Reflections from my bedroom (and also my classroom)

by Jacob Gurvis

Jacob Gurvis (2)If you had told me two months ago that I would be finishing college from my bedroom on Zoom, I would probably have laughed. A global pandemic? Postponing commencement? Nice try.

Well, here we are. We are now more than a month into our new virtual reality, and the word “unprecedented” feels like an understatement. Classes have moved online, events and gatherings cancelled, and the future has never been more uncertain.

In this time of social distancing, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Helpless. Lonely. Trust me, I’m no fan of this, either. This is a truly scary time, and it is absolutely natural and okay to be sad, angry, or any other emotion you are feeling. It’s important to allow yourself to feel.

But even through my boredom, anxiety, and fear, I try to find at least one reason every day to remain hopeful. We have already seen this crisis bring out the best in humanity. Companies, celebrities, and ordinary people are demonstrating selfless acts of generosity, supporting those most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and lifting up the heroism of our frontline workers. John Krasinski Some Good NewsLook no further than actor John Krasinski’s new YouTube show, Some Good News, for your weekly dose of inspiration. Seriously, it’s worth it.

Beyond looking for reasons to smile, this strange time has also caused me to take stock of the things and people in my life for which I am most grateful. As the cliché goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Has this ever been truer? Would any of us turn down the chance to return to our normal, even mundane, lives? I never thought I’d miss my three-hour classes. Or waiting in line at Starbucks. Or rushing down a crowded Comm. Ave to try to catch the BU Shuttle. What I’d give for any of that right now.

Most of all, I miss the many communities I was lucky to be part of during the past four years. I miss my friends and professors in the journalism, political science, and Jewish studies programs. I miss my community at Hillel, which quickly became my home on campus freshman year. I miss my BUTV10 family, and picking up a fresh copy of the Daily Free Press every Thursday. I miss my fellow interns and staff at BU Today, where I have been fortunate enough to work for four semesters. More than anything, I hate that I am missing out on the opportunity to enjoy my final moments with each of these communities.

With just days left in my college career, I am doing my best to stay motivated and positive. We will get through this, and I have no doubt that our country and world will be stronger for it. The resilience and creativity of the human spirit are often at their best when things are at their worst. To quote a friend of mine, this isn’t the new normal. It’s just the new right now. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, I look forward to celebrating these amazing four years with friends and family, in person at last.

JS100 World Cultures of the Jews

by Deni Budman (COM '20)

One of the newest Jewish Studies courses, which is being taught most semesters, is “World Cultures of the Jews” is in many ways unique. It is also highly engaging. The course introduces students to the study of Judaism in its many forms by exploring Jewish communities across the globe today, their different historical origins and cultural contexts, and their strategies of preserving cohesion and transnational solidarity.

Did you know there are vibrant Jewish communities in Ethiopia, China, and Morocco? Well, there are. And the global context of Jewish Studies opens up a new path to understanding religion, culture, and heritage. Have you wondered how race, religion, culture, law, and nationalism shape particular Jewish communities? By taking a look at Jewish histories in diverse environments, this course highlights the wide array of Jewish practices. It even challenges the definition of “Judaism” itself. Meta, right?

Professor Ingrid Anderson, who launched the course this semester, is well-loved by her students for her ability to break down difficult topics and stay clear of bias. She actively engages her students in class discussions, encouraging them to discuss complex ideas confidently, with insight and rigor. 

Evan Brown (COM ‘23), a freshman in the current spring 2020 course, says, “Professor Anderson has done an excellent job at creating a safe space that encourages everyone to participate in our conversations, regardless of their background or views. My peers have been a key part of my experience in class because they have allowed me to see beyond what I was taught in Jewish day school, so I can create my own unbiased opinions. Because everyone in JS100 comes from a completely different upbringing, we all learn and grow from each other.”

Every session in JS100 begins with a student-led conversation. At the beginning of the semester each student chooses a reading that stands out to them on the syllabus and they present it to their colleagues. 

The course also takes advantage of the community outside the classroom. As a part of the class, students form groups to complete community visits with different Jewish communities across the Boston area. This semester, some had planned to volunteer at the annual Cape Verdean Passover seder held at the Hibernian Hall in Roxbury. Students share their experiences with the rest of the class, so they can learn from each other. Other assignments include two brief writing exercises and a research paper.

JS100 is an incredibly popular course. It’s no surprise that it was one of our first classes to fill up this past semester. 

JS100 counts toward the minor in Jewish Studies. The course fulfills a single unit in each of the following BU Hub areas: the Individual in Community, Global Citizenship and Intercultural Literacy, Teamwork/Collaboration.

April 15: A second birthday. A note on the liberation of Bergen-Belsen

Today is April 15, the day, 75 years ago, when the 11th Armored Division entered the gates of hell that was Bergen-Belsen. If you want to know what it looked like, spend eleven long minutes to listen to BBC correspondent Richard Dimbleby's description from April 19, 1945.

April 15 is what my father-in-law, York University professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics Abe Shenitzer used to call his second birthday. He was among of the 40,000 survivors who greeted the British liberators at the gate of the concentration camp. The attached document attests to his incredible resilience. By July 1945, the British officer, signing the document, attests to Abe's services as an interpreter.

Aside from his love for learning, his wit and humanity, Abe brought with him a fierce devotion to linguistic precision. He went on to become a sought-after translator and editor of books on mathematics and other subjects. He was also a superb teacher.

