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Story provides 'Stimulus' for kids

(03/30/98 10:00am)

Unfortunately, no children were present to hear a reading of the original play Ti Jack Finds a Special Purpose by College senior Benjamin Berman. Due to a printing error in Barnes & Noble's event schedules, the children's story reading Saturday was left off the listings. Undaunted by the lack of children in the Center City bookstore, Berman and his fellow Stimulus Children's Theater group members went out into the crowded park at Rittenhouse Square to find some children to read to -- and they found a handful. Berman claims that teaching children is the highlight of his work with Stimulus. "It's the coolest part because then it means something," he said. "Otherwise it's just art for art's sake." The work originally began three years ago as a short story. "It first was a little birthday present for my mom," Berman explained. "My sister did the drawings." Berman adapted the story into a play 1 1/2 years later. Stimulus will perform Ti Jack this Friday through Sunday in the Houston Hall Auditorium. Ti Jack is a story about a little boy who searches for meaning in his life. He asks a comic book, a tree, a germ, a poem, a dream, a monster-under-the-bed and his own reflection each to tell him their special purpose. In addition, each character speaks in its own rhyme scheme. "I think it has a good message," said Nursing junior Jessica Tkacs, the play's co-director. "I think it works on two levels, one that children can understand and one for adults." Tkacs read the story aloud to an intimate group while Berman, a couple of Stimulus members and several small children with their parents looked on. After the reading, two parents expressed a desire to see the upcoming show. There will be five performances at Penn and six at various elementary schools throughout the Philadelphia area. Stimulus does workshops before and after the performances at the schools. They teach the children about the theater and discuss the play with them. "We try to bring stuff from the play to the workshops," College sophomore Angela Jenks said. "We asked the kids what their special purpose was. A lot of kids said their special purpose was to stay in school and graduate." Berman credits the schoolchildren they work with for helping him with the play. "They give us so much," he said. "They give us ideas. They put art into the different poems." The story drew praise, not only from the children in the park, but also from Barnes & Noble children's department manager Eunice Ferguson. "The work is really remarkable," Ferguson said. "Working in the children's department, I've developed an ear for what works." Berman is looking into the procedures he would have to go through in order to publish his work, although he is a little unsure of how to go about it. He'll have to put a pending career as an author on hold after graduation, though. "I'm going into the Peace Corps for 27 months," Berman said. "But I'd love to write."

Famed teacher speaks of 'ganas' at U.

(03/26/98 10:00am)

Jaime Escalante of 'Stand and Deliver' fame gave a lecture yesterday as part of the Festival Latino de Penn. "The only thing I need from you," Jaime Escalante tells his students, "is ganas." Escalante is a real-life hero who inspires his inner city students to greatness. The 1988 movie Stand and Deliver chronicled his efforts to raise the academic standards at a Los Angeles public high school. Ganas is a spanish word which Escalante defines as "desire." "Never stop testing your talent," he said. "Challenge your own limits." More than 100 students and faculty members attended Escalante's speech in the Annenberg School for Communication yesterday evening. The event was the keynote address of the 16th annual Festival Latino de Penn. The festival, which runs from March 21 through March 28, recognizes the accomplishments of Latinos in American society. The address was co-sponsored by La Asociacion Cultural de Estudiantes Latinoamericanos and El movmiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan. Escalante emigrated to America from Bolivia in 1964. He received degrees in mathematics and teaching from California State University. He has won several teaching awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal, for his positive impact on students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. "I demanded more from my students," Escalante explained. "Given the standard, they rose to it." Escalante spoke about his determination to help students that struggle, sometimes as a result of their socioeconomic situations. "[Latinos] have enormous obstacles to overcome to get education," he noted. "Most [Latino] families have income below poverty level." But despite such difficulties, Escalante said he refused to believe his students weren't capable of success. "Choose your own destiny. You have that privilege in life," Escalante said. "For each winner there is a loser. Decide which one you want to be." In a question-and-answer period following the address, Escalante came out strongly against the idea of bilingual education. "Once you emigrate to this country you have to integrate to the system," he said. "English is the language of success." Escalante received a standing ovation from the audience, who enjoyed his informal presentation style. "He combined humor and humility. There was a lot of inspiration," College sophomore Sherry Deckman said. Above all, Escalante said he is happy that he has an impact doing what he loves. "As a teacher I do not create talents, I discover them," Escalante said. "Believe me, I am proud to be a teacher." The audience responded enthusiastically to Escalante's words of inspiration. "It was good to see someone so enthusiastic about working in urban schools," said Kira Baker, a first-year graduate student in the Graduate School of Education.

