Shmuel Yosef Agnon: Online Course Analyzes Stories

WebYeshiva.org Jewish studies program brings Nobel laureate’s teachings outside of Israel, for first time via internet

Source: Ynet News, 1-31-11

WebYeshiva.org, the first fully-interactive online Jewish studies program, announced recently a new course entitled “Midrash Agnon” that analyzes Nobel laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s short stories in English.

The course will be broadcast live from Agnon’s Jerusalem house, bringing the teachings of S.Y. Agnon’s works outside of Israel, for the first time via the internet.

“Midrash Agnon” will be given live by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, founding director of the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions (ATID), parent organization of WebYeshiva.org, at the Agnon House in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

The five-part series begins Sunday, February 6, and can be joined live in Jerusalem or via the simultaneous online broadcast at WebYeshiva.org. The course will focus on analyzing Agnon’s short stories from a literary perspective while unraveling the undertones of classical Jewish sources present in his writings.

In addition, the class will discuss many theological, cultural and spiritual questions of that time including the viability of Judaism in the Diaspora, the continuity of tradition in the face of modernity, and the meaning of the return to the Land of Israel….READ MORE

Melvin I. Urofsky: Lecture to explore legacy of Justice Brandeis

Source: University of Florida News, 1-24-11

Professor Melvin I. Urofsky will deliver a lecture on the diverse life of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, at noon Feb. 2 at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, Holland Hall Room 180.

Urofsky is a professor of law and public policy and a professor emeritus of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and was the chair of its history department.

Brandeis, the namesake for Brandeis University in Massachusetts and the law school at the University of Louisville, helped establish the concept of right-to-privacy, championed labor laws and fought against public corruption throughout his influential career as a practitioner in Boston. He was also an influential leader of the American Zionist movement before and during his years on the Supreme Court.

Urofsky, whose lecture is entitled “The Five Lives of Louis Brandeis,” is a leading Brandeis scholar whose most recent book on the associate justice, “Louis D. Brandeis: A Life,” was published in 2009 by Pantheon Books. Urofsky is the editor – with David W. Levy – of a five-volume collection of Brandeis’ letters as well as the author of “American Zionism from Herzl to the Holocaust” and “Louis D. Brandeis and the Progressive Tradition.”…READ MORE

Ruth R. Wisse: The conscience of a Jewish conservative

Source: Jerusalem Post, 1-23-11

The late Irving Kristol was not just a Jewish thinker, he was something else: a consummate American intellectual.

A Jewish thinker is normally someone devoted to the study and interpretation of Jewish texts, Jewish history, Jewish issues, Jewish ideas. The late Irving Kristol (1920-2009) was, for the most part, something else: a consummate American intellectual. Founding editor of The Public Interest, contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, he is best known as the “godfather” of neoconservatism, a movement of ideas that spurred a major realignment in American politics.

Yet as we are reminded by The Neoconservative Persuasion, a sparkling collection of his essays edited by his widow, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, Kristol was also an important Jewish thinker – and especially important for American Jews. Among his cohort of resolutely secular New York intellectuals, Kristol displayed an unusual attitude toward religion. Raised in Brooklyn by nominally traditional immigrant parents, and exposed to an inferior – he called it “decadent” – Jewish education, the teenage Kristol unaccountably chose to attend daily synagogue services after his mother died. (His father declined.)…READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna: You’re Young and Jewish: Discuss

FEATURES:

Source: NYT, 1-16-11

Reboot, a nonprofit organization based in Amherst, Mass., that is run by Lou Cove, has proved a refuge of sorts for well-connected American Jews who are curious about the ideas and rituals of their ancestors and who want to adapt them to their lives. “For so many years being a Jew was defined by the Holocaust on one side and Israel on the other,” said Rachel Levin, a founder, who is associate director at Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, which is a major donor to Reboot. “Now the conversation is about something other than that.”

About 350 people have attended, with new inductees nominated, anonymously, by previous Rebooters.

They include up-and-comers from Hollywood (Jenji Kohan, the creator of Showtime’s “Weeds”), New York publishing (Ben Greenman, a fiction writer and an editor at The New Yorker), Silicon Valley (Anne Wojcicki, a founder of 23andMe and the wife of Sergey Brin, a Google founder) and digital media (Rachel Sklar, a blogger). (Some New York Times employees have attended; this reporter has not.)

