Center director Patricia Rosenmeyer says her interest in Jewish studies comes from her refugee parents, while her love of classics was sparked by her high school Latin teacher. (photo by Donn Young)
New director of Jewish studies center brings love of classics to her role
Patricia Rosenmeyer takes the helm as the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies celebrates 20 years.
It’s a good thing that Patricia Rosenmeyer loves to learn new things. Rosenmeyer was named the Seymour and Carol Levin Distinguished Term Professor in Jewish Studies and director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies last fall. Although her Ph.D. from Princeton University is in comparative literature, her new position is helping her to explore a deeper understanding of Jewish history, culture and thought.
Rosenmeyer’s professorship was established in 2010 by Seymour Levin ’48 and Carol Levin, providing her with support for directing the center.
Recent events at the center have included topics as wide-ranging as Yiddish culture in Ukraine, Southern Jews and the Lost Cause, and Jewish perceptions of justice during and after the Holocaust. The center has hosted more than 200 events since its founding in 2003.
Rosenmeyer came to UNC-Chapel Hill’s department of classics in 2017. She has found Carolina students to be “amazing, diverse and engaged” learners, she said. This semester, she is teaching a first-year seminar, “Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood,” and only one of the students enrolled is an intended humanities major.
“That’s what I love,” she said. “They’re not necessarily going to be classics majors or Jewish studies majors, but for a brief time, when we’re together during the semester, I can enlighten them about classics and Jewish studies, and I learn from them, too. Everyone brings something different to the classroom.”
As an example, one of Rosenmeyer’s students recently alerted her to the author Madeline Miller, whose contemporary fictional retellings of the stories of Achilles and Circe have hit bestseller lists.
Rosenmeyer said her interest in Jewish studies comes from her refugee parents, while her love of classics was sparked by her high school Latin teacher, with whom she maintains contact, even though her teacher is now in her 90s.
“Almost all of us in the field of classics had a really good high school Latin teacher,” Rosenmeyer said. “My real love is poetry. I would have been happy to study in any language — Greek, French, German, whatever. But I got hooked and just kept going with Greek and Latin. And it all goes back to having a wonderful teacher.”
Rosenmeyer’s current research focuses on Sappho and translation as cultural strategy in early 20th-century western Europe. She hopes to turn next to a consideration of Hebrew and Yiddish translations of Homer’s Iliad.
The Carolina Center for Jewish Studies celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Rosenmeyer was quick to credit her predecessors, the late Jonathan M. Hess and Ruth von Bernuth, for creating such a solid foundation.
The College is currently hiring three new faculty members in Jewish studies, which will allow the center to continue to expand course offerings and programming for students. “This year we’re doing a search for an expert in medieval Jewish history, whose work will be half in the history department and half in Jewish studies; and another whose expertise is in 20th-century Hispanic Jewish culture, which is quite unusual,” she said. Next year’s focus is to hire a professor of Yiddish. The College also recently added a faculty member in Jewish studies and women’s and gender studies.
Rosenmeyer is particularly grateful for the fellowships and research grants for students that have been made possible through private support, including gifts made during the Campaign for Carolina.
“We really are keen on supporting the next generation of scholars, and they don’t have to be academic scholars,” she said. “They can find a career that they love, and it doesn’t have to be teaching at the university level. But we want to give them the foundation and experience in Jewish studies that they can combine with whatever other interests they have.”
By Claire Cusick (M.A. ’21)
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