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Exploring an ‘ancient and venerable’ culture

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

This spring, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Northeastern University will host a lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman.

The lecture, co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program and the Humanities Center at Northeastern, will take place on Tuesday, March 27, at 5:00 p.m.

Spiegelman – whose Morton E. Ruderman Memorial Lecture is sponsored by the Ruderman family, including late alumnus Morton Ruderman, COE, ’59, and his wife, Marcia, who made a generous donation to the university – is both the artist and author of “Maus” and “Maus II,” the comic masterpiece that cast Jews as mice and Germans as cats.

Georges Van Den Abbeele, founding dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, played an integral role in securing Spiegelman’s visit to campus.

“Art Spiegelman is recognized internationally for having transformed an entire genre with the publication of ‘Maus,’” said Van Den Abbeele. “Twenty five years later his graphic novel remains one of the most revered Holocaust tales. We are thrilled to host such an esteemed literary figure at Northeastern.”

“I expect that the Northeastern community will be enriched with an appreciation for the complex legacy of the Holocaust and how literature has come to terms with the impossibility of coming to terms with genocide,” said Jewish Studies program director Lori Lefkovitz.

Lefkovitz, who was named the inaugural holder of the Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies in fall 2010, said the event continues work to enrich the Jewish Studies program and engage the campus community.

Students can choose from different program tracks, including a Jewish Studies minor and a combined major in Jewish Studies and religion.

Students who graduate with a minor in the program, which offers courses on a variety of topics including music, history and literature, are uniquely suited to succeed in the workplace. As Lefkovitz puts it, “Having a broad and deep education in what is perhaps the oldest global civilization is a sign of being an interesting person.”

Lefkovitz is currently working on building relationships with Jewish agencies and community organizations with the hope of creating co-op opportunities for Northeastern students.

The program recently established two new scholarships. The Betty Brudnick Scholarship will support two $5,000 awards annually for three years, and The Ruderman Family Scholarship will support a $5,000 annual award for five years.

“We want to help students appreciate how Jewish Studies can enhance their education and expose them to a tradition that is both powerfully influential and quite beautiful,” says Lefkovitz, who calls Jewish culture “both ancient and venerable, dynamic and adaptable.”

In 2010, Lefkovitz released the book “In Scripture: The First Stories of Jewish Sexual Identities,” which was named a finalist for that year’s National Jewish Book Award for exploring the Biblical origins of a series of contemporary attitudes toward Jewish men and women.

She plans to write her next book on the representation of Jewish fathers in literature. “My passion for Jewish studies has to do with my love for its rich textual tradition from the Bible through contemporary literature,” says Lefkovitz, who earned a Ph.D. in English from Brown University. “The Jewish historical experience is inspiring.”

In addition to Spiegelman’s lecture, Van Den Abbeele noted the College of Social Sciences and Humanities is committed to welcoming renowned figures in the Humanities to Northeastern. Dana Gioia, poet and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will visit campus for three days beginning Feb. 13 and will give a poetry reading as the Spring 2012 Dean’s lecture series, “Encountering the Humanities,” on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 7:00 p.m.

For more information about either Gioia’s or Spiegelman’s visits to Northeastern, please contact the Humanities Center at 617-373-4140 or visit Northeastern.edu/humanities.