Kafka translator showcases 'Castle'

(03/26/98 10:00am)

Much of Franz Kafka's work tends to be surreal, dark and bitterly cynical. But at a reading this week, Mark Harman, a Penn English professor who recently published a new translation of Kafka's final work, Das Schloss -- or The Castle -- purposely chose passages to read aloud that highlighted the book's humor. The novel is about a man's nightmarish attempts to gain access to a mysterious castle. More than 40 people turned out at the Kelly Writers House Tuesday for an evening of conversation about the Czech author, who died in 1924 at the age of 40. A panel discussion followed Harman's reading. Harman's translation, the first in a series of retranslations of Kafka's works by several literary critics, was recently featured in a New York Times article. "I hope my translation will focus on the other sides of Kafka," Harman said. This is the first English translation of the novel -- originally published in German in 1922 -- since the 1930 edition by Edwin and Willa Muir. Harman returned to Kafka's original manuscript and tried to stay true to the author's style. Noting the attention the book is getting in the literary community, Writers House Resident Coordinator Kerry Sherin said Harman's translation "gives a different sense of who Kafka is." Harman began reading Kafka as an undergraduate at University College Dublin. "I found myself identifying very strongly with the heroes of Kafka, particularly in The Castle," he said. Harman received his doctorate from Yale University and taught Irish and German literature at Oberlin and Dartmouth colleges before coming to Penn. He has also published essays on Kafka and James Joyce. The lively reading was followed by a panel discussion with Penn German Professor Liliane Weissburg; Haverford College Professor and psychoanalyst Elizabeth Young-Bruehl; Temple University Professor and Kafka Society of America President Maria Luise Caputo-Mayer; and John Zilcosky, a Comparative Literature graduate student at Penn. The panelists shared their opinions of Kafka and their appreciation of his work. "It's so modern, so poignant, that we all can relate to it," Weissburg said. Zilcosky added that "reading Kafka is the ultimate reading experience." Harman also discussed Kafka's Jewish identity. "Kafka's writing in the '20s becomes increasingly preoccupied with what it means to be a Jew," Harman said. "But in a lot of scholarship the question was not taken seriously." Many of the students from Harman's "Joyce, Beckett, Kafka" class were also present in the audience. "I thought the discussion represented a variety of perspectives really well," said College senior Casey Torstenson, who added that Harman "is a lot of fun" as a teacher.

Vet School pioneer gets award

(03/19/98 10:00am)

It may surprise people that Josephine Deubler, the first woman to graduate from Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine and a renowned dog-show judge, does not keep any pets in her home. "It's hard to keep a dog in an apartment," Deubler said with a smile. Last month, Deubler, 80, was honored as the "Best of Show Judge" at the Westminister Kennel Club Show in New York. Although she may no longer have a pet of her own, Deubler has been a pioneer in the veterinary field since graduating from the Vet School in 1938. When reflecting on whether she was affected by the experience of being the only woman in her class, Deubler casually said, "I didn't really think about it." Between 1939 and 1944, Deubler continued with her studies and obtained her doctorate and master's degree. In addition to being the only woman in her classes, Deubler has had to overcome another obstacle -- she has been severely hearing impaired since infancy. Deubler's hearing loss is the result of a childhood disease she suffered at the age of one or two. She now has help from hearing aids that were not available when she was younger. Deubler's lack of hearing prevented her from ever opening her own veterinary practice. Instead, she concentrated on research and dog breeding. She has judged dog shows since 1962. In 1943, Deubler became the first female faculty member of the Vet School. She officially retired in 1987, but still spends time in her office at the Vet School every morning. Deubler's career choice followed in the footsteps of her family. Her father and brother were both veterinarians while her brother took care of horses and mules as a U.S. Army Veterinary Corp member during World War II. Deubler has entered her dogs into shows and became an American Kennel Club judge in 1962. She specializes in judging terriers and hounds and chairs the Bucks County dog show in May, the country's largest outdoor dog show. As a sign of the Vet School's appreciation for Deubler's contributions throughout her career, the school last year named the Dr. Josephine Deubler Genetic Disease Testing Laboratory in her honor.

