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Spring 2016

Professor Spotlight: Gershon Lewental

By Elizabeth Kellogg

D. Gershon Lewental, visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma, draws a larger and larger crowd each time he teaches for OLLI. With rave reviews from the OLLI members across the board, he has become a well-respected professor within the program, offering enlightening courses and discussions on the history of the Middle East.

Hailing from Tel-Aviv, a large city situated on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, Lewental is a cultural historian of the Middle East, focusing on Islamic, Iranian and Israeli history. He began his undergraduate and graduate studies at Cornell University, as well as Brandeis University. In 2012, he started teaching at the University of Oklahoma as a visiting professor in the History and International & Area Studies departments.

“I come to Norman from Tel-Aviv, the beautiful coastal city that feels like a mix of New York City and the Mediterranean Sea, Lewental said. “My wife, Sitora, is a native of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan in Central Asia, another fascinating part of the world.”

Gershon, as he is referred to by most OLLI members, first began teaching in adult education while pursuing his graduate studies in Boston, where he taught various courses on the Middle East, Islam and the Baha’i faith. Once coming to the University of Oklahoma, he began teaching for OLLI in 2013 and has continued to do so every semester since.

“I very much enjoy the opportunity to share my learning with interested members of the community,” Lewental said. “It is a refreshing experience to engage with students who are eager to gain new knowledge solely for no other reason than that of their own curiosity. I find it a great honor to play a role in facilitating that thirst for information.”

“Many of the questions asked have prompted me to think carefully about the subjects I am teaching,” he said. “Another thing that OLLI courses have provided me with is the incentive to create PowerPoint presentations that I eventually use in my college courses.”

Gershon Lewental

 

“I very much enjoy the opportunity to share my learning with interested members of the community,” Lewental said. “It is a refreshing experience to engage with students who are eager to gain new knowledge solely for no other reason than that of their own curiosity. I find it a great honor to play a role in facilitating that thirst for information.”

Lewental first decided to begin teaching with OLLI after having enjoyed his experience with adult education in Boston. He wanted to continue working in that venue, and through OLLI, he has found the opportunity to do so.

“After settling in during my first semester here at OU, I wanted to resume that engagement with community members who want to simply learn,” he said, “not for a degree or a grade or because of their parents, but for the sake of knowledge itself.”

This spring, Lewental will most likely be taking the podium for the last time at OLLI at OU to discuss the history of Iran, a subject that is immersed with culture and a very rich heritage.

“This is an ambitious course,” he said, “covering about 3,000 years of history. We will not cover every detail, of course, but students should expect to come away with a broad understanding of the outlines and major trends of Iranian history. I also hope that my interest in the subject will prove infectious!”

With such great knowledge and passion, it is clear what a bright and eventful year Dr. Lewental has ahead of him. His major feat is to continue working on and complete his own personal publication.

“I am working on completing my first book on religion, nationalism and identity in conflict in the modern Middle East,” he said, “looking at how Iraq under Saddam, Pahlavi Iran and then the Islamic Republic of Iran, and radical Islamists in Iraq and Syria have remembered and re-interpreted early Islamic history. I aim to complete the project during 2016. I maintain a website with links to my publications and public talks that I give, and I invite the OLLI students to visit it: DLGnotes.com. I also welcome any feedback from the students, which can be submitted through the website.”  

Though we at OLLI are sad this is our last semester with Dr. Lewental, we are very thankful for the knowledge and passion he has brought to the OLLI program each semester and cannot wait to see where he goes and the many accomplishments that lay before him.