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Yale Alumni College is a Yale Alumni volunteer-led initiative

Welcome to Yale Alumni College’s Newsletter.  Over the past ten years, we have become a national community and we hope to strengthen our connections by keeping you informed.

Gary Schlesinger ‘73 – Chair Yale Alumni College

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Your thoughts

To be or not to be... In-Person

Reading The Book of Job with Yale Alumni College 

By Andrew Irving, '72 
picture of course professor Rabbi James Ponet
It is a clear, bright day on the cusp of summer as I write about the six weeks I spent while winter turned to early spring exploring the often grim and disturbing Book of Job through a Yale Alumni College class led by Rabbi James Ponet.
There were about twenty of us. We were women and men. Christians, Jews, and Agnostics. More than a few health care professionals who had deep and life-defining experiences helping patients at times of great suffering, stress, and impending death. And most, if not all of us, had suffered grievous losses of friends and family, and some had struggled themselves with terrible illness and the prospect of the end of their lives. 

In addition to our different life experiences, we brought different expectations and goals to our work together. Some of us were first-time readers of Job, others had read it long ago, and still others had been deeply engaged with it and were familiar with some of the scholarly and rabbinic literature inspired by the book. Jim referred to our group as, variously, “Students of Job,” “Joban Questors,” “Pursuers of Joban Mysteries,” “Colleagues in Pursuit of Job,” and even, simply, “Seminarians.” 

The labels capturing the concept of “pursuit” came closest to capturing the spirit of our work together. Just as Job was searching for and eventually demanding answers to the question of suffering, we collectively were searching for an understanding about how this very difficult text could provide us with some guidance in divining (pun intended) how far we can go in understanding and even challenging God, and the limits to our understanding that seem to be inherent in the nature of God’s power.

We spent our six weeks exploring different paths, with different guides. One week we read the great scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershon Scholem to help us consider whether Job was a mystic since he is one of the few figures in the Jewish Bible to not only communicate directly with God but to see God. Another week we used essays by Elie Wiesel and Avishai Margalit to evaluate Job was a witness to evil, and what it means to be a moral witness. Hannah Arendt’s theory of radical evil offered us context in which to bear witness ourselves to the suffering just beginning to unfold in Ukraine. In other sessions, we drew on our individual experiences to consider the blinkered efforts made by Job’s friends to comfort Job in his suffering, which ultimately angered not only Job but also God. With poems and essays shared by classmates and personal recollections, we explored how the power of genuine acts of comfort provides solace to the sufferer and meaning to the person giving comfort. 

And finally, we confronted the tantalizing ambiguity of Job’s response to God’s thundering speech from the whirlwind. God replied to Job’s questions about suffering in the world with boasts about God’s power and challenges to Job’s presumptuousness in questioning God at all. Did Job meekly submit and retreat, like a slave before his master? Or did he surrender, with love and understanding, in the face of the vision he was privileged to receive? Or was he disgusted with God’s refusal to engage with him? 

Throughout our pursuit, I was inspired by the thoughtfulness and insights offered by my classmates. And as I experienced in a previous Yale Alumni College class, I found Jim Ponet to be an extraordinary leader of our efforts. Even over Zoom, he created an environment that fostered intensive discussion, and while he was often able to tie together the various threads that emerged during each class, he was also content to leave questions open so we could each continue our pursuit of understanding this remarkable story. As I have.

To be or not to be… in-person: A scholar’s thoughts on virtual and in-person learning 

Interview with Stewart Palmer  
Let’s start with a few background details. How did you learn about YACOL?
I attended Yale and at some time during 2015 one of my alumni emails mentioned the courses so I started reading. It was all downhill from there.

What was the first course you did?
My first course was The Romantic Poets with Priscilla Gilman in 2015. I think I have now done about six of her courses, so definitely a hardened criminal.

What did you like about it?
It gave me an appreciation of a topic I knew nothing about, which was very exciting.

How was the class?
We would be given instructions by email on what to read before each class. There were about twenty of us around the room in a circle. She would start the session with an introduction to the topic and then prompt us to start the discussion.

How many YACOL courses have you done?
I’ve lost count but it is somewhere around twelve.

In person versus Zoom?
Five have been Zoom. Before the pandemic we only had in-person learning.

Your participation?
It varied. Sometimes I would be a grateful listener—especially when I had not had time to complete the reading assignment and sometimes I made a contribution to the discussion.

Was contributing easy for you?
I have never found it easy to speak out about anything, but occasionally I found it possible to come up with an insight that others had missed. Scary, but it did happen.

Best course?
Definitely Peter Hawkins’s Dante and Augustine four-course collection, both because he is so good and because we had an amazing group that really bonded together. There were tears when the final session ended. At one point there was a suggestion we study the Manhattan telephone directory just to keep spending time together. 

In person or Zoom?
It was Zoom. Interestingly, Professor Hawkins was very worried as he had only ever taught in person but he was brilliant. He instinctively knew how to draw people out.

Would you have preferred it to have been in person?
Hard to know as the group had scattered far and wide due to the pandemic and Professor Hawkins himself was in another city. Some were people I knew from in-person courses so that made it easier. My confidence increased over the Hawkins pentalogy. That process would have happened more quickly if it had been in person. Somehow being in the same room is more intimate.

Give us an example.
I did an Introduction to Opera course with Judith Malafronte. We bonded so well that we ended up having dinner and attending an opera with another couple from the course. We even had a contra-tenor in the class who delighted us all with a rendition.

