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Deborah Lipstadt interview

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2007-02-07

Deborah Lipstadt

Deborah Lipstadt

American Historian Deborah Lipstadt is probably most famous for her trial with Holocaust denier David Irving, but one shouldn’t overlook the significant amount of energy she puts into strengthening the Jewish community.

Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta and directs Emory’s Jewish Studies Institute. She proved her ability to talk engagingly about a range of Jewish subjects when giving six lectures at the 2006 Limmud conference. Limmud is annual event attracting world class speakers who address an enormous range of Jewish issues.

This was not the first year Lipstadt has attended the conference and she says she finds it 'addictive'. "I like everything about it: the learning, the extraordinary bunch of people who make it happen, the spirit of the participants," she enthuses.

Lipstadt was warmed by what she observed while she was there. "I remember sitting in the morning and watching people of all ages and types studying the schedule and figuring out how they’d spend their day. I also saw strangers sharing their knowledge on who is worth going to hear."

The historian concedes that there is certain type of British Jew who would never go to Limmud. "Some people are put off by the notion of doing something ‘so Jewish’. I am also sorry not to see more Orthodox people there, they could give and get so much," she reflects.

Lipstadt has a message for all of Anglo-Jewry (not just the Orthodox) - that they should come to next year’s conference to celebrate their culture and religion.

"Limmud is a pleasure, and will boost their spirits and give them energy to make it through the winter."

She is right on the nail when describing the spirit of the conference: "People learn, laugh, cry, make friends, drink bad coffee and try new things in a non-hierarchical environment," she says.

Apart from the coffee ("They should dump that instant stuff - this year I brought my own from New York," she laughs), Lipstadt doesn’t have many complaints about Limmud. "There isn’t much that could be bettered. The food is improving, I loved the hot soup and this year there were actually uncooked things like vegetables,” she says.

She is in favour of making Limmud cheaper or even free. "If someone would endow it that would be great. I wish it would cost a bit less so that families who might not be able to afford it, could."

Lipstadt managed to fit in time around her own lectures to hear other speakers at Limmud this year - "I went to a number of great movies, and memorable sessions on Israeli politics, on havdalah and on Chinese Jews."

High attendance at Lipstadt’s talks about her 1998 trial against David Irving indicate it is a subject people will never tire of hearing her discuss. “I am realistic that for the general public this trial is what makes me an ‘interesting’ figure. This is my ‘survivor’ story. The difference here is that the ‘good guys’ won.”

If Limmud’s organisers invited Lipstadt to participate in a panel discussion
with Irving, she would refuse point blank. "I don’t debate Holocaust deniers. Putting him on a panel would mean someone lost their mind. He’s a liar – why give a liar a platform?"

Lipstadt is currently pouring her evident passion into a book on Holocaust denial in the 21st Century, which she describes as "an update on her 1993 book on the topic."

She is also penning a second tome: "It’s a book on the joys and wonders of being part of this enterprise we call Jewish community."

Perhaps Lipstadt is sick of being associated with threats to Judaism, such as Holocaust deniers, and wants her name to be linked with the celebratory elements too.