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Monday, August 30, 1999
"We're trying to do things that are innovative, exciting and topical," says Paul Socken, who heads the arts faculty's committee on Jewish studies. (He's also chair of the department of French.)
Socken put the Toronto-based TV production company Sleeping Giant Productions in touch with writer Elliott Malamet, also of Toronto, who created the series, titled "Judaism -- A Quest for Meaning". The first episode will be shown on Vision TV this Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The series is also to be aired on the Odyssey Channel in the United States, Socken said.
Malamet has also been appointed an adjunct professor at UW to teach the distance education course to be based on the six hours of video. Malamet, whose doctorate is in English literature, teaches rabbinics and Jewish ethics at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. The videotapes are "almost a teaser" for the more serious material that will also form part of the credit course, Malamet says. It's to be offered for the first time in the winter term this year.
UW already offers two distance education courses in Judaism and two in the Hebrew language.
Says a Vision TV news release about the new series: "Two paths to Judaism: one trail blazed by a father emerging years earlier from the horrors of the Holocaust; the other in a sons devotion to the path his father discovered. The differences are a matter of time and place, history and geography. Both Dow Marmur and his son, Michael, are Reform rabbis. Dow is Senior Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, the largest Reform congregation in North America; Michael is Dean of the Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary in Jerusalem. Father and son feature prominently in the television series Judaism: A Quest for Meaning. . . . Each appears in seven of the episodes that explore Judaism at the end of the 20th century, and in four of them both men appear.
"But how do two generations of rabbinical scholars view the world and their place in it? 'My understanding of being Jewish is that it involves a tension between that which is given that which youre born into and that which is fluid that which changes,' Michael explained to the filmmakers.
"He sees his fathers life journey as that of the wandering Jew, a refugee from war-torn Eastern Europe who 'then chooses a certain intellectual and religious path'. Michaels own background is 'much less dramatic and much less traumatic,' which has a great impact on 'the way my Jewish life is lived.' He ends the wandering, finding his home in Israel."
Published this summer by New York University Press, the text not only chronicles the struggles of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) to end the Vietnam conflict, but is part of the UW history professor's own quest "to understand the environment and the society that swept my family away and broke us apart."
Hunt was born in Calgary, where his father was an economics professor. His American parents returned to the United States in the early seventies and were active in the anti-war movement. Although just a child, Hunt remembers the California state convention of the VVAW, held in his parents' back yard in 1972, and "is still living with the effects of that period".
Tackling a subject so close -- both emotionally, and in time -- challenges the way traditional history defines itself.
"How long do you need between an event and the vantage point to understand it?" asks Hunt. "The traditional view is at least 30 years. Anything less is political science or sociology. But increasingly more historians feel you don't need a 30-year gap, even if your understanding is preliminary and subject to change."
And while conventional wisdom also suggests that historians must be "thoroughly removed from the topics about which they write," Hunt finds that "historians inevitably get pulled into their subject matter, and are unable to maintain a distance. My passion and desire to tell the VVAW story is not unique among historians. . . . I am a character in the story, having been touched by these veterans as a boy."
Through the process of writing, his perspective has continued to shift. "I found out how much I didn't know, and I had to put my old sympathies aside" to see the problems, weaknesses and shortcomings of the group, which sometimes struck like "jolting revelations. I tried to be as critical and objective as I could."
Even at the VVAW's peak in 1972, card-carrying members numbered only about 25,000, a small fraction of the total number of Vietnam veterans. "But numbers never tell the whole story," says Hunt in the final chapter of the book. "If the antiwar movement triggered the disintegration of the Cold War consensus, then VVAW represented that breakdown at its most fundamental level."
"An accidental historian," Hunt admits he hated history in high school. "It was so dry and dull, all wars and generals. It's a testament to dedicated professors -- especially Robert Goldberg (Hunt's PhD advisor at the University of Utah) -- that my whole attitude toward history changed. I try to bring that into my classroom, as well."
At UW, Hunt teaches a number of US history courses including America before 1900, America in the Sixties (complete with rap sessions), From Gilded Age to Global Markets: Industrialization and the Emergence of Corporate America, The American West: Legend and Reality, and The Vietnam War and American Society.
He finds "a lot of interest among UW students. They have a feeling of being bombarded with American culture, but not always understanding that stuff."
It continues: "Most Prince Edward Islanders would agree that islands are special, but they might not be able to define exactly what features make islands special. This is one question that a new program at the University of Prince Edwards Island (UPEI) will seek to answer."
An "interdisciplinary minor program in island studies" is now being launched -- "the first of its kind in the world".
"UPEI is uniquely positioned to provide leadership in this emerging field," says UPEI president Wade MacLauchlan. "Besides being part of an island, UPEI has faculty who are internationally recognized in the field and strong research connections through the Institute of Island Studies."
Students will take comparative, international courses that explore what common features make islands distinctive and courses focused on PEI as a specific example of a small island. "Students will also study courses in 10 other disciplines including geography, ecology, history, culture, literature, political systems, and social structures of PEI and other small islands."
The news release says the program "is based on three principles: to foster a greater understanding of PEI; that islands provide a distinctive and valuable field for study; and that islands share certain characteristics, challenges, and opportunities that merit a comparative approach."
Things were launched this summer with a visit to UPEI by "a renowned scholar of small island", Godfrey Baldacchino of the University of Malta, who taught courses on "human resource management in small islands" and "sociology of small islands".
Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
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