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Dr. Catherine Chatterley

An Interview with Dr. Chatterley: Another Success--CISA’s Community Course on the History of Antisemitism

By Rhonda Spivak

The Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) has just completed its first community course entitled The History of Antisemitism. Thirty-two students participated over nine classes and in one additional class added for a three-hour discussion on the content of the course and on concerns about contemporary forms of antisemitism.

Both Jews and non-Jews registered for the course, held at the downtown public library, and over half the class will continue into the second course CISA is offering on the The Holocaust, 1933-1945. Students (myself included) were surprised to learn that Dr. Chatterley is as learned in general Jewish history as she is in European history, the history of Christianity, and in Antisemitism specifically. Given this content on Jewish life in Europe, many people in the class recalled family stories and experiences, as well as gained a deeper understanding for why and when their ancestors left Eastern Europe for Canada.

Christine Melnick, Manitoba’s former Minister of Multiculturalism and Immigration, completed the course and provided this response to the Winnipeg Jewish Review:

“I have been waiting for a course like this for the past thirty years.  The factual message that Dr. Chatterley brings to the classroom cannot be over-estimated.  The history of anti-Semitism, in all of its ugly forms, is very difficult to learn about. However, when a non-Jewish person, like me, is dedicated to pushing back on anti-Semitism, it is extremely important to have this knowledge. A course like this MUST be made available to all who want to learn about it, and perhaps more importantly, those who don't. I cannot thank Dr. Chatterley enough for dedicating her professional career to deliver this important message to the world.”


I thought it would be a good idea to interview Dr. Chatterley and see how she felt about the course and the response she has received from participants:

Editor: I must ask you how you are so knowledgeable about Jewish history in addition to the other subjects you study and teach. I think some of us in class were surprised by this discovery.

Dr. Chatterley: For the doctorate, I trained in three fields with leading experts at The University of Chicago, which is one of the finest universities in the world: Modern Jewish history, Modern German and Central European History, and German-Jewish Literature. The place vibrates with intellectual energy and the standard of performance and evaluation at Chicago is extreme by Canadian standards. The professors are the leading figures in their fields--for me they were like celebrities in an academic way. I studied Hebrew Bible with Michael Fishbane, German Jewish intellectual history with Paul Mendes-Flohr, Literature with Eric Santner and Mark Krupnick, Peter Novick was a supervisor and he was just finishing The Holocaust in American Life at that time. Michael Geyer was my advisor in German history and Moishe Postone was my Doktorvater (doctoral supervisor)--both of whom are deeply respected scholars and especially so in Europe.

Actually, I only found out later when I met European colleagues what a big deal it is to have studied with Moishe, who is a major scholar of Critical Theory and is beloved in German intellectual circles on the left for his principled critique of its antisemitism. Even just the common day-to-day lectures on campus were given by Sander Gilman and Martha Nussbaum. I was in the elevator one day in the Classics Building and looked beside me and just about passed out--it was Toni Morrison, the great American novelist with her huge mane of grey dreadlocks. She was teaching a literature course for one quarter. I could go on and on about the place . . .

To be honest, I have never really thought of Jewish history as separate from European history. It’s all of one piece for me. My Lutheran upbringing is certainly a factor here as well, which gave me a good grounding in Scripture (New Testament and Hebrew Bible) as well as a profound and early interest in the Jewish people and their history.


Editor: What did you think of teaching this course outside the university for the first time?

Dr. Chatterley: Well, Rhonda, you deserve credit for suggesting to me that there were adult learners in the Jewish community eager for high-quality courses on this subject matter. Syd Thompson, one of our board members and a good friend, also communicated this vision strongly and has been very encouraging about growing CISA’s public education component. 

The class was fantastic and as any teacher knows the quality of a class depends on good students who are engaged with the material and eager to learn. This group was a blessing to begin with because its quality made me decide, rather quickly, to develop a second course on The Holocaust and several others as well. In fact, the response has been positive from other cities too. Regina, Ottawa, and Vancouver have asked me to teach it for their communities but, of course, I cannot be everywhere at once. That has led to the decision to create an online learning platform that the Institute will host on its website. We have a lot of work to do but the need is there and CISA will deliver. We now have a testimonial page where you can read student comments about the course.


Editor: What have the course evaluations told you about the response to the class?

Dr. Chatterley: People offered many good suggestions for future course development, including a comparative approach to racism(s) and antisemitism; a course on Jewish identity including the debates about self-hatred and its various manifestations; a history of the relationship between Jewish politics (socialism and Zionism especially) and antisemitism; and a course on the history of German Jewry.

Five teachers were in the course and they will use the knowledge and material in their classes while many others expressed the feeling that the course gave them a new confidence to confront antisemitism when they see it and to assist them in their everyday discussions with other people. Several non-Jewish participants spoke to the benefit they experienced in learning about this history but also by being able to participa

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.