Leviathan Through the Decades: An Interview with Bruce Thompson, Faculty Sponsor
Written by Georgie Blewett
Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz
I met with Bruce in his office to discuss the progression of Leviathan throughout the years. Bruce Thompson has served as the faculty sponsor from 2005 to 2012 and 2016 until now. We would also like to acknowledge Nathaniel Deutsch who served as faculty sponsor from 2013 to 2016.
Georgie Blewett: What has been your perception of the progression of Leviathan throughout the years?
Bruce Thompson: One of the things that was important to me when I became involved as an advisor: keep that tradition going because it goes back such a long time and there’s something really wonderful about the longevity of it. I think during the early years, it was more political. It was created, I believe, in response to the crisis of the 1973 [Yom Kippur War] when Israel was in very big trouble. And I think in the early years it tended to be key to current events and lots of pieces about what was happening in Israel. But over the years it became much more diverse and obviously more cultural pieces, as opposed to political. And then I noticed when I became involved, that many of the pieces had a personal dimension, which I don’t think was there in the beginning.
GB: Do you think that was a good direction for Leviathan to take?
BT: I think the more kinds of pieces the better.
GB: Would you like to see it go back to being more political?
BT: Well, I hope it will continue to have thoughtful journalism about current events whether that means what’s happening in Israel or elsewhere in the Jewish world. But at the same time, I think it’s great to have students and aspiring journalists to pursue any kind of direction that appeals to them.
GB: Going off of that, what do you think this new Leviathan means for the Jewish community?
BT: That’s a hard question. Well I think the Jewish community at UCSC has different facets to it. There’s a flourishing Santa Cruz Hillel, there’s Chabad. So to some extent, intellectual and social life and religious life revolve around them, but Leviathan is another forum for Jewish students…well not just Jewish students since not all the contributors are Jewish, but for anyone who is interested in Jewish topics or themes. And that I think it is another of its strengths. But to approach the Jewish experience or experiences from a journalistic standpoint, it’s a different kind of mission from that of Hillel or Chabad and I think that’s great. I think journalism is on the one hand, a craft, a discipline. It has conventions, it has certain requirements, it’s a challenge to meet those requirements sometimes, but at the same time it’s a wonderful opportunity to write about almost anything. And to have that kind of means of exploring the world and expressing oneself simultaneously, I think that’s a wonderful contribution.
GB: I agree. Have there been any particular pieces that have stuck out to you that you remember?
BT: If I were to single out any of them, I’d be leaving out so many more. But, I think that what stands out in my mind recently is some of the extraordinary interviews that Leviathan editors and journalists have been able to get. Sometimes that’s with members of our own faculty who have had extraordinary lives and sometimes that’s with some pretty significant figures in the world of literature, or recently, diplomacy, Jewish thought, or distinguished rabbis. I think that’s a real contribution for our particular newspaper to bring the voices and views of those extraordinary people to the UCSC community, I think that’s been a great contribution. So without naming any of them specifically, that’s one of the things that I’ve really admired in recent years.
GB: How do you feel your role has changed over time?
BT: I think that I didn’t realize at the beginning that a major part of my role was to stand aside, if you know what I mean. The paper really belongs to its students. There’s no sense in which its my baby. I’m just there to help in whatever way I can be useful, but not to provide story ideas, or to copy edit, or to do any of the things perhaps at the beginning I thought I should be doing. My role is to be there if I’m needed, but not to be an intrusive presence. The paper goes beautifully without any kind of active supervision or intervention from me.
GB: What has your relationship with editors and staff members looked like across your time with Leviathan?
BT: Very often, the editors have been students in my classes, my Jewish studies classes, either history or literature, or sometimes both. So I knew them before they became Editors-in-Chief. I knew that they were extraordinary people and that they had, not just one kind of skill, but many kinds of skills. Because to be a successful editor, you not only have to be a gifted journalist, a strong writer, someone with an instinct for great stories, but you also have to be a manager, a leader, a supporter. You have to worry about funding. You have to juggle multiple demands on your time. So the editors that I’ve known, they’ve been able to do all those things, and at the same time to inspire the next cohort coming along to do them as well, and to pass the baton to one generation to the next which I think is one of the major responsibilities of every editor to recruit a staff that is going to be there after the editor or editors have graduated. And in many cases, I’ve been not just impressed by what they’ve accomplished, but felt a little twinge of awe or jealousy because they’ve done things I could never have done when I was an undergraduate, and taken the paper in all kinds of new and interesting directions, done great things with the art and the design of the paper, and found ways of approaching topics that had previously been unexplored, maybe even taboo. Sometimes they made me nervous by doing that, but it’s always been a continuing experiment, and that’s a great thing.
GB: Have you had any ideas of where Leviathan could have gone in the past where it didn’t go?
BT: Well, I suppose because I am a teacher and I tend to see the world from a scholar’s perspective, I suppose I have a preference for more scholarly kind of pieces. But would be deadly, if all the pieces were of that kind. It wouldn’t be the lively journal that it is. So, I’m very, very pleased that the editors, the contributors, and everybody involved in Leviathan have had so many different interests that I could never have anticipated. Who knew that we would be having recipes for these great Jewish dishes? And music, and film, and art. All kinds of different interests, different passions and strengths and enthusiasms that reflect the diversity of the students and staff of Leviathan. That’s one of the things I love, that the students take it in all these different directions.
GB: With that being said, where would you like to see Leviathan go in the future?
BT: We have some really extraordinary professors who have been at UCSC for decades, and some of them of course have retired or are about to do so, and some of the recent interviews with, for example with Professor Aptheker [and] Professor Gildas Hamel. Those have been not just fascinating windows on extraordinary lives and careers, but also a real contribution to the history of our campus. I hope that will continue. We’ve had so much success in recent years of getting interviews with really first rate people from outside the campus, we should continue to try to do that. I think that the paper has been first-rate in recent years. I just wish we could get more students involved. I’m not quite sure how to do that. And part of it is just keeping it going, and being aware of this extraordinary legacy — 45 years. 45 years of tradition of Jewish journalism and to keep that going is a pretty big responsibility. The editors, who have taken on such a difficult role that is so time and labor intensive, especially since you get towards the deadline, they are heroic. But the other side of it is, one of the things I especially enjoy, what a great bonding experience it is for you. You become a team, best friends, in many cases, and that’s really something I love to watch.