by Angela Duda ‘15
The Klingenstein Lecture series, a tradition dating to 2004, hosted its most recent Judaic studies speaker, Dr. Talya Fishman, on Monday, Sept. 12. She is a winner of the National Jewish Book Award and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Fishman is the latest of many speakers who have enriched the New College and Sarasota-Manatee Jewish communities. In past years, scholars such as Boston University’s David Frankfurter, who won the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, and Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who specializes in Roman Palestine, have spoken here.
Both the lecture series and an endowed chair, a position held by Dr. Susan Marks, professor of Judaic studies, have been made possible by the kindness of the Klingenstein family. It all came about thanks to a series of conversations in the 1990s.
At the time, the school offered one class on Judaism per year, taught by Sanford Saperstein, the rabbi of a congregation in Longboat Key. While the community adored him, students and faculty also craved a full-time position in the field.
Saperstein reached out to New College’s dean and warden at the time, Dr. Gordon “Mike” Michalson and indicated some interest stirring within his congregation in funding a full-time position for Jewish Studies. Michalson, also professor of humanities, would later host a wine and cheese party that drew in interested members of the community, including Paul and Selma Klingenstein.
This would be the day Michalson first met the Klingensteins, who later agreed to fund the Judaic Studies chair. Though they met many more times over the years, one of Michalson’s fondest memories concerning the Klingensteins’ comes from the wine and cheese party itself. He recalled Paul, in his boisterous voice, saying “Dr. Michalson, what is your vision for Jewish Studies at New College?” He later accepted their invitation to visit their home, a large condo with a marvelous view of the Gulf.
As the former dean, Michalson worked alongside Rabbi Saperstein and the New College Foundation in coordinating with Paul and Selma as they mulled over the finances of it all. One day, Paul called Michalson and confirmed that they would like to fund the endowed chair. It was established in 2001. Marks joined the New College faculty two years later.
The Klingensteins have not only funded a professorship in Judaic studies, but a thriving program. Everything from books to guest speakers are covered under the endowment, and because of it, Marks is able to sponsor an Independent Study Project (ISP) every January. During the ISP period, she meets with students and discusses scholarship written by the person speaking at the upcoming Klingenstein Lecture; at the end of the period, the ISP group has the opportunity to meet the speaker privately. This year, Dr. Fishman visited in the fall because of a medical emergency that postponed the event from last winter; however, the ISP group was still able to meet Fishman for lunch last Friday.
Fishman’s lecture, which took place in Sainer auditorium, discussed her book, Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures. The ISP group covered this material in January.
Though Paul and Selma passed away in 2003 and 2008 respectively, their legacy endures at New College, and they are remembered fondly. Michalson recalls the moment they met. “I immediately recognized that Paul had a large and warm personality, and that he was smart and direct. Both he and Selma were very gracious human beings who loved to laugh.” And Selma remains in Marks’s memory. “She was a lovely person who cared very much about the community and about the things that mattered.”