Little uplifting is likely to be heard at Kennesaw State University at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, when Robbie Friedmann speaks on the grim topic of “Incitement and Terrorism: Challenges and Responses” in the Social Sciences Building
But the free lecture itself by the founding director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange is a different matter. The latest in what is now meant to be an annual event, the Paul & Beverly Radow Lecture Series on Jewish Life, Friedmann’s presentation represents a commitment to ever-stronger ties between Georgia’s third-largest university and the Jewish community on and off campus.
“I’ve been a long-term cheerleader for Kennesaw State University,” said real estate developer and Congregation Etz Chaim member Norman Radow, who is funding the Radow Lecture Series to honor his parents. Radow has served as chairman of the university’s foundation and started its real estate foundation. “I’ve seen it grow from a commuter school to a major research university. I feel emotionally connected to the institution.”
As someone deeply involved in the Jewish community — Radow was the honoree at the annual Israel Bonds Atlanta dinner last November, for example — he wanted to create some Jewish programming to be sure the community was aware of and benefited from Kennesaw State’s growth and maturity.
After he talked with Catherine Lewis, who heads the museums, archives and rare books department, and Robin Dorff, the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as the university president at the time, Dan Papp, Radow decided to start a Jewish lecture series.
The topic must focus on Jewish life in some way, Lewis said. “What we try to do is look at contemporary issues, what’s going on on campus.”
The topic also must be interesting, Radow said.
Stuart Rockoff, who was with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life and now is the executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, launched the series with “Bagels and Grits,” a lecture on Jews in the South, in 2013.
Decatur writer Robert Weintraub, author of “The Victory Season,” a book about baseball after World War II, spoke in 2014 about the Jewish involvement in baseball.
The centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank took precedence in 2015. Frank died less than half a mile from KSU’s Marietta campus, the former Southern Polytechnic.
Radow did his part by supporting the Kennesaw State student production of “Parade,” the musical native Jewish Atlantan Alfred Uhry wrote about the Frank case, and bringing in Uhry to speak at the “raw and emotional” staging at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre at Marietta Square, a couple of miles from the lynching site.
“That’s what I love,” Radow said. “We brought in someone of interest. … The whole community got involved. That’s a great return on investment.”
After taking 2016 off while recovering from the Frank effort, Kennesaw State is back to the original lecture format with Friedmann and a topic, terrorism, that is all too timely, Lewis said.
The intention to make the Radow Lecture Series an annual event — although, like the Eizenstat Family Lecture at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, it could move around the calendar to accommodate the chosen speaker’s schedule.
While the lecture’s first audience is the campus community, “we start with the idea that we want to appeal broadly to the community,” and that goes beyond the Jewish community, Cobb County or even metro Atlanta, Lewis said. Because the university is right along Interstate 75, it’s easy to get to from places like Dalton and Chattanooga.
“Any program, any lecture, any exhibit opening, we try to be as welcoming as we can be” and to serve as “the front door of the university,” Lewis said, noting that her department’s programs are always free.
The university staff, led by Dorff, develops the possible ideas and speakers for each year’s lecture, then talks to Radow about them. He said he is presented with five to 10 suggestions, and he loves them all and tells Kennesaw State to pick one. “I want the university to flex their muscles and be creative. I don’t want to stifle that.”
Lewis and Radow said they want to see the audience and awareness of the series continue to grow. Lewis said Radow has made it clear that he won’t let a lack of money get in the way.
Radow said he’s thrilled by the series and the recognition it brings Kennesaw State. “We got in at the beginning to help create a program we thought would be thought-provoking and a spark for the community.”