I try to integrate different materials in a way that creates contradictions and correlations, so one text speaks to the other, and it activates students.
Professor Or Rogovin, a native of Israel, has taken a specific scholarly focus on modern Hebrew and Jewish literature — especially Holocaust writing — and translated it into a rich collection of courses that draws students from diverse majors and perspectives. By blending modern Jewish history and culture with the allure of literature, Rogovin offers an expansive view that helps students interpret what they read in the media about Israeli and Jewish life.
While some of his Hebrew language students have Jewish backgrounds, he says, others are simply interested in religion, Israel or the Middle East. Some will go to Israel to extend their studies. "Hebrew was unspoken for 2,000 years and then revived artificially," Rogovin explains. "Now it's a vivid language, spoken by millions of people. That's a rare case."
Most of his students have grown up with Middle East conflict as a fixture in the news and want to learn how it all started. Rogovin says they are often surprised to learn that what Zionists planned in the late 19th century was different from what actually developed.
"The European Jewish immigrants who came to Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not anticipate all the difficulties they would have," he says. "They did not anticipate the wars. In the beginning, the Zionist vision was much more universal. Gradually, as things got tough, it became a more defensive, more localized, more concrete struggle for survival."
Comparing narratives from different eras helps clarify where and how the paths diverged. "One text I teach, Old-New Land by Theodor Herzl, published in 1902, is a utopian vision. Another text, Valley of Strength by Shulamit Lapid, published in 1982, is historically grounded. So then students can see how the utopia could barely translate itself to reality."
Rogovin approaches the material from several directions to reach a diverse group. Students from the humanities, engineering and management who have interest in the Middle East — or, more widely, in international politics — all find something to draw them in. His courses have included Modern Literature and the Bible, Jewish-American Literature and Film, and Jews and the City, with stories spotlighting Jewish life in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Warsaw and New York.
"I try to integrate different materials in a way that creates contradictions and correlations," he says, "so one text speaks to the other, and it activates students. They have to mediate between the texts. I try to place them in historical intersections and ask, 'What would you do?'''
Posted Oct. 7, 2016