Location: North Seattle
Where to find her:
While a doctorate in Modern Hebrew literature may sound a bit obscure, it led Hannah Pressman to a career doing what she loves in the new field of digital Jewish studies. As communications coordinator for the Stroum Jewish Studies Program at the University of Washington, she has put her lifelong love of language, Judaism and Jewish literature into play as the editor of the program website, StroumJewishStudies.org.
The University of Virginia alumna grew up in Richmond, Va., and arrived in Seattle in 2007 as the Hazel D. Cole Fellow in Jewish Studies as she prepared to complete her Ph.D. from New York University. She came here excited to work with UW faculty, like Joel Migdal and Naomi Sokoloff.
“My husband and I fell in love with Seattle,” she says, and she stayed on as an instructor. While in school, Pressman was also a member of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Jewish leadership program.
A couple of years ago, program chair Noam Pianko “had this idea to start a blog,” and thought Pressman would make a good editor. Then a part-time job, it was ideal for the mom of two little boys. But as someone who does “my best writing with a pen and paper at the kitchen table,” Pressman had to learn a new technological language.
“On the other hand, it was a perfect fit for me because I love making Jewish content accessible.”
What started as a simple blog has morphed into a wide variety of media on a range of topics that appeal to students, to faculty, and to the community, including course listings and faculty bios for students and public lecture schedules.
Pressman wanted to “take all this expertise that professors have….and make [it] available and engaging for a broader audience.” The site contains articles, student blogs, a YouTube channel, and a Twitter feed, and links to other publications. It also houses an entire section on Sephardic studies, a growing area of research for the program and a popular subject for the Seattle community.
Pressman’s interest in Israeli literature is rooted in the time she spent in Israel while growing up. She lived there for several months as a child, then again for a couple of summers and returned for a study abroad program during college. It was during that time she developed an interest in her Sephardic heritage on her mother’s side. She visited Rhodes and located her great-grandmother’s house, and her genealogy research even led her to some cousins here in Seattle.
“I enjoy learning about Sephardic culture and cooking Sephardic foods,” she says. “It’s another reason I’m so thankful to be living here in Seattle!”
Descended from Lithuanian Jews on her father’s side, Pressman takes an active interest in that part of her family, too. She is the co-editor of an anthology, “Choosing Yiddish: New Frontiers of Language and Culture” (Wayne State, 2012) featuring “a new generation of scholars who are working in Yiddish.” Most scholars of Hebrew literature learn Yiddish, she says, in order to better understand Jewish writers of the early 20th century, some of whom wrote in both languages.
Pressman, her husband and sons are active members of the Kavana Cooperative and Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle. When not working, the family enjoys kid-centered outings.
Pressman will be the featured speaker at Temple Beth Am’s Yiddish service on Friday, July 26.