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Professor David Patterson

A Guardian Angel of Jewish Identity in Great Britain

by Gad Nahshon

Professor David Patterson has been a guardian angel of Jewish identity in Great Britain. He is the founding father and emeritus president of the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Yaranton Manor, Oxford. At least since 1972 Prof. Patterson, a distinguished international scholar of Judaica, an expert on Jewish and Hebrew literature and a true admirer of Israel and its culture, has dedicated his life to the revival and promotion of Jewish culture and scholarship in Great Britain. He has a legacy. He was a pioneer in Jewish academic life, a trailblazer of Judaica in Britain. He has been a dynamo of energy and devotion to this cause: "In the Holocaust not only were 6,000,000 people murdered but a whole culture was obliterated," Prof. Patterson recently explained to the London Times.

Today, he can look proudly on his great intellectual achievement. He certainly built, in more than 20 years in Yaranton Manor, a great center, a landmark. But he could not have dreamt of the sudden coming of national recognition. It was reported in the British media that Prof. Patterson, on last June 14, 2003, was awarded the title Commander of the British Empire, or CBE. This award means that Queen Elizabeth included Prof. Patterson in her "Honours List" representing the official birthday of the Queen. This prestigious title represents first, national recognition of Dr. Patterson"s contribution to Judaica in Great Britain and second, it is the first time, a precedent, since it was founded in 1917, that this award was being given "for services to Jewish services." Third, the award means, also, national recognition of this center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Therefore, this honor is a day of celebration for this Yaranton Center, a significant achievement.

This "center" establishment has motivated the rise of Judaica and Jewish studies in Great Britain. Certainly, Prof. Patterson gave birth to a model to follow. Prof. Patterson, today, Emeritus President, is very active in order to help the center to grow. He is, also, an extraordinary fundraiser. This center is like his "baby", a kingdom to watch, to develop. Now he is also a commander of his own empire, a Jewish college, an international center of Jewish-Hebrew Studies. The president of the center, today, is Peter Oppenheimer. Sir Richard Greenberg is the chairman of the Board of Governors. Among its activists and supporters are: Sir Zelman Cowen, M.D. Goodman, The Lord Marks of Broughton, The Lord Weidenfeld, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, and of course, David Patterson, to mention a few. The following history of the Yarnton"s Center was written by Prof. Patterson. It is also his personal memoir, the story of an unusual pioneer in the realm of Jewish studies, culture, and identity.

The Yaranton Story by David Patterson, BCE: The Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies was founded in October 1972 in one room in the Oriental Institute of the University of Oxford. In order to reflect its activities more accurately, the name was changed in 1993 to The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Since 1974 the Centre has occupied a Georgian house in the middle of Oxford close to the Oriental Institute and the Ashmolean Museum. Its main campus, however, comprises a magnificent estate of eight and a half acres in the village of Yarnton, some four and a half miles from the city centre. The estate contains a gracious 17th Century manor house, a great barn, ten charming cottages, delightful gardens and an orchard. The Centre also owns an attractive President"s residence and another large barn a few minutes walk from the manor house. As there is no similar institution to the best of my knowledge in all Europe, or perhaps elsewhere, a history of the Centre and a description of its burgeoning activities may prove of interest.

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