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FROM THE DIRECTOR: Reflections on endurance

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Jewish Studies Director Lori Lefkovitz

In my course on the Hebrew Bible, we have talked about the remarkable cultural endurance of the Bible’s stories and characters. I recently accompanied my students to Boston’s Museum of Science to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition.  We marveled at the miraculous preservation of these texts: both the physical scrolls and the words within them that have been preserved almost unchanged over millennia.

The old within the new was also a theme of our Northeastern program in Israel this summer.  In May and June, I spent five intense (and fabulous) weeks in Israel with 14 Northeastern students on a Dialogue of Civilizations program focused on Israeli literature, art, and politics.  We heard many thoughtful perspectives. We traversed Israel from Safed in the Galilee to Sde Boker in the Negev, returning to home bases in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (Read more here).  In the classroom and on the road, our Northeastern students were exemplary:  intellectually curious, engaged learners, culturally respectful, open, and kind.   We are planning another Israel Dialogue for the coming July.  In addition, we offer Jewish Studies credit for two Dialogues to Europe that study the Holocaust (Read more here).

In August, I also traveled to Poland and St. Petersburg.  My journey was personal as well as professional.  I walked the streets where my mother lived as a child and stood on the platform in Auschwitz where my father saw his parents, brothers, and sisters for the last time before they, among an unthinkable number of others, died cruel deaths.  In Warsaw, we previewed the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which promises to be a unique educational resource, preserving the memory of a once vibrant culture.  In St. Petersburg, our small group of academics was privileged to see the Leningrad Codex, the oldest extant complete Masoretic manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.

My strong convictions about the value of a Humanities education were reinforced by these confrontations with both the depths of inhumanity and the heights of human achievements.  When I returned this fall, I accepted an offer to serve as Director of the Humanities Center at Northeastern.  Over the last few years, the Jewish Studies Program and the Humanities Center have developed a close relationship, partnering on such major events as the Morton E. Ruderman Memorial Lectureship (which has brought Art Spiegelman and Nathan Englander to campus) and Northeastern’s annual Holocaust Awareness Week.  I am hopeful that through my new role, these collaborations will be fortified and the position of Jewish Studies enhanced.

I will continue to direct Jewish Studies, and we have expanded our leadership team.  I am pleased to announce that Laurel Leff, Associate Professor of Journalism and a member of our Executive Committee, has agreed to serve as a co-Associate Director of Jewish Studies, together with longtime Associate Director Jennifer Sartori.  I am very grateful to Professors Leff and Sartori for their energy and expertise and for supporting the people who sustain our vibrant program.  Professor Leff will also chair this year’s Holocaust Awareness Committee.

Professor Sartori and Executive Committee member Professor Josh Jacobson have undertaken a thorough review of the Jewish Studies curriculum.  I want to thank them for the many hours they spent this summer poring over syllabi and other programs’ curricula with an eye towards reviewing our major and minor requirements, ensuring that the appropriate courses are part of our offerings, and increasing the visibility of our classes.  I am pleased to see our curriculum expand, with a new course on Anti-Semitism in 20th-Century American Literature and Film, taught by adjunct Professor Larry Lowenthal, as well as a new course on Covering the Conflict:  The Media and the Middle East and a revamped course on Jewish Film and Fiction, both taught by Professor James Ross.

We are looking forward to further curricular expansion in Israel Studies with the arrival on campus of Professor Dov Waxman in the fall of 2014.  A professor of political science, international affairs, and Jewish Studies and a renowned scholar of Israeli politics and foreign policy, Arab-Israeli relations, and Middle East politics, Waxman will build on our success with this summer’s Dialogue of Civilizations program in Israel and will help to develop a robust Israel Studies program at Northeastern.  Professor Waxman is already serving this year as co-director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center and recently presented a lecture on his research on the American Jewish community’s relationship to Israel.

Thank you for your interest in and support for Jewish Studies at Northeastern.

Read the rest of the Haverim Fall 2013 Newsletter here.