Diversity Torch: Jacob Starner

January 22, 2024 - Emily Jodway

Torch Jacob Starner is a senior in the Michigan State University College of Social Science studying Economics with a minor in Jewish Studies from the Michael and Elaine Sterling Institute. He is heavily involved in the on-campus Jewish community, participating in activities with the Jewish Learning Center and MSU Hillel. Jacob is a student whose interests in the classroom extend to the activities he enjoys in his spare time, and he carries his heritage and passion for Jewish studies proudly. As we begin to reflect on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Starner shared his perspective and personal accomplishments as a Jewish-American.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Jacob wished for the chance to join a community with a larger Jewish presence in order to connect more with his cultural heritage and personal identity. He has found just that at Michigan State. He credits Professor Yael Aronoff for introducing him to the Jewish Studies minor and helping to facilitate experiences like studying abroad. 

“Coming to MSU has been such an expansion of my Jewish community,” Jacob explained. “ I wanted a minor that fit with what I have a passion for, like learning more about language and culture, and it’s opened up so many other cool opportunities.”

Jacob is very interested in the intersections of Israel and the economy, as the country functions at the forefront of economic innovation in the Middle East. He also has fostered an interest in environmental studies, and worked last year with Professor Alon Tal, a visiting instructor at MSU who served as a legislator in the Israeli Parliament and advised on environmental policy. 

“Economics is a topic that’s very engaging to think about, asking why things happen in the world and what the economic motivators behind them are,” Jacob said. “And I’m very into the environment. I led backcountry trips in Montana over the summer at Glacier National Park. So Professor Tal and I got very close talking about environmental issues.”

Jacob studied abroad in Tel Aviv during the spring 2023 semester, where he had the chance to witness firsthand Jewish life in Israel. He experienced city life in Tel Aviv and learned more about the inner workings of Middle Eastern economics and entrepreneurship. He spent time working on a farm at a kibbutz, a type of agricultural collective community unique to the country. Jacob was also present for the 75th anniversary celebration of Israeli independence and Yom HaShoah, Israel’s recognition of Holocaust Remembrance, which takes place in May. During this time, he got to witness a sacred ceremony involving the elder Israeli community. 

“I was there for a really powerful ceremony for the Holocaust, it’s called Zikaron Basalon, translated it’s ‘memories in the living room,’” Jacob said. “I was invited by a friend. Israeli tradition on Holocaust Remembrance Day is to gather in a living room with a Holocaust survivor and listen as they talk to us, this younger generation, about what they went through to keep that memory alive and fresh.”

Part of Jacob’s research focuses on this idea of the history of the Holocaust and how it has changed the country and its ideas on decision-making for the rest of time. “The Holocaust is always a sort of backdrop for a lot of the decisions that are made, and reminds them of a lot of cultural and historical trauma,” he explains. One thing that remains especially important is the preservation of memories such as those discussed during Zikaron Basalon, as well as other aspects of Jewish heritage. 

“It’s kind of stunning to think about,” he added. “During the 1920s, Germany was one of the biggest centers of Jewish life in Europe. It’s hard to imagine that in just 15 years, that was entirely wiped out. It’s so unfortunate, but it’s also important to be aware of it in order to combat it.”

Jacob is a firm believer that “No matter how secure or protected you think your institutions and civil government may be,” there’s always a chance of history repeating itself, and that in order to prevent future harm toward marginalized communities and reduce hatred in the world, we need to elevate discussion of past atrocities during times like Holocaust Remembrance. 

“It’s an important reminder to be vigilant about any acts of hatred toward communities that can’t protect themselves, and a call to action for communities that are in that space to build institutions and foster strength within themselves,” he said. “It’s also important to share the stories of those who have been through that kind of trauma, whether it’s the Holocaust or soldiers who fought in World War II … keeping that historical record and acknowledging International Holocaust Remembrance day, it’s a good reminder to do all those things and more. To make sure something like that doesn’t happen ever again.”


Read more:

Diversity Champion

Diversity Champion 

Dr. Ronen Steinberg is an Associate Professor in MSU's History Department. Dr. Steinberg teaches courses on modern European history, the history and theory of genocide, transitional justice and human rights. He emphasizes a focus with his students on how different disciplines in the social sciences approach the subject of genocide.

Learn More

Diversity Spotlight

Diversity Spotlight

Simon Stratford graduated from the College of Social Science with a degree in social work and completed a minor in Jewish studies. Having completed rabbinical school and being ordained in 2017, Stratford currently serves as Associate Rabbi and Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Sholom of Cincinnati.

Learn More

Diversity Matters

Diversity Matters

We strive to cultivate an inclusive and welcoming college environment that celebrates a diversity of people, ideas, and perspectives.

Learn More