Phil Brown

University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences; Director, Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute

I have been studying the Jewish experience in the Catskill Mountains since 1993. I am founder and President of the Catskills Institute, an organization that works to record and remember the history of the Catskills through conferences, public speaking, support of scholarly research, and collecting materials for the world’s largest archive of Catskills items.  For 13 years in a row I ran an annual History of the Catskills Conference, first at Sunny Oaks Hotel in Woodridge and later at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello. I wrote Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat’s Memories of the Great Jewish Resort Area, edited In the Catskills: A Century Of The Jewish Experience In “The Mountains, and co-edited, with Holli Levitsky, Summer Haven:  The Catskills, the Holocaust, and the Literary Imagination, which will be published in May 2015. The Jewish Book Council selected me as one of their authors for a national tour in fall 2002. I have helped develop museum programs and Jewish Community Center events on the Catskills. I have twice taught at KlezKamp, the annual festival of klezmer music and Yiddish culture run by Living Traditions.  I am a member of the Boston Workmen’s Circle (a secular Jewish congregation linked to Yiddishist culture, the labor movement, and progressive social movements in general), where I organize the High Holiday services and organize the music for the services.  I play piano in the klezmer band, Too Klez for Comfort.  In my other work, I am director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, which conducts transdiciplinary research at the boundaries of social science and environmental health.

Liz Bucar

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

I am a religious ethicist who studies gender, emergent technologies, and moral transformation within religious traditions and communities. At Northeastern I teach comparative religion classes, such as “Sexual Ethics in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” which emphasize the interaction of religious communities in the development of their moral beliefs and practices. In other words, I believe that in almost all cases it is easier to understand what is distinctly Jewish about an ethical teaching, law, or ritual by considering it alongside Christian and Islamic ones. For instance, did you know that although the Hebrew Bible and Qur’an share similar stories about the creation of men and women, in the Qur’anic version there is no mention of Eve being created from Adam’s rib, not that she was the first to eat the forbidden fruit? And yet these details of the stories have become part of some strands of the Islamic tradition. This is just one fascinating case of religious hybridization! I also lead the Honors Religion in Spain Dialogue of Civilizations. Much of what we think of as typically “Spanish” has its roots in the tension between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that came to define Spain. As part of this course we travel to southern Spain to an area that for seven centuries was a Muslim country ruled by the Moors and called al-Andalus, but which also housed a substantial Christian and Jewish population. Granada, Seville, Cordoba, and Toledo provide a laboratory to explore how Spaniards have historically dealt with the challenges of religious and ethnic plurality. I am the author of The Islamic Veil: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld Publications, 2012) and Creative Conformity (Georgetown University Press, 2011), and co-editor of Ethics in a Time of Globalism (Palgrave, 2012) and Does Human Rights Need God? (Eerdmans, 2005). I am currently working on two new projects. The first, Pious Fashion, argues that through specific clothing choices Muslim women are leveraging the attention put on the public presentation of their bodies to become important local creators, arbiters, and critics of norms and values. The second, The Good of Ambiguous Bodies, explores the criteria by which religious authorities judge forms of body modification as enhancements or violations of human life through a comparative case study.

Joshua R. Jacobson

Professor of Music

My passion is music, the varied ways in which Jews express themselves musically, the traditional cantillation of the Hebrew Bible, and choral music. My research areas include music in the Holocaust, the Early Baroque Italian Jewish composer Salamone Rossi, Jewish choirs, and popular music in Israel. At Northeastern I teach courses in music for both majors and non-majors, including a course on music and Jewish identity. I also teach in the cantorial training program at Hebrew College. In 1969 I founded (and still direct) the Zamir Chorale of Boston, an ensemble that specializes in musics from the Jewish traditions, and that has achieved an international reputation. I also conduct the choruses at Northeastern in a wide variety of repertoire. I’ve guest conducted and guest lectured throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Israel and Australia. I enjoy composing, arranging and editing choral music, and over 100 of my works have been published and performed by choirs around the world. I also enjoy writing about music. In addition to more than fifty articles, there are a couple of big books. My tome, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation, published by the Jewish Publication Society in 2002, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. And I am co-author of Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire—Volume IV: Hebrew Texts, published by earthsongs in 2009. I recently received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew College and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Choral Arts New England. My newest book is Salamone Rossi: Renaissance Man of Jewish Music, to be published by Hentrich & Hentrich in December, 2016. Website here.

Laurel Leff

Associate Director, Jewish Studies Program; Associate Professor of Journalism

My research interest is the contemporaneous American response to the Holocaust. My research began with the American press’ response, particularly that of The New York Times, and culminated in my book, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper. I have also published academic articles and book chapters on press coverage of the liberation of the concentration camps and the Nuremberg trial, as well as on how FDR’s and the press’ interaction effected handling of Holocaust news and journalism ethics after Auschwitz. My interest has expanded beyond journalism to include American elites more generally. My current research focuses on Americans’ reaction to the refugee crisis of the 1930s and early 1940s, and includes the response of the journalism profession, the medical community, universities, as well as individual Americans. The research has resulted in several academic articles and I anticipate it will culminate in a book about the struggles at Harvard University over hiring refugee scholars. The book will interweave the ongoing fights at the university with the stories of several scholars who tried but failed to immigrate to the United States. I also teach a History/Jewish Studies course, America and the Holocaust, that examines the American response to the Holocaust, both in terms of contemporaneous knowledge and actions, and its lasting impact on policy and culture.

