I have recently read a number of articles in past editions of the TIMES OF ISRAEL, all written by a very gifted young American university student, Dmitri Shufutinsky. All of you who have read his works must be as impressed as I am in the skill and talent of so young a man.
It reminds me of long ago years. I was then a young assistant professor of Hebrew and Biblical literature and over those many years more than three thousand students were in my classes. In 1960 I had been married for only a few months when a rift occurred in my marriage.
I had one particular student in two classes who stood head over heels over all the other students. He was about 19-years-old at that time but his thoughts, ideas, reflections were those of a more mature individual. I was extremely impressed with his knowledge and inquisitiveness. It made me, as the Chinese would say, “kvell.”
It happened that he lived very close to our home and visited me several evenings of every week, staying for many hours discussing the ancient Hebrew prophets, the comparison of the story of Noah with the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and other episodes in the literature of the Hebrew Bible.
But my new bride complained to me that I was giving him more attention than I was to her… leaving her in her bed alone waiting for me sometimes close to midnight. She was angry and upset with me despite my apologies. I explained to her that the young student was a genius and I felt he would become great one day. I wanted to share ideas and thoughts with him. But it did not assuage my wife’s disappointment with her new husband.
Some time later the matter was resolved and my wife had one hundred percent of my attention which she rightly deserved. And it continued for 56 years until her recent death.
Several years later, my predictions had proven true. That young student became interested in archaeology and in underwater archaeology in Turkey and the Greek islands. Ultimately, after earning his doctorate degree, he was appointed to one of America’s Ivy League universities and he published eight books which earned him the title of Head of the Department of Near East and Judaic Studies at that prestigious university.
I rejoice in the knowledge that perhaps somehow I inspired him to pursue an academic career. Of the thousands of students I taught, he is the only one who keeps in frequent e-mail contact with me.
I thought of him while reading the articles by Dmitri Shutufinsky. Likewise, his works made a deep impression on me. It stunned me for a few moments to think that he and I, who have never met and who have never been in contact with one another, have similar thoughts and feelings. His writing and some of my 512 published articles both in TIMES OF ISRAEL and foreign Jewish periodicals are in the same vein. It is as if we are spiritual brothers in thought.
Dmitri, a native of the American city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, attends Arcadia University in his home state of Pennsylvania. He aspires to be a professional writer. And I can testify that one day he will be widely known and his written thoughts widely read. I call him the writer of Rittenhouse Square, a popular center in Philadelphia.
Both of us have written on the matter of democracy versus theocracy in Israel. Both of us condemn the rule of the Orthodox rabbinate which denies rights of worship at our holy Kotel in Jerusalem to women.
In pre-State days there was no mechitza..no separation.. of worshipping men and women at the Western wall. Jews of both sexes could pray together. And discrimination against women and non-Orthodox Jews is a disgrace that desperately needs to be corrected.
Egalitarianism is not a word that Israeli rabbis have learned during their yeshiva studies.
Both Dmitri and I have written our concerns about Diaspora Jews and their impact or lack of it regarding Israeli politics. More than giving money from the pocket to Israel, what is more needed and wanted is the love from the Jewish heart. Aliyah of more Anglo-Saxon Jews can make a very important contribution and a difference in the daily life of an Israeli Jew.
I sense greatness in the future for Dmitri, the writer from Rittenhouse Square. I look forward to reading more of his thoughts. His words are stimulating and infused with feeling and with love for Judaism and for Zion.
Kol ha kavod to Dmitri Shutufinsky. May he continue to write, to share and to teach.