Appreciation: David Patterson, 1922-2005

By E. ZEV SUFOTT
December 26, 2005 22:14
3 minute read.

 
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Professor David Patterson, who established the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies in 1972 and subsequently served as its president and honorary founding president, died in Oxford on December 10. Born in Liverpool in 1922, David would often recall his first attachment to the Zionist youth movement Habonim as the turning point which gave purpose and commitment to his life. It was as preparation for eventual aliya that - on his release from national service in the UK during WWII - he chose to study Semitic languages at the University of Manchester. He made aliya in 1951, and a short stint at Kfar Hanassi was followed by a couple of teaching posts - at the Haifa Reali school and the Teachers' Seminar at Ramat Rachel. Next came a turning point which was to make possible his remarkable contribution to the field of Hebrew and Jewish studies. He was invited in 1953 by his former professor at Manchester to return and take up a university teaching post in Hebrew studies. Three years later, with Chaim Rabin's departure from Oxford to take up a professorship here at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, David found himself in Oxford taking over from Rabin as Cowley Lecturer in Post-Biblical Hebrew. HEBREW and Jewish studies and culture in Europe had almost ceased to exist as a result of World War II. David envisaged the creation of a center at Oxford for their revival and reconstruction. He wanted to establish a new kind of academic institution and environment based there in proximity to the Bodleian Library's unique Hebrew collection. By 1972, he had mobilized university support and authorization, as well as a distinguished group of governors and financial sponsors, and the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, later to become the Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, located on an ideally suited and beautifully landscaped manor estate at nearby Yarnton, was formally inaugurated. Under his guidance, the Centre hosted some of the finest Jewish scholars and Hebrew writers, exposing the latter and their work to the wider international academic world. Some of the earliest translated works of these writers emanated from the Oxford Centre. At the same time, he was engaged in his own highly-esteemed research publications, studies and translations of Hebrew literature and its scholarly presentation. To paraphrase the ancient Roman, David Patterson found Hebrew and Jewish studies in Europe after World War II largely scorched earth and burned brick, yet he imparted a marble quality to their heartening revival at the Oxford Centre. Apart from his devoted wife and family, he leaves behind bereft friends and colleagues in every field of Jewish and Israeli life, and far beyond. The writer, a former Israeli ambassador to the People's Republic of China is Hon. chairman of the Israeli Friends of the Oxford Centre.

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