From the Director
Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Jewish Studies Program
Dear Haverim (Friends),
Knowledge is often represented as light, and as I write this, during Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, I am thinking about how the work that we do here can be understood as a collective effort to illuminate various corners of darkness. This semester the Jewish Studies Program has hosted several scholars who offered presentations on subjects ranging from new ways to think about the second-century Bar Kochba revolt, to Yiddish theater in Paris between the World Wars, to the history of Jewish collective rights in law and practice. As you will read in these pages, with the support of NU parent Linda Bronfman, we hosted leading Israeli environmentalist, Alon Tal, as part of our commitment to a programmatic focus on Judaism and the environment. Toward that end, Northeastern students may study for credit at the Arava Institute in the Negev in a program that teaches both science and peacebuilding strategies. We are now in the recruiting and planning stages for this summer’s Israel Dialogue of Civilizations program (May 7- June 7) on “Israel’s Complex Narratives,” a program that I will lead, teaching a course on Contemporary Israeli and Palestinian Literature, in partnership with Israeli educator Dr. Elan Ezrachi, who is planning our excursions and guest lectures, and will teach a course on Israeli Politics and Society. For the first time, this year’s program will include overnights at the Arava Institute. Business School Professor Amir Grinstein will bring a different group of students to Israel to study entrepreneurship.
Professor Laurel Leff’s scholarship on Jewish refugees has led to the creation of “The Rediscovering Refugee Scholars” pilot project, a magnificent example of how Northeastern’s leading position in Digital Humanities is enhancing our ability to visually represent complex data and make the facts and stories of refugees more accessible to learners and teachers. Please see for yourself by clicking on the link in these pages. We also have a new and beautiful online archive of our decades of Holocaust Awareness programs, which you can preview and which we will formally launch during Holocaust Awareness Week.
One particular highlight of the fall semester for me was accompanying the Jewish Student Union students on their “shabbaton,” a weekend of study and community building. Our students model Northeastern’s dedication to integrative learning and experiential liberal arts, choosing to study texts and explore Jewish spirituality, in nature, in a ritually and liturgically inclusive way.
Also this semester, our broader Northeastern community responded with an interfaith vigil to the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. In my remarks, I placed these murders in the dark context of growing unchecked white supremacist rhetoric in America and hostility to immigrants, people of color, women, gay, and trans people. Prayers are most effective if we make common cause for right action. I underscored that Jewish teaching includes loving the stranger; caring for the poor; not bearing false witness; generosity; and hospitality. Several of us quoted from the Talmud’s teaching that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness, and we urged our students to be light in the darkness.
I have just wrapped up my fall literature course on narratives in the Hebrew Bible, in which we look at both Bible stories and later adaptations of those stories, from classical Midrash to contemporary feminist poetry. Students are interested in how generations of readers work to make familiar stories adapt to changing values and truths. As part of a series of community lectures that Northeastern University Jewish Studies faculty are offering this year at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham (look for forthcoming talks in these pages), I gave a talk that I call “Secrets of the Seventh Candle” about the ways that women have been associated with the miracles of Chanukah in various Jewish texts and communities over the centuries, including a little known celebration for daughters (“Chag HaBanot”) on the New Moon festival that falls within the eight days. The origins and meanings of our holidays acquire different emphases in different historical moments. If once the miracle of the oil was salient, the Maccabean Revolt for religious freedom has had greater traction in this last century, and I hope that someday we will routinely honor the festival for girls. As I often tell students, the past is never fully recoverable, and what we know of the past has everything to do with who is holding the lantern and the direction in which the light is cast. Our task is to find in the past what we most need for the future.
I want to thank my splendid colleagues in the Jewish Studies Program for their energy, wisdom, hard work, and friendship. Dov Waxman, Laura Frader, and Ron Sandler have put in long hours on our faculty search committee; Bill Miles, Dov Waxman, and Max Abrahms have generously agreed to offer public lectures in the community. Our administrative specialist, Deborah Levisohn Stanhill, supports everything we do here, cheerfully, efficiently, with intimate appreciation for Jewish life and learning and with care for our students.
And of course, we are very grateful for your interest and your support. Wishing you moments of illumination and brighter days ahead.