To read the complete story about Jeffrey Plevan, visit the the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences page.
Ted Sassoon, a senior research scientist at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, will speak on "Before and After the Gaza War: American Jews' New Relationship to Israel." Sassoon also is an international studies professor at Middlebury College, a visiting research professor of sociology at Brandeis University and consultant to the Mandel Foundation. For more information on the lecture, visit online.
Jeffrey Plevan repeatedly was described as upbeat, joyful, conscientious, thoughtful and full of drive. He also could be unrealistic and overly talkative, and he would sometimes misread social cues. No matter. He was loved by many.
When he died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 36, his parents, Ken and Betsy Plevan, received an outpouring of support and love from those who knew their son.
"When Jeffrey died, we knew that there were a lot of organizations that had been an enormous help to him," Ken said. "We were proud of the life he had led, and we knew we owed a lot to many people."
One of the places that Jeffrey loved was the University of Arizona, where he received an undergraduate degree in Judaic studies, a point of pride for a man who overcame social and academic struggles to carve out a meaningful life for himself.
Finding a Home at the UA
Jeffrey was diagnosed at an early age with severe delayed speech and language processing difficulties. At the age of 3, he began speech and occupational therapy, and he attended special-education schools in New York City until he was 15.
His parents said he had a desire to fit in.
"He had a lot of trouble around the ages of 10 to 14 dealing with children who were not learning disabled," Betsy said. "One of the characteristics of people who have a disability like this is that they don’t read people well."
But by the time Jeffrey "mainstreamed" at age 16, he had developed a strong sense of identity and a streak of independence that would set the stage for his transition to college life at the UA.
To his parents, the UA — a large school clear across the country — hardly seemed like the right fit for Jeffrey, who was familiar with small schools and customized education.
However, his high school college adviser recommended that the Plevans take a look at the UA based on the strength of its Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center, known as the SALT Center. They visited the school and were impressed.
"From Jeff's perspective, his brother went to Michigan, a Big Ten school. Being at a big school was part of his self-identity. The UA also had a great sports program. (Jeff) fell in love with the place," Betsy said.
Said Ken: "I also think it appealed to him to be 2,800 miles away. It was a sign that he was mature enough to live on his own."
Jeffrey's academics got off to a rocky start. On their first trip to visit during Family Weekend, Ken and Betsy learned their son was failing Hebrew. But Jeffrey eventually found his way, thriving in the UA's small Judaic studies program.
"Jeff was the kind of student who made teaching fun," said Beth Alpert Nakhai, associate professor of Judaic studies. "He had an endless supply of curiosity and enthusiasm and a passion for learning."
Ed Wright, director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, said: "He was a very conscientious, very thoughtful person. I was impressed by his drive."
At the UA, Jeffrey searched for groups that would help him create a home away from home. In addition to choosing the Judaic studies major, he joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and was active in the Jewish groups, the Hillel Center and Chabad.
"He was always looking for a way to be a part of something, and he always found it," Ken said.
Wildcat for Life
After graduating from the UA, Jeffrey worked for more than three years at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City. He then attended Gratz College in Pennsylvania, earning master's degrees in Judaic studies and Jewish communal service. In December 2010, he joined the staff of Hillel at Hunter College in New York City as its first development associate.
"It was a real career, and he was extraordinarily proud that he had become a contributing member of society," Ken said.
He also remained involved with the UA and eventually became president of the MetroCats, the New York City chapter of the UA Alumni Association.
"He was really proud that he had graduated from the University of Arizona, so staying involved was his way of wearing that on his sleeve," Betsy said.
The MetroCats have named a scholarship, which goes to an incoming freshman from the tri-state area, after Jeffrey.
"Jeff was truly one of a kind, and he is deeply missed," said Beth Martin, a fellow MetroCat. "Jeff always greeted everyone with a big smile on his face, but he had an even bigger heart. He always returned from Tucson with UA gifts for members of the MetroCats. He would sing the praises of the UA any chance he got."
Added MetroCat Alie Vidal: "The University of Arizona Alumni Association's slogan is 'Wildcat for Life.' There is no better example than Jeff Plevan. Jeff was accepting of everyone. Whether you were fortunate enough to know him for years, or you just met him at a watch party for the first time — without even knowing it, you just made a friend for life."
In memory of Jeffrey, the Plevans are funding a professorship and a lecture series in the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies.
The 2014 inaugural speaker for the Jeffrey Plevan Memorial Lecture was Itamar Rabinovich, president of the Israel Institute and Israel's former ambassador to the United States.
This year's lecture is on Jan. 27. Ted Sassoon, a senior research scientist at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, will speak on "Before and After the Gaza War: American Jews' New Relationship to Israel." Future lectures will focus on Israel studies in areas in politics, culture, technology and economics.
The Jeffrey B. Plevan Assistant Professor in Judaic Studies will be hired in the next year.
Wright is grateful to the Plevans for their investment in the center.
"An endowed professorship adds prestige to the unit and enables us to do things that we couldn't do without external support," Wright said. "We are very thankful to Ken and Betsy. They are very special people."
For their part, the Plevans see the gift as a chance to not only keep their son's memory alive, but to thank the institution that helped Jeff find his place in the world.
"Jeffrey had a lot of difficulties to overcome, but because of that enormous enthusiasm he had, he made a life for himself, and he built it around his love of Judaism, his fraternity and the University of Arizona," Ken said. "He was accepted here."