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Lectures focus on Middle East

There is an old saying that those who don't learn their history are doomed to repeat it. That's especially true in the Middle East, a region of the world with a history of volatility and violence that has threatened to pit modern superpowers against each other on more than one occasion.

But that region of the world hasn't always been a contentious battleground of rival peoples, according to Stephen Berk, a veteran Union College professor steeped in the history of the area.

When you go back a little over 25 centuries ago to the era of Cyrus the Great, you see that he was the leader of Persia who signed an edict to let the Jews back into the area that became Israel, Berk said. "That led to the building of the Second Temple and had a tremendous impact on the history of the area that is still being felt, even today."

The story of Cyrus and his bold leadership of a country that is now known as Iran is a key chapter in the Middle East and kicked off Berk's popular six part lecture series looking at the history of "Persians, Turks and Jews."

Presented every Monday evening at Temple Agudat Achim, located at 2117 Union St., the talks run from 7:30 until 9 p.m. and give everyone an opportunity to get immersed in the historic story of one of the world's most complex regions.

"I've always loved the study of history and at Union College I teach courses in a wide range of subjects in history from Middle Eastern, Russian, World War II, and Polish to many others," said Berk, a Niskayuna resident for the last 40 years. "It tells us a great deal about how we have gotten to where we are today."

Along with giving Berk an opportunity to reach a new audience, the lecture series also gives participants an opportunity to get a better grasp on the events that are in the headlines every day.

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