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A Note from the Director

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The Jewish Studies program at Northeastern boasts several faculty members with scholarly expertise in global Jewish identities.  From China to Africa to South America, Professors Jim Ross in Journalism, Bill Miles in Political Science, and Steve Sadow in Modern Languages and Literature have specialized knowledge of and personal experience in far-flung Jewish communities around the world.

Music professor Josh Jacobson, an authority on Jewish choral music and the founder and artistic director of the Zamir Chorale, performs Jewish songs from the world over, and Associate Director of Jewish Studies Jenny Sartori, whose field is European Jewish History, has specialized in the Jews of France and is currently researching transnational adoption in Jewish families, while our visiting Professor Larry Lowenthal teaches about Jews closer to home, as they have helped create and are represented in American popular culture.  Our Jewish Studies faculty have learned from one another and taught hundreds of students about the variety of intersecting histories, practices, and cultural contributions of our many Jewish peoples and something of the complexity and richness of Jewish identity and expression.

In line with these interests, as well as with trends in the Jewish community, Northeastern’s Jewish Studies program is focusing our co-curricular programming for the next several years on “Global Jewish Identities.”  We inaugurated this series last year with a panel discussion on varieties of Diaspora—Jewish, African, Armenian, and Chinese. Read more about this event here.  This fall, we continued this theme first by celebrating Bill Miles’ new book on the Jews of Nigeria and then, as you will read below, by hosting a two-day visit to campus by Capers Funnye, Rabbi of Chicago’s Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Congregation and Associate Director of Be’chol Lashon [“In Every Tongue”], an organization devoted to ethnic, racial, and cultural inclusion in the Jewish community.  Speaking about his personal journey to Judaism, Rabbi Funnye described for an enchanted audience of students, faculty, and a wide array of community members how it is that a first cousin of Michelle Obama became the first African-American on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

Jewish diversity in Israel was one subject of Israeli artist Leor Grady’s talk at his Northeastern opening. This semester, hanging in a section of Northeastern’s much trafficked Gallery 360 is Grady’s beautifully hand-stitched gold Hebrew letters on parchment, representations of the gutturals that distinguish the speech of different Israeli sub-communities.

Northeastern University’s contributions are increasingly highlights in the Boston Jewish community’s calendar of visitors.  Northeastern hosted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren last spring, and we look forward to scheduling a lecture from Israeli Consul General Shai Bazak.  Last year, we enjoyed lectures from world-class writers Art Spiegelman and Michael Chabon; this spring, we will feature award-winning writers Nathan Englander (for our second annual Ruderman lecture on March 18) and Daniel Mendelsohn (who will be speak on April 8th as part of a week of events  that honor Northeastern’s commitment to Holocaust awareness).  Please join us.

Also, please join me in congratulating Professor Laurel Leff, who has been reappointed to the Stotsky Professorship, an award that supports her continued research on the United States’ role in saving Europe’s intellectual elite from the Nazis; you will read more about Leff’s work below.   We are also very pleased to welcome new talent to the extraordinary ranks of Jewish Studies affiliated faculty, including Phil Brown, University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences and Director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, who has written a memoir about growing up in the Jewish resorts of the Catskills.

This distinguished faculty attracts dedicated students to the Jewish Studies program, and we are very grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation and to Betty Brudnick for supporting our finest students with scholarship funds.  The competition for these merit-based scholarships helps raise the profile of our program and attracts high quality students to the minor in Jewish Studies.  Congratulations to Kelly Ganon, the newest Brudnick Scholar in Jewish Studies, a “double Brudnick,” whose research on anti-Semitism and assimilation is being conducted under the auspices of Northeastern’s Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.

This semester, I continue to refine our interdisciplinary core course: Jewish Religion and Culture.  I have also had the privilege of traveling to share my research, having just returned from a week’s residency as the Bronfman Scholar-in-Residence at William and Mary College.  Another personal highlight was this summer, when I gave two talks at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, one on my research on the representation of the Jewish Father in American Literature, and the other on Comparative Masculinity in Judaism and Islam as discernible in the two traditions’ different representations of the shared hero, Joseph.

With growing numbers of minors, bright, engaged students, thought-stimulating programs, and dedicated faculty, Jewish Studies at Northeastern University is going from strength to strength.  We are grateful for the many ways that Jewish Studies is supported by our friends and constituents.