Past imperfect

Growing up in a family of academics, Dr. Sarah Stroup became fascinated with antiquity at an early age. Now a professor at the University of Washington, Stroup has managed turned her passion for Classics — specifically, how ancient Jewry fits into Greco-Roman history — into a full-time career.

As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, Stroup began to question why there was no study of Jews within the field of Classics, particularly since there were known interactions between the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Complicating the issue is the fact that the field of Jewish studies looks at the relationships between Jews, Greeks, and Romans, but usually only in a negative context.

“When we think of the Jews in Rome, we think of the destruction of the Second Temple,” says Stroup. “But what I see, looking at all the complexities of the ancient world, is a more hopeful image than what we have now.” Stroup hopes to bring those complexities to light through her lecture series at Temple Beth Am, which culminates with a final talk on Wednesday, April 24 on the multicultural history of the Israeli port city of Dor.

Dor has special meaning to Stroup, who leads a six-week-long excavation there each summer. The site has evidence of approximately 1,200 years of multicultural occupation, and was a hub of politics and commerce in its heyday. Stroup especially values the trip for its ability to turn her students into fellow researchers for a summer, and to give those students — many of whom are not Jewish and have never traveled outside of the United States — a chance to experience Israel firsthand.

Stroup was invited to speak at Temple Beth Am by a committee formed with the goal of expanding the synagogue’s already flourishing adult education program. Mark Wener, who will chair the committee to select next year’s speaker, was in full support of having Stroup participate as this year’s series speaker.

“Professor Stroup has spoken at the temple in the past,” said Wener, adding that “[she] has more interest in Jewish history and multiculturalism in a cultural context.” Wener also pointed out that the goals of the adult education program are not necessarily to provide a place for religious learning, since that is provided through religious services, but to create a sense of community and belonging for members of the synagogue and the local Jewish community.

Wener called the lectures a “valuable contribution” and said that he hopes Beth Am can sustain the series as their rabbis, who have been huge proponents of the adult education program, prepare to move on to new positions in California later in the year. Wener suggested that next year’s lectures may be left open for visiting rabbinic candidates to speak as part of their interview process, emphasizing that hosting an educational forum in addition to leading religious services would allow candidates to showcase multiple skills.

In her earlier lectures, Stroup addressed Greco-Roman influence on the Passover seder, and relationships between Jews and their Roman counterparts. Her final lecture, titled “How Did They Greet Alexander? Tel Dor: a Case Study for Ancient Multiculturalism,” will be given at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24 at Temple Beth Am.

This piece originally appeared on Jew-ish.com.

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