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Vivian Lipman: a personal tribute

Ada Rapoport-Albert

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Vivian Lipman: a personal tribute I knew Vivian Lipman both as a teacher and, some twenty years later, as a colleague at the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College. In the late 1960s, when the department expanded to launch the new degree in Jewish history, Dr Lipman was invited to teach a course on the history of the Jews in England. I was an undergraduate student at the time, one of a small group - a dozen or so - who became the first generation of Jewish historians to be trained at University College. Technically, Dr Lipman was a peripheral figure in the department. We all knew that he was a full-time civil servant, and not a professional academic, although he was a scholar who had, even at that time, written at least as many learned books and articles as any other member of staff; he would come to College once a week only, in the early evening - after his normal working hours - deliver his lecture and go; he did not have a room in College, and his name did not appear on any departmental door. Nevertheless, he played a crucial part in our educational development, and I personally owe him a special debt of gratitude; although I did not become a historian of Anglo-Jewry, I consider Dr Lipman one of the most formative influences on my professional life. For me he embodied, and thus provided a point of access into, the English academic tradition, a totally alien territory in which I was eventually to become a permanent resident. More precisely, Dr Lipman was virtually the only one of my teachers who attempted to issue me with an entry visa, so to speak, by providing an initiation into the art of writing the English undergraduate essay. It must be understood that in those days the department at University College was staffed by an impressive but heterogeneous array of scholars, many of whom were of various Continental origins. However fluent and eloquent their English, they spoke it in German, Hungarian or Yiddish. Their ideas, their methodologies and their pedagogic techniques were somewhat at odds both with one another and with the academic environment in which they operated. There was, of course, Mr - later Professor - Raphael Loewe who seemed very English, but it did not take long to realize that he was too idiosyncratic to represent anything other than his own unique blend of acute cultural sensitivities, and in any case, he was more concerned to instruct his students in the art of writing the Biblical Hebrew or Aramaic, rather than the English essay. I was particularly conscious of this peculiarity of departmental life. As a native Israeli who had come to study in London from Brussels, I was having difficulties not only with basic xx</page><page sequence="2">Vivian Lipman: a personal tribute English, but with the conventions of English academic discourse and habits of thought, which were evidently as exotic to some of my teachers as they were to me. By example as well as by meticulous instruction, Dr Lipman facilitated the process of my acculturation, however incomplete it was to remain. By the 1970s, when I rejoined the department as a member of staff, Dr Lipman's course had disappeared from the teaching programme. The history of Anglo-Jewry was being covered by Professor Abramsky who, with my limited assistance, was teaching virtually single-handedly, as only he could do, the entire history element of the degree. It was only after his and Professor Loewe's retirements, which left us with teaching gaps larger than any of us could fill, that we requested once again the part-time services of Dr Lipman. What had begun as a limited arrangement for the provision of a single course, now rigorously labelled a 'course unit', quickly became a central and increasingly popular feature of the department. By now Dr Lipman had retired from his civil service post and was able to dedicate most of his time to scholarly activities. While the title of his course remained virtually unchanged, its contents were regularly updated, no doubt forming the basis of his last comprehensive, posthumously published history of the Jews in Britain. He produced the course in the shape of a series of fully annotated, formally structured lectures, accompanied by reading lists and bibliographical surveys, all of which he distributed freely to the students attending his seminars and tutorials. He was still painstakingly initiating the students to the art of essay writing, which by now had become alien even to many of our native English and American undergraduates. He would return each essay promptly, together with at least a page of densely typed comments and suggestions - a standard to which most of us aspire but often fail to reach. The rumour quickly spread from one generation of students to another that this was the best-taught course in the department, and the demand for it never ceased. Vivian became one of the superstars of the department, attracting not only our own, but many students from other departments and colleges throughout the University. When the External Jewish History Degree was launched a couple of years ago, Vivian's course became one of its cornerstones. His syllabus and reading list for external students were so comprehensive and well laid out that they were being used by the University as models for authors commissioned to produce comparable materials for external degrees. Vivian also became a much-sought-after supervisor of both undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations in the department. The combination of his unrivalled dedication and experience, with the relative proximity and xxi</page><page sequence="3">Vivian Lipman: a personal tribute accessibility of archival materials, made the history of Anglo-Jewry a most attractive subject for research. It led further to Vivian's involvement with the research activities of the Institute of Jewish Studies, to the organization of conferences and public lectures, and to close, productive collaboration with both the department and the Institute on many fronts. His death, in the midst of such a hub of creativity, shocked us all. He is remembered with unbounded respect and affection by his students, colleagues and friends at University College "jrD rDT TP. Ada Rapoport-Albert xxii</page></plain_text>