Maya Balakirsky Katz, PhD, is Professor of Art History at the Lander College for Women of Touro College and on the faculty of Touro’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies. She earned her master’s and doctorate in art history at Bryn Mawr College. She is editor of Revising Dreyfus (Brill Press, 2013), co-editor of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture, and the author of The Visual Culture of Chabad (Cambridge University Press, 2010); her book Drawing the Iron Curtain: Jews and the Golden Age of Soviet Animation is forthcoming with Rutgers University Press. In this interview, we spoke to Professor Balakirsky Katz about her undergraduate experience at Touro, her inspiration and motivation to write, and why she’d love to gossip with Valentina Brumberg.
As Jews around the world celebrate again Hanukah, the festival of lights, it is well to ponder a bit on the significance of this holiday. Over the lifespan of the Jewish people there have been renewed attempts to expel Jews from the stage of history.
Having again commemorated Kristallnacht, the large-scale Nazi orchestrated pogrom in Germany, on November 9, 1938, that targeted all remaining Jewish small businesses and Jewish homes, torched hundreds of synagogues, and sent over 20,000 Jews to concentration camps—let us reflect on the underlying causes that led to this horrific event and the implications for other horrific events of our days.
Ira Bedzow is a triple threat. In addition to being an ordained rabbi, an accomplished scholar and a published author, he holds three advanced degrees.
The course title, “How to Read a 5000-Year-Old Language in Five Easy Lessons,” offered by the Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) in London, caught the attention of the young, well-heeled professional set who were searching for Jewish meaning and identity. Rabbi Rashi Simon, an insightful and witty American who founded JLE in 1989, drew people to the organization with his energy and creativity, along with trailblazing, explanatory crash courses in Judaism.
Students, faculty, and administrators of the Division of Graduate Studies (DGS) at Touro College celebrated the graduation of the class of 2015 at a joyous commencement ceremony at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, on June 23.
Much of the research on post-war Jewry concludes that European Jewish life vanished in the catastrophe of World War II. And indeed, statistics show that many Holocaust victims did emigrate from Europe to rebuild their lives in other countries. But, at the same time, there were also masses of Jews who willfully decided to stay on the continent.
What happened to them?
First she joined the inaugural class at Stern College for Women. “We were the first class; we were guinea pigs!” she remembers. In 1958 she graduated from there as a valedictorian with her B.A. in psychology and Bachelor of Religious Education (B.R.E.).
Then, she enrolled in Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies for her master’s in Jewish history. She was a Teaching Fellow at Stern when Dr. Bernard Lander, the dean of Revel at the time, mentioned something that surprised her.
Since graduating from Touro in 2002, Graduate School of Jewish Studies alumnus Rabbi Eliezer Rubin has become Head of School at Livingston, NJ’s co-educational Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. His interdisciplinary, philosophically pluralistic approach bridges Orthodox teachings and secular American ideals, in the hopes of sending well-rounded students into the world. Or, as Rubin puts it himself, “I’m very excited about helping children discover themselves while they connect to Jewish values.”
There is a global Jewish community, and each member has the opportunity to share its values with their immediate friends and neighbors. These are ideas held dear by Graduate School of Jewish Studies Class of 1989 graduate Rhonda Lillianthal, who now works as Director of The Center for Jewish Life at JCC Metrowest New Jersey. In that capacity, she also directs a site of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Lillianthal spends each day helping Jews either rediscover or ignite their spirituality. Her teaching is an extension of the meaningful way that faith guides her own actions.