Name: Katelyn (Katey) Reighard, ‘08
Major: Chemistry and Religion
Minor: Jewish Studies
Academics: Oldham Scholar
Activities: Delta Gamma
Omicron Delta Kappa
Chemistry teaching assistant
Allies Institute

Why the Jewish studies minor in particular?

I came to college intending to major in both chemistry and religion because they were both topics I had found very interesting when I was in high school. When I began taking classes within the religion department, I was really drawn to the classes involving Judaism and the Old Testament. I was raised within the Christian tradition, so I was familiar with the Old Testament, but until I began taking classes at Richmond, I hadn’t realized what a rich, diverse and intriguing group of writings it was. I became fascinated by how these writings and their interpretation formed not only a religion, but an entire culture and nationality.  

Tell us a little about what led you to Israel.

Throughout college, I had been struggling with which of my majors should be my “primary major.” I had spent several semesters and a summer doing research with Dr. Leopold in the chemistry department and knew I loved doing that. However, I felt that I hadn’t explored my religious studies to the same extent. I knew if I went to graduate school for Old Testament studies I would have to learn a lot of ancient languages, so I wanted to see what that would be like. I regretted not having gone abroad during the school year, so I decided to use the summer after my junior year to explore religious studies as well as studying abroad.  

Were you proficient in Hebrew prior to making the trip?

Prior to going to Israel, I didn’t even know the Hebrew alphabet. The first three weeks I was there I was traveling and studying Israel’s history. Most Israelis speak English, so I have little need to learn Hebrew immediately; however, during that time I became familiar with a few letters and learned a few key phrases. During my last four weeks, I studied Hebrew for five hours a day, six days a week. By the end, I could successfully talk to a cab driver for about 20 minutes (with lots of hand gestures!). I still have a lot of Hebrew to learn, but I know basic communication skills. Not having written vowels makes learning Hebrew difficult at first, but you quickly become used to it. Once you develop an ear for Hebrew, the vowels start to come naturally.

What was your favorite travel memory?

While in Israel, I lived in the beautiful coastal city of Haifa. One of my favorite activities was watching the sunset over the Mediterranean at the local beach, Hof Ha Carmel. The absolute best night to go was Saturday evening, when Shabbat was ending. As the sun set, Israelis came together to welcome the new week by participating in traditional Jewish folk dancing for hours.  The group of people that came was so diverse. Some women came in their workout clothes and danced for hours, working up a sweat. Other couples would dress up in suits and dresses and dance with their husbands in a way that suggested they have welcomed Shabbat in this matter for decades. Whether I danced with the group or simply watched, these nights were always an incredibly affirmation of Jewish identity and solidarity.

Now that you’re back at school, what’s next? Academically and professionally?

I had a tremendous time in Israel, and would love to go back. Despite my interest and religion and Jewish studies, I’ve decided to apply to chemistry Ph.D. programs. However, before I begin my graduate education, I would love to go back to Israel. To accomplish this, I’ve applied for a grant that would allow me to do research at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel for nine months.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

A liberal arts education has not only allowed me to pursue my diverse interests, it has encouraged it. By the end of my four years, I’ve taken classes in nearly every department, which has opened my eyes to intellectual ideas I never imagined I would be interested in. What has been surprising is that it is often the classes outside of my majors that have helped me in my senior seminars. In my religion seminar, I have really utilized information from my philosophy classes, sociology classes and English classes. Without a liberal arts education, I was afraid I would never have had the well roundedness that has made my senior seminars so enriching.