Navigation: Accessibility

Director's Greeting

Dear Friends,

This has been both an exciting and a challenging year for the Program in Jewish Culture & Society. Exciting because we have several new minors and one new major! We are delighted to welcome these students in to our program! It has been a thrilling year, too, because we have had capacity audiences at almost all of our events and we are buoyed by the buzz created by these enthusiastic audiences. But it has also been a challenging year: the budget crisis at the state level has affected our ability to plan for the future and has changed the way we plan our programming.

Associate Director Dana Rabin, and Professors Eugene Avrutin, Sara Feldman, and Bruce Rosenstock and I all worked together to increase our outreach to undergraduates and to thus encourage new minors and majors to join the Program. We will continue these efforts and I hope to meet my goal of at least ten new minors/majors each year.

Our rich and varied courses coming up this fall include: “History of Judaism,” “Yiddish,” “Intensive Biblical Hebrew,” “Memory, Time, and Modernism,” “The Holocaust in Context,” “Literary Responses to the Holocaust,” and “Jewish Storytelling.” We trust that students will find these courses fascinating!

Through fruitful collaborations with Hillel, the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation, the Urbana Public library, and Sinai Temple we have greatly enlarged our community presence. Among the banner events were a screening of the film based on Sayed Kashua’s work, Borrowed Identity to an almost entirely full crowd (250 people); two days later Sayed read from his newest work Native to an energetic and appreciative group. Many community members also enjoyed the Yiddish and Hebrew film series that Sara Feldman arranged and which included a discussion after each film.

Another highlight was a fieldtrip to Springfield, IL to see the “Lincoln and the Jews” exhibit. Erez Cohen (Hillel Director), Jessica Kopolow (Executive Director of the CUJF), and I gathered about 20 students, community members, kids, and faculty to take a trip to the Lincoln museum. The exhibit featured myriad documents detailing Lincoln’s relationship with various Jewish leaders and thinkers and the outing afforded a delightful opportunity to break bread with and get to know members of the local Jewish communities.

In Chicago we worked with the wonderful Rabbi Wendi Geffen of North Shore Congregation Israel to organize an intimate meeting with Dean of Social Work Wynne Korr about Jewish Social Justice. We also hosted at Temple Sholom a stellar talk by Daniel Greene about Chicago’s Jewish Ghetto. At the invitation of Rabbi Alan Cook of Sinai Temple in Champaign I offered a discussion to congregants about Holocaust representation and Chris Benson discussed Inheritance. We hope to continue to work with synagogues here and in Chicago to offer thought-provoking programs to various audiences.

We have two exciting Israeli Studies events coming up, both organized by Rachel Harris, the JUF supported Israeli Studies scholar in Comparative Literature. The first is a visit in November from Eran and Dina Riklis, the filmmakers who created Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree, and Borrowed Identity. In the spring semester Rachel is organizing a conference on Women in Israeli Cinema that promises to be an exciting, groundbreaking gathering of filmmakers and scholars.

Michael Rothberg, a dear friend and esteemed colleague has decided to accept the 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. Michael spearheaded the creation of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies initiative and as you can see from the special section devoted to HGMS in these pages it has been a vibrant, excellent, and diverse program that has attracted graduate students to the U of I and brought scholars and students together across disciplines to discuss the Holocaust in the context of other devastating events. I wish Michael and his wife Yasemin Yildez all the best in their new positions at UCLA; they will be sorely missed!

I would like to thank Tracey White, who has been temping in the office full time for all of her invaluable work in keeping things running, creating posters and announcements (like this year’s events poster) and being key to the great success of the Mnemonics conference that we hosted here in early June.

The newsletter was again designed by Sam Copeland; thank you so much, Sam!

We have arranged a wonderful line up of speakers and events for the 2016-2017 academic year including visits from Masha Gessen, Ken Frieden, Steven Weitzman, and many others; I hope you will be able to join us for some or even all of them! Our events are free and open to the public so please mark your calendars!

As ever, if you have any questions or would like to be added to our events list please do not hesitate to contact me (

Also, please like our new Facebook page: Illinois Jewish Studies, and find me on Linked In.

All best,

Brett Ashley Kaplan


Professor and Conrad Humanities Scholar

Comparative Literature

Brett Kaplan, Interim Director