In Focus: Jane Brailove Rutkoff

By Patterson, Mary Jo | Humanities, May/June 2008 | Go to article overview

In Focus: Jane Brailove Rutkoff


Patterson, Mary Jo, Humanities


IT WAS A COLD MARCH EVENING IN 2003 AND JANE BRAILOVE RUTKOFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE New Jersey Council for the Humanities, was heading home from a screening of a film the council funded shortly after 9/11 that examined anti-Muslim sentiment in Jersey Crty. The city is home to many ethnic groups, including a sizable number of Muslims.

After the screening, a lively public discussion had riveted the packed auditorium on the city's waterfront, just across the Hudson River from the ruins of the World Trade Center.

As she drove home, Rutkoff pondered the cross-cultural understanding produced by the night's events. She was exhilarated. ? tell you, my tires did not touch the highway. I was high as a kite," she says. "I thought, This is what it's all about This is what we're here for."

Rutkoff has experienced other luminous moments since arriving at the New Jersey Council in 1998, coming home to her native state after a quarter century in Ohio. The onetime high school English teacher spent seven years at the Ohio Humanities Council, as a program officer and acting director But the New Jersey job has also proved daunting, she says.

"Daunting and exhilarating both, because of the magnitude of what's possible," she says. "New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, with a multiplicity of cultures and challenges, including blighted urban centers and very significant fiscal problems, There is the New Jersey of Tony Soprano, but there's also a lesser-known New Jersey, with so much important history," she says.

Rutkoff's own history has surely shaped her stewardship of the council, which has a budget of $ 1.25 million and a full-time staff of four (soon to expand to five) in Trenton, Her father, a dentist in Elizabeth, was born in Woodbine, a tiny South Jersey town founded in 1891 as a refuge for persecuted Eastern European Jews. Her mother had no formal education but was a lifelong learner with a social consciousness sharpened by the 1967 race riots in nearby Newark. Rutkoff herself majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania while obtaining a teaching certificate, and later ran a program designed to attract liberal arts students into education.

One of the council's most popular offerings has been its Speakers Program. …

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