Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies
This semester, I have been teaching Jewish Religion and Culture, a required course for all students who minor or major in Jewish Studies and a gateway for students curious to learn something about the long history of the Jewish people and the range of Jewish practices and beliefs across the globe and over time. To meet this challenge, I have drawn on the expertise of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies faculty as well as other distinguished colleagues, introducing students to extraordinarily talented teachers and offering them a genuinely interdisciplinary experience. Professor Shaye Cohen, who heads Jewish Studies at Harvard University, generously taught about the history of circumcision, locating the biblical origins of the practice and demonstrating how it has been a defining practice among Jews for millennia even as its regulations (and meaning for women) have varied over time. Professor James Ross taught about the deep and wide Jewish Diaspora, comparing, for example, the Abayudaya of Uganda, who have built a small, vibrant Jewish identity in the last two centuries, with the Lemba of Southern Africa, whose DNA and ritual practices evidence 2500 year-old Jewish roots, even as their beliefs and self-identity are arguably no longer Jewish per se. We will learn from Professor Larry Lowenthal, a long-time member of our visiting faculty and a popular teacher who teaches about Jews in American popular culture; from Professor Jenny Sartori, the program’s tireless associate director, and our historian of modern European Jewry; and Professor Joshua Jacobson, charismatic and brilliant conductor of the world-class Zamir Chorale, who will introduce students to the subject of Jewish music. Local rabbis will also be visiting our class, including Rabbi Leonard Gordon, who will teach about the structure of Jewish prayer, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who will teach about social justice in Judaism. Nothing could be more humbling, more thrilling, and more moving than this effort to represent Judaism—the rich, complex texture of an endlessly adaptable ancient civilization—as a suggestive collage on an immense canvas. I can only hope that it serves as an inspiration to lifelong learning.
To me, most inspiring of all have been Northeastern’s Jewish Studies students. In these pages, you will read about Emili Kaufmann, our Gideon Klein scholar, who traveled to Europe to learn everything she can about Felix Nussbaum, a hauntingly expressive painter murdered under Nazism. Emili has been teaching us about Nussbaum in multiple venues, including in the Jewish Studies senior capstone course, where students are developing projects on subjects that range from Jewish organized crime to Judaism on the internet. We are very grateful to Betty Brudnick and to the Ruderman Family Foundation, who have donated scholarship funds to Jewish Studies, allowing us to recognize Jillian Hinderliter, who is researching Jewish women and the women’s health movement; Margolit Sands, who is committed to the developing field of Jewish environmentalism; and Mike Silverman, an engineering student who is dedicated to sustained Jewish learning; and Naomi Mitchell, new this year to Northeastern, who will be our first major in Jewish Studies and Religion and whose energy and enthusiasm for Jewish Studies is breathtaking.
Below you will also read about our rich and exciting public programming for the year, which will culminate this spring with lectures by Pulitzer prize-winning authors Art Spiegelman and Michael Chabon. Spiegelman, whose graphic memoir Maus has been aptly described as a masterpiece and work of genius, will offer the first Morton Ruderman memorial lecture on March 27. Chabon will deliver the Morton Lecture on April 4 as part of Holocaust Awareness Week. Northeastern University’s administration and friends, alumni, faculty, students, and donors have made an investment in the next phase of growth for Jewish Studies. Jewish Studies at Northeastern University is realizing its promise, doing its part to fulfill the vision for Northeastern’s future as a leading academic research and experiential-learning institution.