Scholar tells of life as monk

(02/25/98 10:00am)

Although he may be better known as the father of actress Uma Thurman, Robert Thurman holds an equally rare distinction -- the Columbia University professor is the first American to be ordained a Buddhist monk. Thurman, a noted scholar of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies who teaches at Columbia University, spoke to a crowd of more than 40 Monday in College Hall on "Beyond Occidentalism, Tibetan Studies and the Academy in the 21st Century." Thurman gave up the strict monastic life because of the difficulties of being the lone American Buddhist monk. But he speaks fluent Tibetan and studies Buddhist thought and culture with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, three times a year. Although Uma Thurman did not follow in her father's footsteps, Thurman said in a separate interview that he is proud of and surprised by the success of his 27-year-old daughter, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1994 hit Pulp Fiction. "She always knew what she wanted to do," he said. "She had a special karma." He added that "we didn't bring Uma up with very much Buddhism. The children are very free-thinking types." During his speech, Thurman explained that Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes the "master-disciple" relationship, such as the one he enjoys with the Dalai Lama. "It is a pleasure for [the Dalai Lama] to discuss Western issues with someone who speaks Tibetan," he said. Thurman has been working with various activist groups around the world to "free" Tibet, which was invaded by China in 1950. After an uprising in 1959, China clamped down on the nation, suppressing the practice of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama and 100,000 Tibetans fled to India, where they have lived in exile ever since. Thurman's speech emphasized the need for Western academics to recognize the unique relevance of Asian -- specifically Tibetan -- culture. "Tibetan studies is a crucial subset of Asian studies linked through India," He noted. Thurman explained that Western universities place too much emphasis on the Western cultural past. Thurman said he believes that Western universities such as Columbia have an "occidental" curriculum that approach cultures from the wrong angle. He defined occidentalism as "a mode of looking at history and civilization, thinking that Anglo, Euro, white is the superior civilization on the globe." "Other cultures are studied as a religious phenomena," he explained. "We do it as a curiosity." Thurman spoke on how Buddhism forces a person to "analyze your present state and try methods to improve it." He added that Buddhism is "not like a religion, but an educational foundation." The event was sponsored by the East Asian Language and Civilizations Department and the Religious Studies Department. This educational monastic life promotes the science of the mind which studies the workings of the human mind and is "geared toward developing a higher level of enlightenment," Thurman said.

Carnivale spreads diversity message

(02/20/98 10:00am)

