How surprised and pleased I was to read Francine Klagsbrun’s opinion piece on Yosef Yerushalmi (“Yosef Yerushalmi and the meaning of memory,” Jan. 9). He was my teacher — not at one of the prestigious universities where he taught, but at Rutgers University College in Newark in the mid ’60s. University College was the evening program for those of us who needed to work full-time in order to afford a college education.
I never went to Hebrew school so when I saw four classes in Jewish history, I signed up. How fortunate for me that Yerushalmi needed to work at night to finance his doctoral studies. He was truly a gifted teacher who made history come alive from a non-religious perspective. I read my Bible (as history) assignments with only a vague understanding. When he read the same portions the prose was rich and easy to understand. It was a wonderful talent and one for which I am eternally grateful.
He told us about his research on the Marranos of Spain. When I went to Granada and visited the Alhambra I knew all about the Jewish influence in Moorish Spain as well as the aftermath of the Inquisition because of his interest in the subject.
Yerushalmi was rather intimidating but he never talked down to us. He had high expectations and was appalled that most of us were not fluent in any language but English. He met with us in his office to map out our strategy for our term paper. We were expected to complete extensive research. How could we read original sources without the ability to read other languages?
Our final exam was oral rather than written. Three to four students would be seated in the front classroom and he would quiz us one at a time. After 10 minutes he called up another group. He told us he could determine our depth of knowledge in that short time. The extra benefit to him was no exams to grade.
He always had a cigarette in his mouth. I’m so sorry he died of emphysema, which might have been preventable.
I remember him fondly and always thought he enriched my life more than he knew. I’m sorry I never let him know how important his classes were to me.