Ela Naegele ‘13: Practicing law 'with one foot in the Academy'

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For Ela Naegele, who received a Rhodes scholarship as a German citizen, being Jewish is more than cultural identity or religious observance. She grew up in town where the Jewish population barely qualified as a minority — though, she notes, there is now a significant Jewish presence in Germany as a whole, and Berlin in particular—and she is keenly aware of the importance of community not just to the identity of its members but also as a positive and dynamic force in the culture of which it is part. This preeminence she affords to community informs many of her personal choices, including coming to Yale.

Growing up as a prize-winning horn player, Naegele envisioned a future career as a musician, but a physical injury felled that ambition and diverted her focus to the humanities.

She decided she wanted to continue her studies in the United States — having never visited — and set about looking for a college that “was strong in the humanities and had a student body that was not just focused on competence.” Specifically, she looked for a school that had a strong and lively Jewish community. What she saw on the Internet about the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale sold her on the University.

Today, much of her extracurricular life is centered at Slifka, although she has also found time — through a Liman fellowship — to work for the summer in a public interest law firm in Los Angeles on homelessness, and to serve as president and treasurer of the German Community of Yale Undergraduates.

Academically, she is a double major in philosophy and history, and is currently working on one senior thesis on the philosophy of history in Kant and Habermas and another on the meaning of defeat and victory at the end of World War I.

The Weimar Republic, the democratic government that succeeded the German empire at the end of World War I and fell to the Nazi regime in 1933, figures largely in Naegele’s academic work and her imagination. It was a Golden Age of creativity and intellectual vitality, she notes, and she sees life at an institution like Yale as replicating the grandeur of the short-lived republic. “If there’s a Weimar Republic today, it’s the American university,” she says.

At Oxford she will work for a master’s in modern British and European history, focusing on theories of international law, and plans afterwards to earn a J.D./Ph.D. at an American law school. She hopes to practice law in the field of human rights, but also to teach. “I want to keep one foot in the academy,” she proclaims.

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