Shaindy Rudoff, Founder of English Writing Course, Dies

Daphna Berman
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Daphna Berman

Shaindy Rudoff, the founding director of Israel's only English-language creative writing program and a member of the English department at Bar-Ilan University, passed away Saturday in New York after a long battle with cancer. She was 40.

A leader in the local Anglo literary community, Rudoff was remembered this week for her unceasing efforts to establish a thriving English-language writers program, despite the dominance of the prevailing Hebrew culture.

"The creative writing program was her baby and it's hard to say that it would have succeeded without her," said Professor Michael Kramer, chair of Bar-Ilan University's English department. "She was the program's guiding light and inspiration. Shaindy was an extraordinarily stubborn and determined person, who was brilliant and imaginative. If there were administrative or financial obstacles, she would say, 'I don't care, I will get this done' and she did - much to our surprise sometimes."

Rudoff graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College in 1987 and received her master's degree from Columbia University the following year. She completed her doctorate with distinction from New York University in 1998, specializing in American literature and culture. Rudoff was on the editorial boards of The Judische Almanach and Common Knowledge and was associate editor of Maggid: A Journal of Jewish Literature.

Students of Rudoff's recalled a charismatic teacher whose classroom was always full. "Every year, she had to get a larger room and there was never enough space because her classes were always over-registered," recalled Avner Landes, a former student. "When she taught, the one thing that always came across was her passion. As a teacher and a person, she had high expectations and she demanded excellence. That's one of the things I always found inspiring."

Though she was sick for several years, colleagues this week said that she battled her illness with tremendous resilience. "The words strength and courage can become hackneyed, but in fact Shaindy's performance in battling this cruel disease can only be described as heroic and strong," said Allen Hoffman, a novelist and colleague at the University's writing program.

"She was a very impassioned person and when people met her, they wound up becoming her friend. She had an extraordinary number of friends, which was a reflection of her high energy levels," he said.

According to colleagues, Rudoff was specifically interested in the crossroads between creative writing and Jewish culture - something that she created at the Bar-Ilan program, they said. Though she was forced to return to New York because of her illness, Rudoff organized last month's Bar-Ilan writing conference and was able to secure Nathan Englander, the award-winning writer and a close personal friend, as a featured speaker together with Israeli author Etgar Keret.

The conference, called First Fruits, Bikurim - A Conference on Early Writing, was held before Shavuot and was a reflection of the crossover between her interests, colleagues said. Though Rudoff was not physically able to attend the conference, she coordinated the entire event by remote control.

"She would call, send us phone messages and she was basically running the conference from New York," Prof. Kramer recalled. "She would ask how it was going, what the room looked like, if the air conditioning in the room was on, what the food was like, what dishes dinner was served on. Until the end, she was running the program as best she could."

Other friends said that Rudoff never ceased in her efforts to create a local community of English-language writers, artists and poets.

"Shaindy had a dream of legitimizing English as a creative language in Israel and she was realizing that dream," said Karen Alkalay-Gut, chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English, who teaches poetry at Tel Aviv University.

Rudoff was laid to rest Sunday in New York and plans are under way for a memorial service in Israel to mark the shloshim, the end of the 30-day period of mourning.

Rudoff is survived by her parents, Sheldon and Hedda, her sisters Sarah and Simone and their families.