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Reading Ruth Wisse: A Guided Discussion Group on Her New Memoir, Free as a Jew

Instructor: Edward Rothstein
Dates: Nov. 30 | Dec. 7 | Dec.14 | Dec. 21 | Jan. 4
Time: Tues., 6:30 PM - 7:45 PM ET
Zoom Only

Caught between Nazis to her West and Soviet Communists to her East, Ruth Wisse—born Ruth Roskies—entered the world on the precipice of modern Europe’s moral abyss. After her family fled to Canada, she grew up among survivors of the Holocaust, Yiddish writers and intellectuals, and the youthful, effervescent idealism of Zionist activists.

She would go on to pioneer the field of academic Jewish Studies, teach generations of students at McGill and Harvard Universities, and write defining analyses of the literature of East European Jewish civilization. At the same time, she has been a courageous defender of Israel and the Jewish people in the public arena, bravely standing up for the Jewish state on campus, in professional meetings, and in the pages of Commentary, the Wall Street JournalMosaic, and National Affairs. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded her the National Humanities Medal.

Now, Wisse has written a memoir, Free as a Jew, mapping her stirring life and career onto the post-war intellectual and national life of the Jewish people. Through her retelling, you’ll meet Leonard Cohen and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Irving Howe and Norman Podhoretz, Cynthia Ozick and Saul Bellow, and a host of other artists, poets, scholars, and friends and enemies of Israel. Unfurling in Montreal and New York, Tel Aviv and Cambridge, Free as a Jew is a study in moral courage and political discernment. This fall, Tikvah Open University is offering a chance to read Free as a Jew, over the course of five meetings, together.

This reading group will focus on a series of themes and questions raised by Wisse’s memoir. How does Yiddish literature—born in an earlier era that seems to be vastly different from our own—speak to contemporary Jews? What is the nature of Jewish civilization and its relationship to the Western inheritance? How have views toward aliyah, immigration to Israel, changed during the last fifty years? What problems plague the contemporary university and how do they affect Jews in particular? What connections exists between intellectual journalism and university scholarship, and how have they changed?

The course will be guided by Edward Rothstein, who has been Critic-at-Large for the Wall Street Journal since 2015, having previously served as Critic-at-Large at the New York Times. Throughout the course, Rothstein will be joined by a series of guest interlocutors.

Live conversation and Q & A with the teachers are open to Tikvah Society members only. Become a Society member today and enjoy free access to our exclusive offerings, including Tikvah Open University, publications, briefings, annual conferences, and more.