Professor known for his good humor dies at 65

Professor Stephen Feinstein suffered a brain aneurysm Tuesday evening.

Andy Steinke

Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and adjunct professor at the University, died Tuesday night after suffering a brain aneurysm. He was 65.

Feinstein, who was speaking after a film at the Jewish Film Festival in Minneapolis, was taken to Abbott Northwestern Hospital where he died later that night.

The professor had been the director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies since September 1999. He was the acting director of the center for two years prior to his official appointment.

Before his time at the University, Feinstein was a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for 30 years.

Panteleymon E Anastasakis, one of Feinstein’s teaching assistants, said the professor always had a very good rapport with his students.

“(Feinstein) was very kind and very energetic,” Anastasakis said. “He was very engaging as a professor.”

Ellen Kennedy, outreach coordinator for the holocaust center, said Feinstein’s wit was unique.

“He had an unusual sense of humor, a dark sense of humor that he developed after a lifetime of studying the Holocaust,” she said.

Luke Walker, Feinstein’s student worker, remembered one example of this humor: Feinstein liked to travel around the world and have his wife take pictures of him lying on the ground, playing dead, he said.

“He was always telling jokes,” Walker said. “But he’d stick his neck out for anyone. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him.”

Teresa Docherty, one of Feinstein’s students, said anyone who met him or had taken a class from him could remember his Donald Duck impersonation.

But Feinstein was also very serious about his work.

“For things that interested him, he had an unbridled passion,” Kennedy said.

Feinstein was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, and also received two Human Rights Awards and a McKnight Grant during his career at the University.

The charismatic professor was named Volunteer of the Year by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas in 1987.

He also served as Hubert H. Humphrey III’s advisor for foreign policy matters in 1988 during Humphrey’s unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.

Feinstein lectured all over the world on Soviet Society, the Middle East Conflict and the Holocaust.

Eric Weitz, University professor and Feinstein’s close friend, said Feinstein brought issues of both atrocities and human rights to the University.

“With all his antics and his joking, he brought this broad and deep knowledge that students found so captivating,” Weitz said.

Though Feinstein isn’t replaceable, he said the center will continue on.

“There’s no question we will keep the center going because its mission goes beyond Steve himself,” Weitz said. “And the mission has a great deal of support from the University.”

Feinstein’s funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Friday at the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.

Mike Rose contributed to this report.