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Professor Patrick Harwood
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Professor Martin Perlmutter
Jewish Studies Program/Philosophy

Professor Marty Perlmutter

"Raised to be Smart"--The College's Jewish Studies Father
By Lauren Adderley

Originally from New York City and the son of Jewish immigrants who escaped the pending Holocaust by leaving Germany in 1938, Dr. Martin Perlmutter learned from his parents that: "Your job in life is to do things. You have to make the world a better place."

It's a philosophy that has guided this philosopher his entire life.

"I'm a philosopher," he says from his office in the beautiful Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Studies Center building that he was instrumental in establishing in building five years ago. "I like ideas. I like engagement with new ideas. The ability to think new thoughts. I really admire intellectual creativity. I was raised to think that it's important to be smart."

Since joining the College of Charleston faculty in 1979 Perlmutter has been making things happen, spurred by new thoughts.

After chairing the Philosophy Department for eight years Perlmutter became the Director of the Yaschik/Arnold Program in Jewish Studies in 1991.

The Jewish Studies program that Perlmutter directs is so important to the diversity of the College's campus, he says.

"Just like African Americans, there's a comfort level in having your culture represented on campus," says Perlmutter. "Typically, Jews feel more comfortable expressing their Jewishness if there is a community present."

Community outreach, student life, and classes that explore Jewish history and thought are the three building blocks of the Jewish Studies program.

"We have three dimensions: the community was the first, and the community was instrumental in building the Program and the Jewish Studies Center, " Perlmutter says.

Jewish Studies events aimed at the larger community include the Three Rabbi Panel, brown bag lunches, the Jewish Historical Society, and the World of Jewish Culture at Piccolo Spoleto. All these things help to connect the college to the Charleston and South Carolina community, he says.

There's a strong emphasis on student life in the Jewish Studies program. "We host multiple Jewish student events each week and have staff to deliver those activities," he says.

Jewish students truly have a home in the Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Studies Center which was opened on the corner of Glebe and Wentworth streets in October 2003. The Center and the Jewish Studies Program's activities have created a strong and cohesive Jewish student presence.

"The upside is we attract a lot of students to the college who would not come here if there weren't a Jewish presence," he says.

Jewish Studies' primary mission is deliverying Jewish Studies courses. The course offerings are Hebrew language, the Holocaust, Politics of the Middle East, and special topics like "Jews and American Comedy" and "Jews and Film."

Non-Jewish students, of course, can and do take these courses. In fact, they are by far the majority of those taking the courses. "Looking through the perspective of the other enables you to understand your own perspective better," Perlmutter says.

The future is bright for Perlmutter and the program he has been so instrumental in developing. More courses offerings are on the horizon, for one. "We'll begin to focus on Southern Jewish culture, here in Charleston."

Charleston has one of America's richest Jewish heritages. It once had the largest Jewish population of any city in the United States and is home to the oldest Hebrew Orphan Society, the oldest Hebrew Benevolent Society, and arguably the oldest Reform Temple in America.

Perlmutter attended the City College of New York, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.

Before coming to the College of Charleston, he taught at the University of Texas at Austin and University of Tennessee at Nashville.