Professor engages community through religious perspective

Amir Vera
Staff Writer

Jack D. Spiro, director of the VCU Center for Judaic Studies, attempted to answer the eternal question of what exactly is the meaning of life last week at the Singleton Center for Performing Arts during the 28th Annual Brown-Lyons Lecture on Thursday night.

Spiro summarized that the importance of life lies in being a part of the community and helping others.

“The answer is being an inextricable part of the community, fulfilling our obligations for thewelfare of others, even if our personal lives are given some meaning through believing in permanence of our existence,” Spiro said.

The 28th annual Brown-Lyons Lecture is sponsored by University Libraries. Spiro, who is a distinguished chair in the Judaic culture at VCU, also acts as the director of the VCU Center for Judaic Studies.

Speaking through his own religious perspective, Spiro reached out to an audience of more than 400 students, faculty and community members all looking for the answer to life’s purpose. The goal of the lecture was not to rant about one correct perspective on life, but to come together to collaborate on the answer.

“I think that the pursuit of meaning in life is something that’s universal, it’s common to all religions and systems of belief,” said Gregory Kimbrell, membership and events coordinator for VCU Libraries. “So I think learning about another religion’s system of belief helps you to see more clearly your own. Everyone here, regardless of their faith, probably learned more about what they’re doing right with their own pursuit of meaning in life, what they could do differently and how they can be better brothers of everyone in the world.”

Two of Spiro’s students, sophomore exercise science major Jasmine Yanez and senior international studies major Yvonne Karungi, attended the lecture.

“The question was intriguing, I wanted to see what the answer would be anything different from what I thought already,” Karungi said. “(I thought that) human life is based on those around you, it’s not an individual experience.”

The meaning of life isn’t the only topic Spiro has spoken to the community about. For the last 13 years, Spiro has spoken on different topics through a Jewish point of view, including Jewish humor and the significance of Jerusalem to religion. According to Kimbrell, his annual lectures always attract numerous amounts of people.

“The event attracts a very diverse audience. It attracts many members of the community outside and inside VCU of all faiths … and people who are just curious and want to find out more,” Kimbrell said.

John Ulmschneider, director of the university libraries, added that Spiro’s lectures attract a diverse audience because he appeals to everyone in the community, keeping the considerations and religions of others in mind.

“Dr. Spiro speaks as a Jewish scholar and as a rabbi, but he has always been focused … on the broader community,” Ulmschneider said. “He’s always worked to bring people of different faiths together around common questions.”

This collaboration of different faiths inside and outside of the VCU community illustrates VCU’s commitment to diversity within Richmond. According to Ulmschneider, Spiro’s lectures increase the level of intellect of attendees by bringing people together to discuss challenging questions.

“It brings together students, faculty, and community members in one place for a common intellectual pursuit,” Ulmschneider said. “That’s important because this is how you build an intellectual community at a university. You have renowned speakers who tackle difficult questions and you stimulate dialogue among students, faculty, staff and the community.”

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