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Professor Ruth Wisse and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine Speak to Full Audiences at Heschel’s Political Club Meetings

Held in the library to accommodate the high demand, the Young Conservatives club and the Government and Public Policy (GAPP) club, formerly called Liberal Activist Branch, hosted esteemed Professor Ruth Wisse and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine on separate occasions.

In a school-wide email, co-chair of Young Conservatives Jonathan Heisler wrote that Wisse would be presenting on “How liberalism has failed the Jews and why it matters to America.” Heschel students and faculty turned out en masse on Nov. 20 to hear Wisse.

Ruth Wisse, a noted scholar of Yiddish literature and Jewish history and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University emerita, came to Heschel. She is the author of several books on literature in politics, some of which include: If I am not for myself: the liberal betrayal of the Jews; Jews and Power; Free as a Jew: A personal memoir of national self liberation.

Wisse began her lecture with a fable about a “Shabbos goy,” defined as a gentile who performs forbidden tasks for Jews on Saturday. Day after day, this non-Jew abused a Jewish man; each Saturday, the Jew would approach his Rabbi and ask what to do. The Rabbi always responded with an excuse for the “Shabbos Goy,” until it became evident that he was antisemetic.

Echoing a Hobbesian understanding of human nature, Wisse likened the rabbi’s naivë optimism to the nature of liberalism. She professed that Jews ought to prioritize one another and never look to excuse antisemitism. 

“I thought she was overly pessimistic,” senior Evan Altman said. “I don’t think it’s a good way to live.”

On Dec. 4, from the other side of the political aisle, Mark Levine, elected Manhattan’s 28th Borough President in 2022, came to Heschel.

Levine spoke of his passion to create a more equitable and resilient city through policies that benefit everyday people, with a focus on historically disenfranchised communities. Levine said he leans on his experience as a public school teacher, community organizer, and two-term member of the New York City Council. 

As with Wisse, Heschel students and faculty packed the library to hear Levine. 

The Borough President spoke a great deal about the lack of housing in Manhattan, as well as the flaws of the public transit system.

Notably, he voiced his perspective that the Manhattan education system has not taught the Holocaust effectively, which, according to Levine, has led to an increase of antisemitism in New York.

Levine encouraged students to join their local community boards, which assess the needs of their neighborhoods and meet with city agencies.

Throughout the program, students asked many questions.

“Everyone was so engaged,” GAPP co-Chair Sylvia Zeltzer said. “It felt more like a conversation than a lecture.”

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