Fairfield University’s Inaugural Diane Feigenson Lectureship in Jewish Literature launches with world-renowned Yiddishist, Dr. Dovid Katz


 Media Contact: Teddy DeRosa, tderosa@fairfield.edu, 203-254-4000 ext. 2118

Lectureship honors the memory of a master teacher and adjunct faculty member of the English department for more than 20 years. Feigenson, who was a resident of Fairfield, Conn., developed courses that remain central to the University’s Judaic Studies Program.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (March 16, 2016) — Fairfield University’s Inaugural Diane Feigenson Lectureship in Jewish Literature — named after a beloved member of the faculty and a Fairfield, Connecticut resident — will be presented on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 7:30 p.m., featuring world-renowned Yiddishist, Dovid Katz, PhD.

Free and open to the public, the event will be held in the Quick Center for the Arts’ Kelley Theatre, and is sponsored by Fairfield University’s Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies. Reservations are requested. Please contact the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at bennettcenter@fairfield.edu or call 203-254-4000, ext. 2066.  For more information about other Bennett Center events, visit www.fairfield.edu/bennett.

In keeping with the lectureship’s purpose of bringing to campus scholars and writers who have made substantial contributions to the field of modern Jewish Literature, the first speaker will be Dr. Katz, a Lithuanian-based Yiddish scholar, author, educator and cultural historian who will discuss “Exotic Exploits and Contentious Chapters in Modern Yiddish Literature.” 

Modern Yiddish literature took some tentative first steps in the 18th century, but

really developed in the 19th century, according to Katz. Using the traditional folk language of Ashkenazic Jewry (whose literary languages had for centuries been Hebrew and Aramaic). A number of daring innovators developed new forms of higher written culture in the European Jewish vernacular.

“This lecture will set the stage and go on to tell those stories,” said Dr. Katz, who is American-born. “They include the man who tried to produce a new all-Yiddish prayer book only to have the rabbis excommunicate him and the book together, and destroy the whole press run. There was the Hebrew author bullied into trying his hand at the vernacular by a diehard eccentric early adherents of Yiddish. There were the political fights of leftists and rightists, socialists and Zionists, and a huge battle between populism and high-brow.”

“By the twentieth century, Yiddish literature was deeply involved in both deeply religious and deeply anti-religious movements, in Soviet and anti-Soviet circles, and in numerous colorful episodes,” Dr. Katz added.

Dr. Katz has written articles and books in English and Yiddish on Yiddish language and culture, including Yiddish and Power (2015) and Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish (2004; rev. ed. 2007). He has also written Yiddish short stories, many of which have appeared in such book-length collections as The City in the Moonlight: Stories of the Old-Time Lithuanian Jews, selected and translated into English by Barnett Zumoff in 2012.

Born in Brooklyn, Katz received his B.A. in linguistics from Columbia University in 1978 and his Ph.D. on the origins of the Semitic component in the Yiddish language at the University of London in 1982. He taught Yiddish Studies at Oxford University from 1978 to 1996, building from scratch, the Oxford Program in Yiddish, which has since grown into an international program.

Taken aback by the poverty he first discovered in 1999 among the last, elderly Yiddish speakers in Eastern Europe, Dr. Katz has since become an activist, working closely with the American Joint Distribution Committee on behalf of holocaust survivors and against holocaust deniers. Continuing to write, publish, and teach, he currently divides his time between Vilna, Lithuania, and his home in North Wales.

The Feigenson Lectureship honors Diane Feigenson’s cherished memory and legacy of contributions during her twenty years on the faculty of the English Department at Fairfield. She believed in exposing students to the value and beauty of Jewish literature. She developed courses in Jewish literature and Literature of the Holocaust, as well as in oral communication.

“The first time she offered her course on Jewish literature, she began with some of the short stories of Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem,” noted Ellen M. Umansky, Ph.D., director of the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies. “It is somehow fitting, I think, that we are opening the Diane Feigenson Lectureship in Jewish Literature with another Yiddishist: Dr. Katz.”

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Posted on March 16, 2016

Vol. 48, No. 105

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