During our trip to Russia, there has been one question that has been continuously arising in my mind. How do Russians feel about their country’s checkered past? On the one hand the empire of Russia was grand, powerful, and the most beautiful empire in the world, yet during other periods of time, notably during the communistic period, the country was a repressed and dismal place. I asked numerous people about this, ranging from young Russians in the street to our tour guides, and there is no unified answer. Some middle-aged Russians feel nostalgic about the “good old days” as people everywhere are wont to do. However, many young people don’t consider the past to strongly affect their present mindset. They were born towards the end of the Soviet period, and they certainly are aware of the past, but they live taking advantage of the new opportunities afforded them by the new Russian Federation. Students I’ve talked to love learning English and other languages, and traveling, and simply having fun. They live in Petersburg, a city full of imperial and communistic imagery, a city of contradictions that Dostoevsky called “the most abstract and intentional city in the world”, and their lives are so directly parallel to ours, as students in America. They simply love living and exploring, mindful of the dark past, but minds set on the bright future.
We took a boat ride to Peterhoff – the palatial complex built by Peter the Great after his victory over the Swedes. The grounds and palaces are built right on the Gulf of Finland; this was where Peter liked to relax and entertain.
The palaces of Peterhoff have many whimsical features, which give them a vaguely comic character, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Here’s an example.
There is a fabulous complex of fountains on the hillside that precedes the palace (check out the picture!). The fountains are plated in real gold, and show mythological and biblical figures; the center fountain shows Samson ripping apart a lion. Ornamental stairs ascend the hillside toward the palace; water streams over them into the central pool. These stairs are decorated with ornate pictures of green velvet overlaid with metalwork. Small fountains are spaced evenly along the width of the hillside.
Above the main fountain complex the hillside has been chiseled into a platform;
this is tiled into a black and white checkerboard. The platform opens into a cave which is marked on the tourist map as “the grottoes”. Inside, golden statues stand along the walls of the cave, and in the center of the room, like a great secret treasure, is a bowl of fruit on a polished stone table. Every now and then a stream of water flows over the entrance to the cave, blocking access to it. This increases the impression that it is a “secret” cave, a hidden chamber. The golden statues and polished table at the center of the room seem purposeful and mysterious.
But the whole room, with its impressive air, is a prank! The bowl and table are a trap; the table edge erupts into a fountain if anyone removes a fruit from the bowl.
As one of the coordinators of the trip to Saint Petersburg, I was a little afraid of what it would be like there. The sorts of things you worry about when you travel miles and miles from home: your food, your bed, the cultural differences and especially the language barrier. How would I be able to get around and deal with the people? How would I do something as simple as ordering food? The answer to my questions was provided as soon as I landed. Within minutes of clearing customs, I had ordered a cab in a mix of English and gesticulation, received help in finding it from some helpful strangers, found my way to our nice hotel, and walked down to the restaurant, shown below. The staff there has been wonderful and the food delicious every day (which always helps after a long day of walking around). We’ve been practicing our Russian reading skills and learning with the help of people all over the city. And while there are not many people here who do speak English, we were able to navigate around the city Jewish community with our translators and our Hebrew.
It’s been strange going from the “City that Never Sleeps” to the “City Where the Sun Never Sets”, but we’ve been welcome as visitors and as Jews where ever we went.
It is with joy tempered with sadness that we wish Millie a hearty congratulations on her new job working for Weill Cornell Medical College on the East Side. We wished her off with a surprise party last Tuesday, June 3rd (pictured below). Millie, thank you for everything you have done for the Honors Program in the last several years, and for your 10 years of service to Yeshiva University at large. We hope you’ll come visit from time to time, since we know that Honors won’t be the same without you.
All of us at the Honors Program want to congratulate the students on another successful year completed! But our students aren’t ending the year quietly. Jonathan Green has told us that he will be spending the summer in Washington D.C. taking part in the Hertog Program, an advanced study of Political Science and modern political issues. And Daniel Goldsmith will be continuing his Physics and Math education by pursuing computational neuroscience in the Biophysics lab of Prof. Bruce Knight at Rockefeller University. Congratulations Jonathan and Daniel, and to the many prestigious students we haven’t heard from. We look forward to hearing about the amazing work you have done over your summer break.
This past Sunday, May 18th, Moshe Shulman gave a piano performance in the Schottenstein building in partial fulfillment of the requirements of his Honors Thesis. In the presence of his advisor, Prof. Noyes Bartholomew, his parents, and fellow students, Moshe performed three pieces of classical music: Johann Sebastian Bach – English Suite No. 2 in a minor, BWV 807; Ludwig van Beethoven – Sonata No. 17 in d minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest”; and Frederic Chopin – Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47. He also prepared a program and explained about the pieces he was playing. The program can be found here, and the video of the whole performance can be found below. Congratulations, Moshe, on putting on a wonderful show!
Right after Passover, a group of students from the Honors Program joined with students in Prof. Ronnie Perelis’s Medieval Jewish History class and Prof. Jeffery Freedman’s Stern College class on the “History of the Book” to go see an exhibit on the Compultense Polygot Bible at the New York Public Library in Midtown. They also heard a lecture from Professor Jesús de Prado Plumed, an expert from Universidad Hebraica de México. For more details about the trip, see the post on the Revel page here - http://blogs.yu.edu/revel/2014/05/16/professor-pereliss-class-views-16th-century-polyglot-bible-at-the-nypl/.
This was our last event of the semester, and we appreciate everyone who took time from their busy schedules to join us. Prof. Kaplan delivered a fantastic talk about the White faces of the “Black Renaissance” in Harlem in the 20′s and 30′s, and how these women strove to break away from their constraining expectations society had for them. These were women who occasionally even left their lives behind to join the social movement (for instance, founding the NAACP), and left some impressive legacies. Prof. Kaplan’s book focused on 6 of these women, and her talk worked through some of these personalities.
In case you could not attend, please listen to the discussion and the excellent Q&A which followed in the video below.
On Wednesday evening, at 7:30 PM in Furst 208, Prof. David Johnson will be discussing some topics based on his Honors course, Philosophy of Science. The intriguing title of this talk is: ”Black Holes, Entropy, and Some Speculations about Heaven”.
Here is a summary provided by Dr. Johnson: “How much information can there be, about the physical states of things within a spherical volume of three-dimensional space? The answer is vastly less than we would suppose. I discuss the Bekenstein/Susskind argument for a spherical entropy bound, and an interesting implication. I then offer some speculations about heaven.”
Please RSVP to YCHonors@yu.edu if you are interested in attending.
Welcome back! We hope that your Pesach break was enjoyable and rejuvenating. We have a bunch of exciting events coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
On Wednesday, April 30 at 12 PM, Dr. Carla Kaplan will be speaking to the Honors Program for one of our last luncheons of the year. Dr. Kaplan, Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University, will be speaking to the Honors program on the topic of her most recent book, “Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance”. Join us in the Honors Lounge for what will certainly be a riveting talk.
Pizza will be served, please RSVP to YCHonors@yu.edu.