A message from Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Jewish Studies Program
As I write this, just wrapping up my course in Modern and Contemporary Jewish Literature that concluded with Philip Roth’s stunning, prescient novel The Plot Against America, I feel the intensity of our own historical moment and the importance of our work as educators to keep us alert, thoughtful, and in conversation. Reflecting on this literature for a forthcoming MLA volume on teaching Jewish literature, I emphasize that contemporary Jewish stories are about making connections across time: “The Jewish historical experience as a peripatetic global people who carried a textual tradition on their backs, transmitted devotedly across time and place while accruing a miscellany of folkways, often manifests in contemporary American Jewish fictions as explorations into the relationships between here and now and some other there and then.” It may be that we in Jewish Studies are always asking about the lessons of the past, but this year the questions assert themselves especially urgently.
The signature program of Jewish Studies at Northeastern is the Ruderman Lecture, and this year’s speaker was the Jewish historian David N. Myers, whose “impassioned plea for studying the past,” included the suggestion that “this may be history’s moment.” Northeastern’s annual Holocaust Awareness Week, organized under the leadership of our Israel Studies professor, Dov Waxman, similarly emphasized connections, with the theme “Fascism and Nazism, Then and Now.” Holocaust survivor Anna Ornstein, a dazzlingly articulate psychoanalyst, described her personal experiences with the express purpose of directing her overflowing, rapt audience to protect democratic institutions, which are fragile, and to understand the power of words and the importance of morality. The Morton lecturers modeled the value of cultural analysis, an integral part of the liberal arts education we are offering here at Northeastern. In these pages, you can also read about our Gideon Klein Scholar, Danielle Murad Waiss, who choreographed a dance performance, “Nizkor”—We Will Remember—for the evening of commemoration. Danielle, who has taken full advantage of Northeastern’s experiential liberal arts curriculum and global opportunities, used her formidable talents to stir hearts. We were, simply, overawed.
The Gideon Klein scholarship incentivizes our students to research artists who created their work under the extreme circumstances of the Shoah, and to honor and transmit their legacies. For many years, Music Professor Joshua Jacobson nurtured this program and all of our Jewish Studies students. He has gifted generations of students with the history of Jewish music—cantillation, folk music, Israeli music—teaching what the music of a people tells us about their comings and goings, their resilience, convictions, prayers, adaptability, and genius. Professor Jacobson, who is retiring after four and a half decades at Northeastern, was a founder of the program that I am privileged to direct, a stalwart member of our
Executive Committee, and for me, a valued advisor and colleague, and a dear friend. While we wish him a productive, joyous, healthy retirement, and pleasure in his (Israeli!) grandchildren, we expect to invite him back to guest lecture, as only he can, on the music of the Jewish people.
Last summer, our Associate Director Dr. Jenny Sartori, after many years ably managing our program and teaching classes in Jewish history, moved on to a position at the Jewish Women’s Archive. We gratefully welcomed Deborah Levisohn Stanhill, who comes to us with deep familiarity with all things Jewish, as our new administrative specialist. As the number and range of events described in these pages attest, she has had no choice but to hit the ground running, all the while managing our still ongoing national search for a new Jewish Studies faculty position. As you know, we welcome your being in touch with Jewish Studies at Northeastern, and we are grateful for your interest. When you call or email, please introduce yourself to Deborah. We are lucky to have her on the team and very grateful for her cheerful energy and many skills.
Plans for next year are underway. Please look for upcoming events, including a lecture on October 10th by Alon Tal, one of Israel’s leading environmentalists, who will inaugurate a fuller consideration of issues related to Judaism and environmentalism. One of the new directions for Jewish Studies at Northeastern is in the area of environmental studies, and we hope to enhance our curriculum with courses that attend to Jewish environmental ethics (or eco-Judaism) and attention to Israel as a world leader in sustainability, a Northeastern University priority. To that end, we are exploring partnership possibilities with the Arava Institute in the Negev, devoted to coexistence through environmental initiatives, as yet another avenue for Northeastern students to work and study in Israel.
Professor Laurel Leff, the Associate Director of Jewish Studies and Professor of Journalism, always takes a leading role in our program and in the composition and editing of Haverim, which you will see includes contributions by faculty and students. I take this opportunity to thank the many people associated with this program and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities for their partnership and support. I hope this issue suggests the richness of Jewish Studies at Northeastern and our plans for growth and development.
We look forward to seeing you in the fall, our season of renewal, and we wish you a rejuvenating summer.
Read the rest of the Spring 2018 Haverim newsletter here: