Student Experiences

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.