David Ruderman: The Blessings of Directing the Katz Center, 1994–2014
The essays here collected tell me, to risk immodesty, that some of the goals I had when I took the job as director have been met— to make a place for the study of Jewish civilization at the highest level, to foster the building of scholarly relationships, to mentor junior fellows, to maintain a rigorously high standard of excellence, and to forward the serious integration of Jewish studies into the humanities. In perusing the various essays written from the vantage point of fellows—young and old, European, Israeli, or American, our energetic curator cum librarian, our board members, even the president of the University of Pennsylvania—I am warmed and elated by their affectionate and intelligent observations about the Center and its special atmosphere of seriousness and collegiality. I have dwelled in this unique temple of learning as long as the span of history this booklet documents. I am honored that my name has been recalled so often in the narratives of these illustrious writers, but what has not been mentioned is how I personally have been affected, indeed transformed, by this place. From the vantage point of my office on the fifth floor of 420 Walnut Street, I have had my own rich experiences and have collected my own stories to tell. Whatever this director has given to this institution, he has taken much more. I wish to share that sense of gratitude and indebtedness for my blessed relationship with the Katz Center in the few lines that follow.
One first notices the Katz Center in its formal seminar at Wednesday lunch. The ritual begins with food, sometimes ample and sometimes less so, followed by announcements, and then I welcome guests by name. This routine ceremony becomes exceptional when I think of the amazing range of scholars whom I have introduced over the past two decades—visitors from universities around the world, and among them always former fellows who have come home to the familiar space they once inhabited as their own. A fellow indeed, once, is always a fellow, both in their own eyes and the eyes of the staff. How warmly past fellows greet me and sing the praises of years past. The seminar begins when a fellow introduces the day’s speaker, followed by the presentation. Then the real fun begins. Each of the participants around the table is encouraged to ask one question, which often turns into two and three, and the poor speaker tries to maintain her sanity and cool under fire as her work is dissected by the best and brightest in their field. I have learned so much from this give and take over the years, jotting down insightful questions and responses, and admiring how this conventicle influences and improves and even shapes the future direction of the research of its members.
The Wednesday seminar, however, is only a small part of the stimulating program of the Center. There are the informal study sessions organized among the fellows, exchanges in the hallways or over cups of coffee and tea, and the occasional conversations in the local pub. A highlight for me is my ritual of meeting with each fellow over lunch. The gesture was meant initially as an excuse to schmooze and to find ways to be helpful to the fellows just launching their careers. It has evolved into an opportunity for rich human contact and exchange. I ask them to tell me their life stories, their motivation for entering the fields of Jewish studies, and of their excitement over their current projects. How wonderful to connect with each and every one of these brilliant and creative individuals, to learn from them, to be inspired by their energy and intellectual rigor. What other academic job is more gratifying than to facilitate the work of others, to connect them to each other, and to create a learning community, or, in words I have often employed, to be an intellectual shadkhan—a matchmaker among scholars.
Besides the fellows, there are my fellow workers who have enriched my life in countless ways. They know how deeply I have come to cherish each and every one of them, both those who work for the Center and for our extraordinary library. Like any workplace family, we face inevitable tensions from time to time, but the staff at every level shares a profound sense of devotion to the Center and its ideals, a unique generosity of spirit, a genuine sense of responsibility to the fellows and the needs of their intellectual community that derives from an admiration for their creative efforts and their humanity.
Another group of people who has taught me much and has enlivened my spirit is our board of overseers, the donors and supporters of the Center. I am one of those rare birds who loves fundraising. There are the depressing moments of having doors shut in my face, but there are also the uplifting experiences of connecting with a person who cares for and appreciates the ideals I espouse, and offers to become a partner in building a monument of academic scholarship and Jewish learning. I have discovered an unparalleled combination of enthusiasm for Penn and devotion to Jewish culture in almost all the members of the board, past and present, with whom I have had contact. I stand in awe of their extraordinary achievements and their willingness to give back to society the rewards they have enjoyed. Building an institution is not only about raising an endowment; it is about creating a partnership, a covenantal relationship between people who share a common vision. I am proud to acknowledge my great affection for these wonderful people, those who have served with me, encouraged and inspired me, for the past twenty years.
The Center has never been an isolated island in the large sea called the University of Pennsylvania. To be its director means to maintain constant contact with the most powerful figures in the university community. It has been a privilege to work with gifted academic leaders—presidents, deans of SAS, and chairs of departments, who have watched over my work, offered me wise counsel, and most importantly, believed with me in the value of this intellectual enterprise. I have also learned much over the years from Penn’s fundraising professionals; I appreciate their craft and the great good they do.
I have often told my colleagues and friends that there is no better job in Jewish studies than being the director of the Katz Center. To be both surrounded by and to provide space for the creation of a community of learning; to benefit from the wisdom of other colleagues, and to have had the privilege of knowing each of the fellows—some four hundred have passed through the Center in the past twenty years; to build lasting and meaningful friendships with colleagues from all over the world; to support and mentor young scholars soon to be the leaders of their respective fields; to work with devoted staff and lay leaders; to have access to one of the great Judaic libraries of the world at any moment; and finally, to witness almost every day the genesis of new ideas, new insights, new vistas of learning—these are the innumerable blessings of my tenure as director, and these gifts I now pass on faithfully to my formidable and caring successor, Professor Steven P. Weitzman. May he enjoy and cherish them as much as I have.
Taking Note: A Retrospective of the Center’s History
from 1993 to 2014
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The Katz Center and the School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania are delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Steven Weitzman as the Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center, beginning July 1, 2014.
Steve is a widely respected scholar of the Hebrew Bible and early Judaism, who received his B.A. from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is currently the Daniel E. Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford University, and director of Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies. At Penn, in addition to being the Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center he will serve as the Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures in the Department of Religious Studies.
Steve is an adventurous and creative intellect who is a perfect fit for the Center, and will lead it into its next chapter with energy and vision, while remaining true to what has made the Center so successful in its first two decades at Penn under the leadership of David Ruderman.