SFSU hires a third Goldman chair in Jewish studies

Rachel Gross, who will be joining the Jewish studies faculty at San Francisco State University, would seem to be a good fit for the Jewish scene in the Bay Area, where the region’s major Jewish film festival is often referred to as “the other High Holy Days.”

In Gross’ academic research, Jewish dolls and food are among the key objects of American Judaism.

Rachel Gross

Gross has been named the John and Marcia Goldman Chair in American Jewish Studies at SFSU, it was announced this week. She will join the faculty in August as an assistant professor and begin teaching during the 2016-17 academic year.

Virginia-born, raised and educated, Gross received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Princeton University in 2014, and is currently a visiting assistant professor of Judaic studies at Virginia Tech.

Gross will become the third Goldman endowed chair in Jewish studies at SFSU, joining professor Marc Dollinger (Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility) and associate professor Eran Kaplan (Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Israel Studies). John Goldman is the son of Richard and Rhoda.

Endowing three chairs “is an impressive testament to a family that has established and now solidified Jewish studies scholarship, education and community engagement in perpetuity at San Francisco State,” Dollinger said in an SFSU press release.

The newest chair was established with a $1 million gift from the John and Marcia Goldman Fund in 2013. For the first two chairs, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund supplied $5.25 million, a portion of which supported the reorganization of Jewish studies into an SFSU department.

Reached by phone, Gross shed some light on her areas of scholarship. “My research focuses on how American Jews represent their immigration history through objects of affection, from Jewish genealogy, research and museums to children’s books, dolls and, of course, the growing trend of hipster Jewish food,” she said. “All are major parts of American Jewish religion.”

Excited about being immersed in the “freshness” and “vibrancy” of Bay Area Jewish life, Gross already has done some work here, including research with the owners of Saul’s Deli in Berkeley and studying the innovations of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

At SFSU, Gross will begin by teaching two classes, one on American Jewish history and the other on Jews and food.

As for the latter topic, her personal (current) favorites are cinnamon babka (“It’s definitely the year of the babka,” she said) and Israeli olives. Not together, presumably. — j. staff