To the Editor:
I write to mark a great loss to the Yale community, the impending departure of an exquisite teacher who has inspired and edified many Yale students, including me, during his 12 years here. The energy, verve, wit and love with which Bassam Frangieh imparts Arabic to his students impels them to move from learning the alphabet to reading the Quran in the course of a single semester.
Beginning to study a new language is very much like committing to a new romantic relationship; it claims all of you. And Frangieh, translator of the volume “Arabian Love Poems” by Nizar Kabbani, knows and conveys a passion for language that turns his classes into poetry, his students into friends, and the battle for linguistic competence into a yearning for the beloved.
At a time when instruction in modern Arabic is so important for our nation, Frangieh, who has been commissioned by Yale Press to produce a new and desperately needed first-year Arabic grammar primer, is a precious treasure. As a citizen of Yale, Frangieh has embodied the joy and mystery of Arab culture during a season when that culture has been the object of generalized suspicion and fear. I am proud of the fact that Frangieh has been a faculty fellow at Joseph Slifka Center for several years. He demonstrates with his life the possibility that friendship may yet melt the barriers of hatred, distrust and greed that shape our global geopolitics, and that in spite of these barriers, love, fellowship and communion can and do occur in the microcosm.
Yale’s loss of Frangieh will indeed be University of Delaware’s gain as he moves to Wilmington to assume the position of director of the Middle Eastern Center there. I wish my friend and teacher Godspeed.
April 15, 2005
The writer is Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish life at Yale.