Conference at UC Santa Cruz to explore modern Jewish spaces and identity

poster for UCSC Jewish studies conference
UC Santa Cruz graduate student i Katie Trostel (right), with Amanda Sharick

UC Santa Cruz graduate student in literature, Katie Trostel (right), the conference coordinator, with Amanda Sharick from UC Riverside, in front of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem last summer, where they attended a workshop that inspired the upcoming UC Santa Cruz conference on Feb. 18-19.

The Center for Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz will present a two-day conference, “Liminal Spaces and the Jewish Imagination” on campus February 18-19, at the Humanities 1 Building.

The Venice Ghetto will serve as the starting point for the conference to address questions of modern Jewish spaces and identity. The site has played a central role in Jewish and European culture since the Jews were first sequestered in the Ghetto in 1516. 

“Venice is the place where the Jews in the modern world got their first location—not by choice,” noted Murray Baumgarten, professor of literature and co-director of the Jewish Studies program at UC Santa Cruz.

“They were located there when they were forced out of Spain. The Ghetto is still there in Venice as an island, and we are looking at how it has impacted modern Jewish life and European life,” he added.

The conference is being coordinated by Katie Trostel, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student in literature, who attended an international workshop for young researchers last summer in Jerusalem at the Van Leer Institute, Israel’s Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

“We’re taking ideas from that workshop and expanding it to a conference with presentations,” said Trostel.

“We’re all coming from very different disciplinary backgrounds. It’s a global conversation. People are coming from Russia and Scotland.”

The conference will include panels on Sculptural and Literary Israeli Space, European Jewish Spaces, American Jewish Spaces, and Virtual Jewish Spaces.

During her presentation, Trostel will talk about an author exiled from Argentina, who was able to better understand her own experience by thinking about Jewish exiles.

“She fled to Mexico where she interacted with European Jewish exiles,” said Trostel. “Even though she was not Jewish, she found she had a lot in common with them, learning what it means to build a community of exiles. It all goes back to space, the communities of the lost home. What it shows is that identity is never isolated. It’s always in relation to things that are alive and defined.”

“The implications of where you live shape your identity,” Trostel noted. “A political situation is always implied when you talk about space.”

Trostel added that the conference is designed to bring new perspectives and a new way of talking about situations, often changing the way we understand them.

“We made lots of new relationships at the Van Leer institute in Jerusalem with young scholars, grad students, and recently graduated students,” she noted. “We now have a network of international future colleagues which is inspiring.”

“It’s always nice to see what people from other institutions are working on and sharing ideas,” Trostel added.  “At UC Santa Cruz, we are fortunate to have an open field where we can be innovative and come up with new ideas.”

“Liminal Spaces and the Jewish Imagination” will take place on February 18-19, at the Humanities 1 Building, Room 210, on the UC Santa Cruz campus. The conference is free and open to the public. It runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. This event is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies, the Helen Diller Endowment for Jewish Studies, and the Institute for Humanities Research. For more information and the schedule, visit the CJS website  or contact