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Gittleman cancels spring Yiddish culture course after injury

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 08:02

Introduction to Yiddish Culture, a course taught for 42 years by the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor of Judaic Studies Sol Gittleman, was cancelled on Jan. 15 after Gittleman experienced complications with his hip replacement surgery.

After having surgery on Dec. 6, Gittleman said he expected to have recovered enough to teach his first class on Jan. 16, but he suffered two hip dislocations on Dec. 24, and an additional setback on Jan. 15, the day before his class was set to start.

“I was going into the office on the 15th, the day before my first class. I took one step down the staircase, my leg collapsed again, and it dislocated a third time,” he said.

Gittleman said he immediately realized that he would be unable to teach his Yiddish culture course this spring.

“[My doctors] said it’s going to come out again probably and I decided then I can’t let the kids start class and two weeks into it, screw it up again,” he said. “If I’m going to collapse in class, that’s no good ... The kids can’t rely on me in a class until I get this thing fixed.”

He said he is unable to drive or sleep on his side and cannot leave the house. While he will have to wear a large brace for three months, Gittleman is optimistic about his return.

“[I’m] in tough shape from the navel down,” he said. “It’s miserable, uncomfortable and wretched, but if it all works out I should be back, ready to go.”

The late cancellation of the class posed scheduling problems for many students, particularly those who needed one more Judaic Studies course to graduate, according to Gloria Ascher, co-director of the Judaic Studies program.

Lauren Waldman, a sophomore who was registered to take the class, said she was frustrated by the late cancellation, but sympathetic for Gittleman.

“The only really annoying part was that I had to rearrange my schedule on such short notice,” Waldman said. “We got an email in the morning on the first day of class.”

Beyond the scheduling problems, many students said they were disappointed about the cancellation because of the class’ history at Tufts, and popularity, according to Ascher.

“It’s like an institution [at Tufts],” Ascher said. “You should take Yiddish Culture.”

Over the four decades Gittleman has taught the course, multiple generations of Tufts students have taken Introduction to Yiddish Culture. 

“The last two years I’ve had maybe six to 10 second generation kids, children of parents who took the course,” he said. “So it sort of goes on for two generations.”

The Judaic Studies program did not consider finding a substitute professor for the course, according to Ascher

“I don’t know if anyone even entertained the notion that someone could take it over,” she said. “It wouldn’t be that class, it wouldn’t be that course. He has a very special point of view, a very special way of teaching.”

Gittleman explained that when he created the Yiddish culture course, he agreed that no one else could teach it.

“I invented it, I made it up myself, and there’s nobody else that could teach it but me,” Gittleman said.

He said he feels he owes the students one more Yiddish culture course and plans to teach it again next spring. 

“This is my 50th year at Tufts,” Gittleman said. “I wanted to get through the 50th year at Tufts, you know, just to get through it. So now I’m only going to get through 49 and a half, so I owe Tufts at least one more semester.”

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