Lori Lefkovitz

Ruderman Professor and Director of Jewish Studies Program; Professor of English; Director, Humanities Center

I am interested in Jewish stories, particularly the ways that stories shape our lived reality.  Trained as a narrative theorist, I long ago wrote a book about how the physical description of heroes and heroines is a strategy of characterization in Victorian novels, and among other tropes, I discovered that there are varieties of beauty that are encoded as Jewish.  My most recent book, In Scripture:  The First Stories of Jewish Sexual Identities explores how Bible stories have influenced how people think about human bodies and social organization. Extending those discoveries, I just recently published an essay that compares the way the story of Joseph (and his many-colored coat) differently expresses ideas of masculinity in Judaism and Islam.  I edited a collection of essays called Textual Bodies: The Boundaries of Literary Representation and co-edited another volume of essays called Shaping Losses:  Cultural Memory and the Holocaust.  Like some of the other contributors to that book, I write from personal experience about how children of survivors of trauma are shaped by, and shape, their parents’ difficult stories.  Right now, I am working on two projects:  one is about the special shape of Jewish stories and the other is about the representation of Jewish fathers in literature.  I teach courses on Hebrew Bible stories, modern and contemporary Jewish literature, and Jewish Religion and Culture.  I also take students to Israel through the Dialogue of Civilization program.

Bill Miles

Professor of Political Science

After winning the National Bible Contest in 1970, William Miles traveled to Israel in 1971 to represent the U.S. and Canada in the International Bible Contest. He earned his Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy before joining the Political Science department at Northeastern University, where he teaches on Comparative Politics, Religion and Politics, and Political Culture. From 1998 to 2002, he was the Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies. He has also been a visiting research scholar at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Prof. Miles’s Zion in the Desert: American Jews in Israel’s Reform Kibbutzim (SUNY Press, 2007) and Jews of Nigeria: An Afro-Judaic Odyssey (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2013) were both finalists for the National Jewish Book Award. In addition to publishing on Israeli elections, Zionism and transnationalism, Jerusalem border tours, French Caribbean and French Canadian Jewry, Malagasy Jews, and Judaic Africa and Oceania, he has pioneered the study of Third World Views of the Holocaust. His popular-themed articles have appeared in Hadassah, Midstream, The Forward, Moment Magazine, The Jerusalem Report, The Jerusalem Post, Cognoscenti, and New Vilna Review. His most recent book is Afro-Jewish Encounters: From Timbuktu to the Indian Ocean and Beyond (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2014). His most recent research, thanks to a Northeastern University sabbatical and research grant from the Israel Institute, enabled him to spend four months in the Upper Galilee studying how Druze schoolchildren in Israel are taught and learn Hebrew.

For Professor Miles’ Jewish Studies C.V. , click here.

Susan Setta

Associate Professor, Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion

I’m currently at work on two quite different projects.  The first is a project in comparative religions  that is aimed at creating a monograph for health care professionals that discusses how different religious traditions deal with the moral issues that can arise at the end-of-life.  An article on this theme will appear in the journal, Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine.  Titled “An Explanation and Analysis of How World Religions Formulate their Ethical Decisions on Withdrawing Treatment and Determining Death,” it explores ethical approaches  of the varieties of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Indigenous Traditions and religions in China, India, and Tibet.  (My co-author is pediatric transplant surgeon Sam Shemie, who advised me on the medical details.  Colleague Lori Lefkovitz was kind enough to read and advise me on a draft of the manuscript.)

The second project addresses charismatic authority in new religious movements.  I’m developing a schematic for assessing levels of charisma attributed to founders of a variety of traditions.  The first article in this project  is titled, “A New Schematic for Assessing the Attribution of Charisma in the followers of new religions: A Case Study: Lubavitcher Hassidism.”

Dov Waxman

Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies; Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies; Co-Director, Middle East Center

My research has been largely devoted to studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, Israeli foreign policy, US-Israel relations, and Diaspora Jewry’s relationship with Israel.  My first book, The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation, explored how Israeli national identity has influenced Israeli foreign policy and shaped the domestic debate over it, most dramatically over the Oslo peace process in the 1990s.  My second book, Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within, co-authored with Ilan Peleg, examined a dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is often ignored – the internal conflict within Israel between its Jewish majority and its Palestinian-Arab minority. My most recent book, Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel, explores the increasingly contentious place of Israel in the American Jewish community. I argue that Israel is becoming a source of division for American Jewry, and a new era of American Jewish conflict over Israel is replacing the old era of solidarity.  I am now working on my next book project which is an accessible, introductory guide to the Arab-Israeli conflict, written for Oxford University Press’ popular “What Everyone Needs to Know” series.  In addition to my research and writing on Israel, I teach courses on the Arab-Israeli Conflict and on Modern Israel, and I also take students to Israel in the summer on a Dialogue of Civilizations program.