February 2, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 9

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    Scholars to recognize Brinker’s contributions with conference

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office

    Menachem Brinker

    Some of Israel’s leading thinkers will join Chicago scholars for a conference, titled “Art, Society and Politics in Modern Hebrew Letters,” on Sunday, Feb. 12 and Monday, Feb. 13.

    The conference will bring together scholars from across the University and around the world to honor Menachem Brinker, the founder of the University’s program on modern Hebrew literature and one of the world’s foremost experts on the topic.

    Philosopher Avishai Margalit of Hebrew University; journalist Amos Elon; Hebrew literature scholar Iris Parush of Ben Gurion University; literary theorist Ziva ben-Porat of Tel Aviv University; and philosopher Edna Ullmann-Margalit of Hebrew University will join a cross section of University professors, including faculty members from Philosophy, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, the Divinity School, Music, and Romance Languages & Literatures.

    Brinker, the Henry Crown Professor Emeritus in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the Committee on Jewish Studies, retired from the University last spring.

    “But his presence continues to be felt,” said conference organizer Josef Stern, Professor in Philosophy. “He was not only the first professor of modern Hebrew literature at the University, but in many ways he established the entire program. He built up the library in this area and was the first to regularly teach courses on modern Hebrew literature, Israeli culture and the history of Zionism. We’re deeply indebted to him for all of the effort and energy he invested in the University.”

    Brinker came to Chicago from Hebrew University in 1995 to become the University’s first Professor of Modern Hebrew Studies. Known for being as comfortable writing about Spinoza and Sartre as he is writing on Israeli literature and cultural history, Brinker’s retirement is occasion to not only honor his personal achievements but also to “celebrate the study of modern Hebrew literature and Israeli society at the University.”

    Brinker was born in Jerusalem in 1935, and served in the army after graduating high school. In 1954, he joined Kibbutz Misgav Am in Upper Galilee, where he lived and worked for seven years as kibbutz secretary general.

    In 1956, he completed his undergraduate degree in Hebrew literature and philosophy and then earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Tel Aviv University in 1974. In 1966, he studied literature, linguistic theory and philosophy at Edinburgh and Oxford universities.

    Brinker fought as part of the Jerusalem Brigade during the 1967 Six-Day War and fought again in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He subsequently became one of the founders of the peace movement in Israel and editor of its monthly publication ENDA (Hebrew for “Stand”).

    In 1968, he was appointed a lecturer in the Tel Aviv University philosophy department, and a year later joined the department of poetics and comparative literature, which he also helped found. Brinker also was among the founders of the Israel Philosophical Association in 1967. In 1983, he became a literary editor at the Keter publishing house.

    In 2004, Brinker was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew and General Literary Research, the most highly regarded literary award in Israel.

    Though he returned home to live in Israel upon his retirement, Brinker will be attending both days of the conference.

    The program begins at 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12, in Swift Hall, 1025 E. 58th St., with Margalit speaking and Elon delivering an evening lecture on “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Modern Hebrew Letters” at 7:30 p.m.

    The conference will continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, Feb. 13, at the Franke Institute for the Humanities, 1100 E. 57th St., with ben-Porat, Parush and Ullmann-Margalit, as well as Francoise Meltzer, the Mabel Greene Myers Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures; Paul Mendes-Flohr, Professor in the Divinity School; and Arnold Band, of the University of California-Los Angeles.

    The program will conclude with a concert from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St. The performance will feature the New Budapest Orpheum Society, a Jewish cabaret ensemble directed by Philip Bohlman, the Mary Werkman Professor in Music.

    The conference is free and open to the public. To obtain more information, call (773) 702-7423 or e-mail hdevents@uchicago.edu.