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Meet Mark Raider

Mark Raider moves into the Judaic Studies department.

Date: 9/18/2006
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Surrounded by boxes and half-empty shelves sure to overflow with books in short order, Mark Raider is knee-deep in last-stage planning for October’s Jacob and Jennie L. Lichter Lecture Series in Judaic Studies.

It was the right time for a move, personally and professionally, he said. And when the opportunity to head the Judaic Studies Department appeared, “it immediately caught my attention,” said Raider, who began work Sept. 1.

Raider, also appointed Jewish Foundation Endowed Chair of the Department of Judaic Studies, comes to UC from University at Albany, State University of New York. Raider earned a BA in Judaic studies and Hebrew literature, with honors, at UC-Santa Cruz, and his PhD in modern Jewish history from Brandeis University.

“I was a faculty member at UAlbany for 10 years and, in general, I was quite happy there,” said Raider.

“Of course, I had known about UC for some time and had always been interested in Cincinnati because of my work in American Jewish history. Most recently, I had heard lots of positive things from friends and colleagues about UC, including a few individuals who have watched its transformation from up close.

“I soon realized that this is a university on the rise, with an exciting and ambitious trajectory. I am enthusiastic about new challenges and decided this was the right time to make a shift in my career. It certainly helped that my wife, Dr. Miriam Raider-Roth, was pursued by CECH and offered a position in her own right. An added bonus is the proximity to grandparents and family-Miriam is originally from Chicago.”

Mark Raider

Professor Mark Raider, head, Department of Judaic Studies

His goals and drive in Albany helped “transform a sleepy little department into a major hub of Jewish Studies in the Northeast,” he said.

“Working closely with the administration, alumni, and key Jewish community leaders, we launched the Center for Jewish Studies in 2000 and went on to raise close to $2 million in private gifts and grants for new endowed student awards, programs, and public activities.”

At the same time, Raider said, the Center’s advisory board offered critical support for the Judaic Studies Department. “We eventually tripled the size of our classroom enrollment – now averaging 1,200 to 1,400 students per year in Judaic Studies classes,” he said.

“While the situation at UC is somewhat similar to UAlbany, it is also unique. To be sure, both institutions are first-rate public universities and they both have serious track records in Judaic Studies. But Cincinnati is also a much bigger place than Albany. And the Jewish community here not only occupies a distinctive place in American Jewish history, but has also had a profound impact on the American Jewish experience.”

Historically speaking, Cincinnati is the epicenter of the Reform movement, the largest synagogue movement in the U.S., and has long been a touchstone for the development of American Judaism, Raider said.

“Today, Cincinnati continues to play a significant role in the social, cultural, and political life of American Jews. Last, Cincinnati is an economic hub of Ohio and the Midwest. Put these three elements together and you have real gravitas. Given this context, UC provides a singular platform for a first-rate Judaic Studies Department. There is tremendous potential here for partnerships with HUC-JIR, Xavier University, and other universities and colleges in the region.

“And there is also a real niche to be filled. We are, after all, the custodians of Jewish Studies for the state university system, and we attract some of the very best and brightest students from across the state. My vision is to enhance and expand the orbit of the Judaic Studies Department so that it helps to attract high achieving students to UC and grows to include many more undergraduate offerings, a graduate program, new opportunities for continuing and adult education, a variety of public programs and activities, and a new Center for Jewish Education, which Miriam and I will be co-directing.”

Collaborations work well for the couple, who teamed as co-editors for 2002’s The Plough Woman: Records of the Pioneer Women of Palestine.”

“Working with Miriam is a joy. She is not only my best friend and best critic – she is also a gifted and talented scholar,” Raider said. “Her analysis of the lives and voices of this inspiring and sophisticated group of Zionist women pioneers in pre-state Israeli society really opened my eyes and fundamentally changed my view of Zionist history. In fact, I credit our joint work on The Plough Woman with launching me in the direction of my active interest in the field of Jewish women’s studies. My interests continued and grew through my subsequent collaboration with Shulamit Reinharz of Brandeis University on American Jewish Women and the Zionist Enterprise. Shula is a close friend and leading scholar of Jewish women’s studies. It was very enlightening and exciting to work with her on this book project.”

Raider and his wife now embark on a new collaboration, the Center for Jewish Education.

“I think our past experience taught us a lot about the somewhat unusual give and take of working as a husband-and-wife team,” Raider said. “But there is still the essential synergy of different areas of expertise and the need to respect one another as researchers and scholars. I believe we’re a good team and that we’ll be successful. We will no doubt do some writing together, too.

“As for my own writing and research, my major project is a full-scale biography of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, one of the 20th century’s most significant American Jewish and Zionist leaders. Of course, I’m interested in Wise for a host of personal reasons. But I also think he is a fascinating historical figure in his own right. Wise’s life mirrors the American Jewish experience in the first half of the 20th century – its rise and transformation, triumphs and anguish. Personally speaking, I’m an early riser. I like to get up before everyone else, sit down with a cup of coffee before the day takes hold of me, and spend a few hours each morning with my writing. It’s a lot like exercise. It helps me get ready for the rest of my day.”

That’s not surprising, coming from someone who “enjoys the challenges of teaching, administrating, and carrying on with my own research agenda.”

“I think the combination keeps me on my toes. In general, I think I do a good job of juggling these different tasks. As an administrator, I believe in transparency but also accountability,” he said. “That is, I want my colleagues to know what’s going on and actively participate in shaping the direction of the Department. It’s a team effort that requires the input and confidence of full-time and adjunct faculty. But I also know that I’m ultimately responsible for ensuring students have access to the Department’s offerings, managing our budget, creating an equitable work load, and so on.”

Boxes aside, the Raider-Roth family – including the couple’s three children – are quickly adjusting to leaving New York’s historic capital for the Queen City.

“Everyone has been incredibly warm and welcoming at UC and in our new neighborhood of North Avondale,” Raider said.

“Students, colleagues, and neighbors have all helped enormously to make us feel at home right away. I’m looking forward eagerly to the start of the academic year.”

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