Every year the Program in Jewish Studies awards a $1,000 undergraduate scholarship to a student who pursues a Minor in Jewish Studies. This year we are very excited to honor our outstanding Micah Lesch! Read his essay below.
In 1943, my grandmother went to sleep each night in a small makeshift shed tucked behind a farmhouse, hearing the sounds of bombs spread destruction on her home city of Hamburg, and wearing shoes under her covers in case she needed to run. After emigrating to the United States in 1951, my grandfather often mused that the best exercise he ever had was digging mass graves at the Neuengamme concentration camp. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, hearing these sorts of harrowing and horrific testimonies – stories of injustice, persecution, and survival – fundamentally shaped my identity and development in myriad ways. Most profoundly, these narratives have imbued in me a sense of pride in my heritage, having descended from those who were resilient in the face of these insurmountable atrocities, along with a constant sense of gratitude that those same people are able to share those experiences today. I have chosen to pursue a minor in Jewish Studies, in tandem with studying History, not only to bring further historical context and personal significance to my understanding of these stories, which define my identity as a German-Jew, but to also guide and inspire my future academic and professional work in the fields of genocide prevention, historical and contemporary studies of refugee issues, and eventually, studying Jewish and Holocaust History at the graduate level. The opportunities, both academic and personal, which the Jewish Studies program has already allowed me to experience, exemplify the ways in which the study of Jewish history and related subjects have and continue to contribute to my education. From studying equivalent minor subjects through classes such as “Jewish Life in Central Europe” and “Totalitarian History” during my Fall study abroad experience at the Freie Universität, Berlin, to conducting extensive archival research into the story of my great-great grandmother, Regina Victor, who lived in Berlin and was killed in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, in order to create a “Stolperstein” memorial in the front of her former home, to now engaging in research work on subjects of collective memory and trauma in European History as a Research Assistant to Professor David Biale, the ways in which Jewish Studies have enhanced my education cannot be overstated.