Born in Warsaw, Abe had grown up and attended Heder, followed by a Hebrew Gymnasium, in Sosnoviec, Poland. In 1943 he was deported to Gross-Rosen (referred to by inmates as the yeshive) from whence prisoners capable of labor were farmed out to the hundreds of labor camps dotting the so-called General Gouvernement, a virtual SS state. He considered himself fortunate that he was placed in a wood-working factory (Hubert Land Werke, Bunzlau) where he worked sawing and planing machines alongside German and other workers, and could forget for hours at a time that he was no longer human. There was starvation, of course. But he rarely spoke of being brutalized, and attributed his survival to the kindness of a few strangers at key moments.

When the Germans began to evacuate the east, moving prisoners westward, Abe's odyssee led him via Nordhausen, Risa, and Ellrich to Bergen-Belsen where he was liberated by the British. This month he turned 99. Twice.

For more on Bergen-Belsen, see the following links:

Further reading by Boston-area author Bernice Lerner:

Pnina Lahav: A laudatio  

In what is officially her last semester before retiring from BU School of Law, Professor Pnina Lahav teaches a comparative constitutional law course focused on the two states and societies she is most intimately familiar with: the United States and Israel. For the first time, the course enrolls not just LAW students but also advanced undergrads in Political Science and other CAS programs.

Over her distinguished career, Professor Lahav published scores of journal articles and three books, including the critically acclaimed Judgment in Jerusalem: Chief Justice Simon Agranat and the Zionist Century, Winner of Israel’s Seltner Award (1998) and the Gratz College Centennial Book Award (1998). She is presently completing a biography of Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir, a biography that asks how a lone woman surrounded by men makes it to the top. As with her work on Agranat, her biography sheds light on the role of American Jews in shaping the Israeli judicial and political landscape. In 2017, the Association for Israel Studies recognized Professor Lahav’s contributions to the field with a Life Achievement Award.

Professor Lahav held fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, from the Center for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In March 2015, she delivered the Lapidus Lecture at Princeton University, and in 2017 she gave the Rockoff Lecture at Rutgers University and the Taubman Lecture at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

Lahav has taught at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Herzlia, Oxford University and Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 in Lyon, France.

Lahav says that teaching Constitutional Law “automatically keeps your teaching fresh. Each year the Court addresses new issues and revisits old ones. Thus, there is always intellectual challenge and deeper exploration.” Known as an outstanding teacher, Professor Lahav was the recipient of the 2011 BU Law Melton Prize for excellence in teaching.

The faculty and students of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies are proud to count Professor Lahav as a founding core member of the Center and a persistent supporter of the Center’s activities. We hope to have her as a guiding voice and an active contributor to all our endeavors for many years to come.

The photo above is  Pnina Lahav with Sir Hans Kornberg and EWCJS director Michael Zank at the 2018 Elie Wiesel Memorial Lecture on “Kristallnacht” (Photo credit: Bill McCormick)




JS286 / HI393 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

by Deni Budman (COM '20)

Classes like JS286 / HI393 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict are hard to come by. The course topic presents a unique challenge: how to teach an international conflict in an engaging and unbiased way. The way it is taught at BU does just that.

The history of the conflict in the Middle East is taught with conflicting narratives using primary sources and film. It is a blend of historical context and contemporary political analysis. Throughout the course, students present their own reflections on the conflict and debate possibilities of resolution.

Professor Nahum Karlinsky, who has taught the course for several years, has mastered the art of pushing his students to come to their own conclusions; supported, of course, with all the necessary background knowledge to make informed decisions.

Shrinking Palestine

David Tay (COM ‘22), a student in the current spring 2020 course, says, “One of the biggest realizations that I’ve come across is that this conflict is incredibly hard to define in American political terms. With most topics debated in America, it comes down to a Republican perspective and a Democratic perspective. The Israeli Knesset alone has dozens of parties, and that’s not including the dozens of different Palestinian and Arab groups who are also stakeholders, but aren’t necessarily represented in the Knesset. There have been several times where I caught myself trying to put historical events into two-sided conflicts when in reality, it’s never actually that simple.”

Practically every student who’s taken the course agrees that one of the best parts of the class is the environment of discussion. Students break up into small groups to dissect assigned readings, and they are often surprised to see how others interpreted the same text differently. These discussions culminate at the end of the course in a staged peace conference.

Dynnor Shebhsaievitz (CAS ‘20), another current student, enjoyed being able to learn about the conflict from a historical perspective as opposed to the emotional perspective she knew from before. She chose this class because she “felt that would help me shape my own opinion while learning to respect others.” 

When asked why students should take this course, Professor Karlinsky joked that they should take other more fun courses such as cooking classes. But, “If they want to learn about one of the most contentious and well-known conflicts in our contemporary world, from both Palestinian and Israeli perspectives, in a balanced, informed but also engaging (so I hope) manner, they should sign up, now!” 

We agree. Sign up for JS286 and other Jewish Studies classes for the Fall 2020 semester!

More info about Jewish Studies course HERE

And HERE is all you need to know about which Jewish Studies course fulfill which HUB requirements.

JS286 / HI393 counts toward majors and minors in History, International Relations, Middle East & North Africa Studies, and Jewish Studies. The course fulfills a single unit in each of the following BU Hub areas: Historical Consciousness, Global Citizenship and Intercultural Literacy.