Remembering Professor Matthew Hoffman

By Katherine Coble ’20 || Former News Editor

On Wednesday, June 10, Provost Cam Wesson confirmed in an all-campus email that beloved History and Judaic Studies Professor Matthew Hoffman had passed away on Friday, June 5 following a valiant and prolonged battle with cancer.

Dr. Hoffman studied religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara before pursuing a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He completed a joint Ph.D. in Jewish Studies with the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley in 2000. He joined the F&M faculty in 2004 and spent more than fifteen years engaging students with his sense of humor, open-door policy, and intellectual spirit. Among his most popular courses were two introductory-level classes on pre-modern and modern Jewish history, popular among Judaic Studies majors, history majors, and curious students alike. Additionally, he taught upper-level seminars focusing on Jewish cinema, comedy, and contemporary culture.

Dr. Hoffman’s research focused on secular Jewish ideologies, contemporary American Jewish cinema, and Jewish involvement in American comedy. He was the author of two books. The first, From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture, was published in 2007 and stemmed from his Ph.D. dissertation on depictions of Jesus in Yiddish art and literature. The second, A Vanished Ideology: Essays on the Jewish Communist Movement in the Anglophone World in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2016. This volume, co-edited with Dr. Henry Srebrnik, focused on the communities of Yiddish-speaking communists in New York. Toward the end of his life, Dr. Hoffman was researching the radical political cartoonist William Gropper and the Jewish comic Lenny Bruce as part of a larger study on “the various ways American Jews have been at the forefront of free expression and free speech in American history,” per his F&M biography.

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Hoffman was an integral part of F&M’s Jewish community and served as an inspiration to countless Judaic Studies and History students. He was a fierce advocate for freedom of speech and passionate defender of The College Reporter and student journalism more broadly. During his time at F&M, he was deeply involved in the American Association of University Professors, at one point serving as president of F&M’s AAUP chapter. In this role, he fought relentlessly for academic freedom and shared governance of college campuses. Dr. Hoffman embraced civil disagreements and debate in office hours and beyond. His impassioned rebuttal of Jeffrey Lord’s campus forum remains one of The College Reporter’s most popular opinion pieces to date and exemplifies his sharp intellectual wit as well as his commitment to historical scholarship. 

A virtual memorial service for Dr. Hoffman was hosted by the history department on Sunday, June 28. A Symposium to be held in his honor is being planned for spring or fall 2021. Its organizers include Marco Di Giulio (chair), Stephen Cooper, Dennis Deslippe, Scott Lerner, and Maria Mitchell. Additionally, the College is raising funds for a “Matthew B. Hoffman Memorial Discussion Group and Public Forum.” The forum will serve as a space for intellectual discussion and informed debate. Those wanting to contribute may do so at go.fandm.edu/give, making sure to specify that the donation is in honor of Dr. Matthew Hoffman.

For almost two decades, Dr. Hoffman lit up the hallways of Stager Hall with his quick humor, bright smile, and constant warmth. His commitment to his students and their intellectual growth was unparalleled and his level of participation in the F&M community served as an inspiration to many. The pain of his loss will continue to resonate in the hearts of all he knew.

Katherine Coble ‘20 is an alumna and former news editor. Her email is kcoble@fandm.edu.

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