Faculty and students gathered together in the Christian Association Thursday night for an eclectic evening of cultural expression through poetry music and song. The event, entitled "Carnivale '98: A Coffee House Celebrating the Human Tapestry of the Penn Community," was an effort to expose students to Penn's many cultures to help them both appreciate and learn about the diversity on campus. "Multiculture is what makes Penn as great as it is," said College senior Debbie Posner. Planning for the coffee house evening started in September after students indicated they were looking for a way to bridge cultural gaps "Students were telling us that there's no way to get acquainted across [cultural] lines," said Christian Association Executive Director Beverly Dale, who helped organize the event. "This needs to happen on a regular basis." Many campus organizations came together to sponsor the Carnivale, including the African American Resource Center, The Christian Association, Kelly Writers House and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Center. The upstairs room of the Christian Association was candle-lit to add to the coffee house atmosphere. The main goal of the event was for people to have "an entertaining evening" noted event organizer Reverend Andrew Barasda, also of the Christian Association. A wide variety of performers, including The Madih Group, PENNaach, Swapnil Shah, Herbert Murray and Wharton Professor Michael London, were on hand to entertain and inform others about their individual cultural backgrounds. "It's really a good idea to have all the [performing arts groups of different] cultures here." College senior Pallavi Sharma explained. "Often the groups all have their own shows." Members of PENNaach, a South-Asian Dance Troupe, said they were happy to take part in the Carnivale. "It's important to promote our culture," College sophomore Vaishali Kothari, one of the group's co-founders, said. "People are still learning about the South Asian influence on campus." The Madih Group, composed of Penn students and others who share their Muslim spiritual message, sang religious songs both about Mohammed and the Virgin Mary. "We take any opportunity to sing," Aisha Nelson, a second-year Medical Student, noted. The emcee for the entertainment was Penn alumnus Nathan Price. He read aloud an original poem which conveyed the theme of diversity. The poem expressed Price's idea that time should be used "to explore, to be more." The audience responded enthusiastically to London, who teaches a class called "Diversity in the Workplace." He has also released an original compact disc entitled "Everything is New." London led the group in a sing-a-long and amused them with a blues number about his warring right and left brains. He also performed a slower number about "trying to find a life with heart."

Speaker traces roles of Jewish women

(02/11/98 10:00am)

In a skillful comparison, Lori Lefkovitz likened tabloid personalities such as Monica Lewinsky and Woody Allen to biblical figures like Delilah or Jacob during a lecture Monday on "Bedrooms and Battlefields: a Feminist Reading of Sexuality in the Jewish Textual Tradition." During the address in the Van Pelt Library, she encouraged students to look at traditional Jewish roles in the Bible and throughout history "through a new lens." Lefkovitz is the director of KOLOT, the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa. Her lecture was part of a series of events sponsored by the Jewish Renaissance Project -- a program designed to promote alternative views of Judaism specifically geared toward Jewish women. It was held in conjunction with Jewish Women's History Month. David Leipziger, the coordinator of the Project, praised "the intellectual honesty to look at [Jewish] issues from different angles and introduce Penn women to a different angle." The Project is sponsored by Hillel and several Penn departments. Lefkovitz began her address by noting that "all of the [literature] covers and hides the presence of Jewish women in history." "We don't even know who they are," she added. Lefkovitz analyzed the roles of women in the Old Testament, focusing on several women who used their exaggerated sexuality to end wars and ruin men. "The bedroom is the only battlefield in the Bible where men always lose," she noted. She explained that circumstances forced women in the Bible to change their personalities to achieve their ends, covering themselves in jewels and perfume in order to seduce men and gain "political power." Such overt sexuality is a form of role playing, and the women would use these guises to become "Yber-feminine" and acquire false power, she said. This concept of play-acting is one to which the audience could relate. Commenting on the similarity between the contrived femininity in the Bible and women's fashion at the University, College senior Ariel Blumenthal said she was "thinking about the black-pants girls on Penn's campus.? What women wear on campus and in the Bible, who are they really?" Despite the presence of Biblical characters such as Moses, who hid his Jewish identity to survive, Lefkovitz stressed that ultimately there was a point where people had to "out themselves as Jews." She used the example of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who recently discovered that her family members had disguised their Jewish past to escape the Holocaust. Lefkovitz explored the issue of identity even further, analyzing the stereotypical Jewish mother and "Jewish American Princesses," as well as current media figures such as Lewinsky and Allen in addition to Biblical figures. She claimed that the boundaries between the roles these people play and their "true" selves are often blurred. "We are who we aren't," Lefkovitz said. "That's always the case." Idana Goldberg, a second-year graduate student studying Jewish women's history, said she was glad that Lefkovitz was "uncovering women's voices to find their place in Jewish textual history."