So you might say your personality is better suited to in-person learning?
Yes, I think so. It is the before and after conversations that you miss with Zoom. The better you know your fellow students, the easier it is to speak up. That takes longer over Zoom. There’s another thing too. Zoom only allows one conversation at a time and you are all equidistant. In a physical location some are closer and some further away. I often sat in the same place for each class, which meant chatting to the person on either side of you was part of the fun. Also, I had a chance to ask the professor questions before and after class, which was easier for me.

What about email?
Some professors are active on email, some just send reading instructions. The email dimension is good but can never replace that one-to-one contact.

Anything else?
You see more about how others are reacting when it is in person. Some take careful notes, which gives me ideas on what they see as important (they are generally right).

Good and bad stuff about Zoom?
Zoom recordings are a great way to catch up on missed sessions but it is a shame that they take so long to get posted. If you set your screen up to focus on the speaker, which is how recordings are done, it gets very annoying when a non-muted participant sneezes.

How do you choose your courses?
Generally, I like to pick a topic I know little about and I always look at the professor’s bio.

Your wish list?
I’d love to have a way to get more course feedback from other students.

Who's New to Yale Alumni College

Meet our newest Yale Alumni College Professors
Yu-jin (Eugene) Chang received his BA and PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Writing, Literature & Publishing at Emerson College, where he also serves as Assistant Dean in the School of the Arts.

Professor Chang will be teaching: Forbidden Books: Flaubert and Baudelaire

Greg Johnson's business career has ranged from investment banking and corporate finance to international film distribution, independent production, and higher education. Since 1995, Johnson has produced a dozen motion pictures that have appeared at leading festivals worldwide. From 1984 until 1991, he served in various capacities at Vestron Inc., the largest independent video distributor at that time. At Vestron, he arranged financing for such projects as Dirty Dancing, as well as John Huston’s last film The Dead.
Professor Johnson will be teaching: It’s Business AND Personal: Journey through American Independent Film
Joseph Luzzi is Professor of Comparative Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College. Previously he taught at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PHD from Yale and is the author of five books including Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, winner of the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love. His awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, and Dante Society of America Essay Prize, 
Professor Luzzi will be teaching: Sex, Lies, and the Renaissance 
Anna Marra teaches Italian language, literature, and cinema. She received a PhD in humanist study from the University of Roma 2 with a dissertation on Giorgio Caproni. After moving to the United States, Marra earned a second PhD in Italian language and literature at Yale University, where she worked on medieval Italian literature, completing a dissertation, Dante and Meditation. In addition to publishing many articles about medieval, modern, and contemporary Italian literature (from Giovanni Boccaccio to Giorgio Caproni), she is working on a new project on Giulia Bigolina’s novel Urania. Marra also holds an MA and MPhil from Yale University and a Laurea from the University of Udine, Italy. 
Professor Marra will be teaching: Dante's Purgatorio: Human Dispositions and the Sevens Sins
Wake Smith is a Lecturer in Yale College, where he teaches what is understood to be the world’s first undergraduate survey course on climate interventions. The core of that course was published in book form in March 2022. Smith is also a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. He finished his business career in private equity with New York–based New State Capital. He previously served as Chairman and President of Pemco World Air Services; Chief Operating Officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings; and President of the flight training division of Boeing. He holds a BA in History from Yale and an MBA from Harvard.  
Professor Smith will be teaching: Playing God in the Climate Arena
In the Spotlight: Scholarship Recipients
Audrey Ryan graduated with an MFA in Sculpture from the Yale School of Art in the Spring of 2021. Following her Masters degree, Audrey was a Fellow at the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design where she focused on providing students and faculty at Yale tools and resources for their classes, design projects, and collaborative research. Currently, Audrey maintains a studio art practice and is looking forward to taking courses in the fall that will help expand her research. 
Lauren Telesz graduated Yale in 2020 with a B.A. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. She is currently an MBA candidate at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. Lauren is fascinated by a myriad of subjects from architecture and history to science and business. She loves understanding how fields intersect and impact one another. Lauren strives to be a life-long learner and to stay connected to her academic interests no matter where life takes her. She knows taking a course through the Yale Alumni College will enable her to do exactly that!
Kate Pitt graduated from Yale in 2012 with a degree in History and Theater. She works as a dramaturg in New York and enjoyed taking the Timeless Shakespeare course this spring with Professor Reuven Russell and alumni from across the years.
Jessica Tang is a 2020 graduate of Yale University with a BS in Neuroscience and is currently a second year medical student at the University of California Davis. She is grateful and excited to be a recipient of the Eve Berenblum Goldberg Scholarship, which will allow her to engage with the amazing Yale community and continue her liberal arts education through YACOL even after graduation.

Eve Berenblum Goldberg Scholarship

The board of Yale Alumni College is delighted to announce that our Founder and Emeritus Chairman, Marv Berenblum, ’56 has established a scholarship fund in memory of his daughter, Eve Berenblum Goldberg.  

Eve was a remarkable human being who had the courage of her convictions and believed in elevating the younger generations.  She was warm, caring and generous, and brought light onto the lives of so many people whom she befriended. Eve would have been excited to know that a Yale Alumni College scholarship foundation had been established in her memory to benefit a deserving group of "Bulldogs of the Last Decade" (BOLD alumni).

Scholarship recipients are able to join Yale Alumni College courses of their choice at no cost. Yale Alumni College aims to assist as many alumni as possible in joining our lifelong learning community each year. Meet our first group of scholarship recipients:

Additional YACOL Programming

Fall Course Registration
Is Now Open 

Young Alumni 
Discount Code

Glimmerglass trip

Summer Trip to Glimerglass Opera