Paying Tribute to Professor Debra Kaufman, former Director of Jewish Studies

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Professor Debra Kaufman, among the founders and former Director of the Jewish Studies program, also served multiple terms as director of Northeastern’s Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program. This spring, Professor Kaufman chose to mark her retirement from the directorship of WGS with an educational panel that combined her lifelong academic and existential commitments to the studies of sociology, feminism, and Judaism. On April 6th, a panel on the subject of the Holocaust and 21st-century memorialization, featuring Kaufman’s colleague, feminist Holocaust scholar Janet Jacobs of the University of Colorado, Stotsky Professor Laurel Leff, Ruderman Professor Lori Lefkovitz, and Professor Kaufman herself, discussed how gender analysis contributes to our understanding of Holocaust narratives and monuments. This standing-room-only occasion, followed by a reception and a celebratory dinner, gave the community an opportunity to recognize Professor Kaufman’s unique and powerful contributions to both the WGS program and to Jewish Studies.

Reflecting on her involvement in the development of Jewish Studies at Northeastern, Kaufman commented, “As perhaps is always true, new beginnings are most exciting because they are full of possibility and promise. As Director of Jewish Studies in those early years, I saw the possibility of our developing a full-fledged Jewish Studies Program beginning with a minor, programming and conferences that reached into the community (culminating in an international conference “From the Protocols of Zion to the Holocaust Denier Trials: Challenging the Media, History and the Law”), the establishment of a Human Services link to Jewish Studies, and the beginnings of a gender component to our Jewish Studies offerings. Today we see the fulfillment of that promise on many fronts: a major and minor in Jewish Studies, recognition in the community as a key ‘player’ in the field of Jewish Studies, an Israeli Studies component, and a distinguished gender scholar at the helm. The promise has become real and the future promises more as Jewish Studies shapes its own identity as uniquely Northeastern with its focus on the cooperative experience.”

Professor James Ross, who recently transferred the leadership reins of Jewish Studies to Lekfovitz, observed, “The success of the Jewish Studies Program has many parents. But it has only one godmother (or, more appropriate to Jewish tradition, sandakit). Debby Kaufman’s leadership, enthusiasm and collegiality sustained Jewish Studies from its earliest days, even before it became a program in 1992. She had the vision to see how Jewish Studies could bring together a wide range of disciplines and scholars at Northeastern and she had the gentle persistence to make it happen. Debby’s brilliant interdisciplinary work is an example for all of us. She is always available to read a memo or manuscript; to meet with the dean or provost or president to argue our case; and to provide untiring hours of moral support. She is the kindest and most gentle person I know. I can’t imagine Jewish Studies or Northeastern without Debby. Nor should I. I’m certain that she will continue to be there for me and for us.”

Thank you, Professor Debra Kaufman, for your vision and effective leadership.