By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – A goodbye reception was held late last month at the Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at University of Hartford for Dr. Richard Freund, the center’s renowned longtime director who is leaving for Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia in August.
The party ended up also being a goodbye of sorts for Co-Director Avinoam Patt, who will leave the Greenberg Center after 12 years to become director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the University of Connecticut.
Patt, who has also served as the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History and director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford, will begin his duties at UConn on Aug. 23.
“I feel very committed to what we have begun at the Greenberg Center and I feel very loyal to Arnold [Greenberg, founder]. I assured him that we will continue to grow and develop the program there,” says Patt. “We want people to know that while we are in a transitional year, the Greenberg Center that they know and love will continue to grow and function in the same way. There is going to be a robust series of programs that I have already planned for the coming year and we are going to hire somebody new who is going to be a burst of fresh energy for the Greenberg Center.”
Regina Miller, professor emerita at University of Hartford, will act as interim director of the Greenberg Center during the coming academic year.
“She is sort of the perfect person to do this,” Patt says. “She is very well known in the community, she is an emeritus professor from the University of Hartford and a longtime member of the Greenberg Center board. She basically helped us build the education and Judaic studies joint degree program at University of Hartford. I’m really grateful to her that she has agreed to serve as interim director.”
Patt was expected by many to take over for Freund at the Greenberg Center, but he threw his hat into the ring when UConn began its international search for a new director of its Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.
“Professor Patt will be a tremendous asset to Judaic Studies at UConn,” said Professor Sebastian Wogenstein, a scholar of German Jewish literature and cultural history who has directed the UConn Center on an interim basis since 2017. “Not only does he have a reputation as an outstanding scholar and a popular professor, he also has excellent leadership experience as the longstanding associate director of the Greenberg Center. He is well known in the Greater Hartford community and highly regarded both because of his competence and because he is such a mensch!”
Patt said that the chance to run the Center at UConn and to expand on Judaic studies throughout the state was something he couldn’t pass up.
“I really look at this as an opportunity to reach a broader audience across the state and enhance Judaic studies in the state,” he said. “I am deeply committed to building partnerships and I see this as an opportunity to both expand the work that I have done and the Jewish learning opportunities both for students at UConn and also around the state.”
The search for a new director at the Greenberg Center will begin at the end of August or early September and both Patt and Miller will aid in the search.
Patt said he will continue to work at the Greenberg through August in an administrative capacity, is planning the Greenberg Center’s 2019 calendar, and will put together a new exhibit on the Joint Distribution Committee that opens in the Museum of Jewish Civilization in September.
He will also remain an adjunct faculty member at University of Hartford, teaching one class in the fall.
UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life was founded in 1979. Professor Arnold Dashefsky served as the Center’s founding director until his retirement. Patt succeeds Professor Jeffrey Shoulson, who was appointed in 2012 as the Doris and Simon Konover Chair and Director of the Center and in 2017 became vice-provost for Academic Operations at the university.
Professor Stuart Miller, academic director of the Center for Judaic Studies describes Patt a welcome addition to the campus community, who will continue the efforts of his predecessors in promoting and overseeing all Judaic studies-related programming.
“In Professor Patt we have an exceptional scholar who will expand our strong course offerings in Judaic Studies, from ancient to modern, especially in the area of the modern Jewish experience,” says Miller, who chairs the Hebrew and Judaic Studies section in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. “Avi brings an important new dimension to our academic program that will undoubtedly be appreciated by faculty and students alike and he is well-situated to enable us to be a resource to the communities and citizenry of the state.”
Patt is excited to work with both undergraduates and graduate students at UConn, and to help recruit students for the university’s PhD program in Judaic studies.
“Over the past years I have taught some classes at UConn and I am very impressed with the level of students and am excited to be able to work with those students at the undergraduate and the graduate level,” Patt says.
Like his work at the Greenberg Center, he will be working on programming – including colloquia and conferences – not only at Storrs but on UConn’s Stamford and Hartford campuses and throughout the state for students, faculty and the general community.
Patt said that he is also interested in international partnerships and is excited to be able to work with UConn’s Global Affairs program to, for example, build relationships with new programs in Israel and Europe for students to study abroad.
Patt brings to UConn the fruits of one of the accomplishments he is most proud of – his work to help mandate Holocaust and genocide education in Connecticut schools.
“I’m proud of the work in the Museum of Jewish Civilization, and one of the highlights is the exhibit ‘Hartford Remembers the Holocaust,’ which has now reached thousands and thousands of school children who are learning about the Holocaust as part of the state’s new mandate,” he says. “I feel proud that we were able to become the 10th state to require Holocaust and genocide education.”
One advantage of the new position is that Patt doesn’t have to relocate his family.
“I love this community and my family loves this community so we will be able to stay in West Hartford and continue to raise our children here, which is really important to me.”
He says he will continue to build partnerships between the UConn Center and the community and state partners.
He is helping to coordinate a new program, “Institute of Jewish Ideas,” co-sponsored by UConn, its Judaic Studies program and the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford. Sponsored by a donor at the Jewish Community Foundation, this program is an initiative to develop adult learning opportunities in the greater Hartford Jewish community.
He also wants to collaborate with the Greenberg Center.
“That is a partnership that I had started to develop when I was at the Greenberg Center – this partnership between the Greenberg Center and UConn and that will definitely continue,” he notes.
“I feel very loyal to the Greenberg Center. I spent the last 12 years building these programs, so it’s not easy to leave,” Patt said. “But at the same time I am really excited about this opportunity at UConn, to grow and develop this program that has been around for 40 years and really take it to new heights.”