilling a long-term dream. I am currently working as a technician in a nutritional biochemistry lab at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, while tutoring in Hebrew and tending an urban garden. Long-term, I hope to pursue a master’s degree in the natural sciences and a career that reflects the beliefs and passions I nurtured at Rutgers.

Archaeological Dig

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Summer 2017, Mount Zion Archaeological Project in Israel

I've never been one for early mornings, but waking up at 4 o'clock for two weeks to work on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem proved to be quite the experience.  UNC Charlotte runs a summer dig session in June and July, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with men and women of all ages and nationalities to unearth Jerusalem's hidden historic treasures.  

Clad in steel-toed boots and sturdy working gloves, I ventured out of the Zion Gate of the Old City at 4:00 AM to a rare silence.  The Old City, usually buzzing with tourists, shop vendors, and multi-ethnic residents, was still very much asleep when our group arrived at the dig site.  Each morning, we would form a human assembly line to pass supplies from a storage building an up to the site.  Such materials included buckets, pickaxes, brushes, and metal detectors.  Once everything and everyone was present and accounted for, we would be briefed by Dr. Shimon Gibson, professor of archaeology at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. This would usually include some historical context based off of what we would be digging up that week.  After this, we would get straight to work.  I worked on a number of tasks, including clearing large boulders from my assigned area, checking for metal objects (such as coins or nails), and looking for other artifacts, like animal bones or glass shards.  We would work until midday, when we took a break for lunch.  This part of the day was toughest because the sun had already risen and temperatures would reach upwards of 100 degrees (F).  Following lunch, we would resume work until around 3:30, when we would begin to pack up the supplies to put them back into storage until the next day.  

One of my highlights of the dig was finding a piece of glass from the Roman period.  I had spent all day looking for something in the dirt when I saw something glint in the sunlight.  I dug a little deeper and pulled out an opal-like shard of class that stood out so beautifully against the backdrop of dirt and dust.   Holding this tiny piece of glass, I thought about how the mighty Roman Empire exiled my people from the Land of Israel.   Here I was, some centuries later, back in my homeland, holding a tiny fragment of that empire in the palm of my hand.  Who would have thought that a tiny piece of glass could hold so much history? 


Study Abroad in Prague and Krakow

Rachel Wetter's, Jewish Studies major, '14
Recipient of The Barry and Deborah Venezia Adler International Study Scholarship

Rachel Wetter study abroadThis summer I was awarded a generous scholarship to attend a two-month summer study abroad in the cities of Prague and Krakow run by Rutgers Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies. This program allowed me to study the complicated questions of heritage preservation in two cities with long and complex histories. As a Jewish Studies major, I was particularly interested in how these cities interact today with the heritage of their formerly large Jewish populations. I got to see first-hand what has been done with the material remains of the old Jewish neighborhoods in Prague and Krakow, as well as to visit the former concentration camps Terezin and Auschwitz and discuss how sites of painful memory fit into a country’s heritage. Interning with the ten-day Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow, I got a fascinating snapshot of the Jewish revival in Krakow. I learned more about how the Jewish community today is seeking to preserve the lost community’s immaterial heritage of traditions and artforms, as well as creating its own new traditions. Throughout the program, I had the opportunity to discuss what I observed with both my fellow classmates and professionals in the field. It was an inspiring and invaluable experience!

Graduate Student’s Israel Experience

Danica says thank you

Danica Presepe, Graduate Student, School of Social Work, ’13
Recipient of The Herbert and Jacqueline Klein Award for Study in Israel

When I first decided to study abroad in Israel I was not sure what to expect. But, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Being a social work graduate student, I suspected that the trip would revolve around social welfare organizations, which it did. Yet, the trip was so much more. We did not just learn about social welfare organizations in Israel, such as Be'er Sheva's Center for Independent Living (CIL), but also about the numerous religions and cultures, including Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Bedouin, and Baha’I, that inhabit the same space. We experienced in-depth, guided tours of all the major religious and tourist sites, which were incredibly stimulating intellectually. We also took a day trip to Petra, Jordan, an ancient archaeological wonder, which was incredibly beautiful. A surprise was the snow in Jerusalem, where it hadn’t fallen in a decade! This trip was intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually fulfilling. It broadened my global perspective and expanded my capacity for knowledge. Everything about Israel was astounding: the people, the food, the sites, and the landscape. It was an overwhelmingly positive, life-changing experience.

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