Under the leadership of the visionary founder of modern Jewish studies at Oxford University, Dr. David Patterson (1922–2005), the academic research and teaching institution which he created became for around two decades a major world center of Yiddish studies. That institution was the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies (since renamed the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies). Indeed, it was Yiddish in the last quarter of the twentieth century that catapulted the Centre from just another sleepy Hebrew studies unit to a world-class center in advanced studies, including successful doctoral programs that provided a generation of (today’s) professors, and seminal publications in English and Yiddish that will be there for centuries to come. The kind of thing that the current twenty-first century incarnation of the same institution might well look back on with pride and even some nostalgia.
Among today’s scholars, educators, authors and personalities in the wider arts who were attracted to come and study Yiddish by our team, enabled at each stage by Dr. Patterson (in an array of settings ranging from weekly classes through summer courses to doctoral programs) at the Centre between the 1970s and 1990s are Prof. Marion Aptroot, Dr. Helen Beer, Prof. James Dingley, Prof. Jennifer Dowling, Prof. Gennady Estraikh, Mr. Elliot Gertel, Prof. Christopher Hutton, Dr. Devra Kay, Prof. Dov-Ber Kerler, Ms. Miri Koral, Dr. Holger Nath, Prof. Ritchie Robertson, Ms. Elinor Robinson, Mr. David Schneider, Prof. Robert Moses Shapiro, Prof. Astrid Starck, Dr. Heather Valencia, Prof. Nina Warnke, Mr. Tim Whewell, among many others. The first BA option in Yiddish was introduced at Oxford University (Faculty of Modern Languages) in 1982, and the doctoral program was inaugurated in 1984. After some years it was awarded a citation of excellence by the Modern Languages Faculty, signed by its then head. These were all achievements of historic order for the small, fragile and frankly still struggling academic field of Yiddish.