I received the following e-mail from the chair of my department this morning announcing that I have received tenure and promotion to Associate Professor. This marks the end of a sixteen year journey.
In 1994, I gave up not just my job as an Associate Attorney at Arnold & Porter, but my career as a lawyer and my home in Dupont Circle. This was a leap of faith; the hope that despite all the odds, I would succeed in graduate school, get a Ph.D. and find work. I knew nothing about the job market in academia, nothing really about what one needed to do to get a degree and find a position; all I knew was that I really didn´t want to be an attorney any more.
Grad school took longer than I expected: four years to learn Hebrew, German, and French, and one year to do my research in Israel on the Fulbright. It took me another three and a half years to write my dissertation, in part because I was teaching part time at the CSUN, Moorpark Community College, and the institution formerly known as the University of Judaism.
I started formally applying for full-time jobs in 2001, and had a series of disastrous. Some of my least favorite interview questions: "What do you think of Susannah Heschel´s remark concerning the incompatibility of Wissenschaft and faith?" "You´re clearly a historian of ´German things,´ how comfortable would you be teaching in a religious studies department?" "I´m just thinking off the top of my head here, but have you seen any recent research into the X-Men?" and "You have heard of Ivan Marcus, haven´t you?" (I hadn´t at the time, as he works on medieval Jewish mysticism and my focus was on nineteenth-century Jewish historiography). Then there was the interview in the lobby of a hotel which included the homophobic rabbi of an orthodox synagogue in D.C., who had written more about the incompatibility of Judaism and homosexuality than any other orthodox rabbi, and who counted as a personal triumph his officiating at the marriage of a gay man and lesbian (both of whom I knew from Congregation Beth Mishpachah).
In 2004, I was so lucky to find this job, and yet I almost didn´t get it. The chair of the department had to negotiate with the administration to split it in two, so I could receive one of the positions. This was by far the best job opportunity I had seen in all the years of looking. Not only was it local, but it meant I would be assistant director of a Jewish Studies program.
I spent the next six years building up the program, creating new classes, raising money to establish a series of endowed student awards, and dealt with the Kevin MacDonald crisis. Last year I was warned that my amount of peer-reviewed publications were too low, so I pulled out all the stops and got two articles accepted for publication last year, one conditionally accepted, and one revised and rejected. I also wrote 75% of a book manuscript (though that project will need to be revised).
And now that leg of my life´s journey has come to an end. After sixteen years I have a permanent and prestigious job: a tenured, associate professor of History, chair of the Jewish Studies program, and holder of the Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies. After sixteen years of renting or living as faculty in residence, I now own a house (at least I hope I still do. I moved in just four days before I went on vacation, and I hope it´s still there when I get back), which I remodeled and improved.
Now on to the next chapter in my life.