“Our goal is not to get the 40 most successful people,” said Roger Bennett, a founder who lives in New York and is senior vice president at the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, an initial contributor to Reboot that now has 18 donors and a yearly $1.8 million budget. The organization was inspired in part, he said, by the teachings of Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University professor who contends that the most creative ideas for reviving Jewish culture come from outsiders. Mr. Bennett said he recruits culturally savvy mostly 30-somethings disconnected from, but willing to examine, their Jewish life, and hopes Reboot will eventually help “tens of thousands of people” to reconnect with Judaism. “It is not a self-involved gathering of individuals, but a place to develop programs and processes to make our peers engage,” he said….READ MORE

2010 National Jewish Book Awards Announced

The Jewish Book Council crowned Gal Beckerman’s “When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry” the Jewish Book of the Year today, as it also named winners in 15 other categories for the 2010 National Jewish Book Awards.

A gala award ceremony will be held on March 9 at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan to honor this year’s winners. Masters of ceremony for the event are Ari. L. Goldman, author and professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and Alana Newhouse, editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.

The complete list of award winners is as follows:

Everett Family Foundation
Jewish Book of the Year Award

When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Gal Beckerman

Jewish Book Council
IMPACT Award

Harold Grinspoon

Jewish Book Council
Lifetime Achievement Award

Cynthia Ozick

American Jewish Studies
Celebrate 350 Award
Winner:

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Princeton University Press)
Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman

Finalist:

Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora (Indiana University Press)
Rebecca Kobrin

Anthologies and Collections
Winner:

The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture (Cambridge University Press)
Judith R. Baskin and Kenneth Seeskin, eds.

Finalists:

Promised Lands: New Jewish American Fiction on Longing and Belonging (Brandeis University Press/UPNE)
Derek Rubin, ed.

Jewish Cultural Studies, Volume 2, Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization)
Simon J. Bronner, ed.

JBuzz, January 13, 2011: Sarah Palin Causes Uproar Invoking the Term ‘Blood Libel’ in Response to Backlash to Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona

JEWISH POLITICAL NEWS:

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS

THE HEADLINES….

Sarah Palin says in a video that she is not to blame for the shooting in Tucson.

  • Palin Joins Debate on Heated Speech With Words That Stir New Controversy: Sarah Palin broke her silence on Wednesday and delivered a forceful denunciation of her critics in a video message about the Arizona shootings, accusing commentators and journalists of “blood libel” in a frenzied rush to blame heated political speech for the violence.
    As she sought to defend herself and seize control of a debate that has been boiling for days, Ms. Palin awakened a new controversy by invoking a phrase fraught with religious symbolism about the false accusation used by anti- Semites of Jews murdering Christian children. It was unclear whether Ms. Palin was aware of the historical meaning of the phrase.
    “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said. “Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
    The video from Ms. Palin, running nearly eight minutes, was recorded in her home television studio in Alaska and released early Wednesday morning. Her words dominated the political landscape for nearly 12 hours before President Obama arrived in Tucson to speak at a memorial service honoring the six dead and 14 injured in the shootings…. – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’: The term blood libel is generally used to mean the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. That false claim was circulated for centuries to incite anti-Semitism and justify violent pogroms against Jews. Ms. Palin’s use of the phrase in her video, which helped make it rapidly go viral, is itself attracting criticism, not least because Ms. Giffords, who remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital, is Jewish. Reaction to Ms. Palin’s video was swift… – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Palin’s ‘blood libel’ remark overwhelms message: It was a well-crafted message preaching unity — and mined with a “blood libel” that blew it all apart. Sarah Palin’s video message Wednesday, her first substantial commentary since Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, at first appeared to succeed in reconciling two American precepts that have seemed irreconcilable in recent days: a common purpose and a rough- and-tumble political culture….
    The question, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, was whether using a charged term like blood libel reinforced Palin’s legitimate argument at the unfair targeting of the right wing in the days after the shooting – or whether using the term undercuts the point. “It distracts from her argument, which is thoughtful,” Jamieson told JTA. “If you are trying to get an audience to rethink, you don’t inject this particular historic analogy.”… – JTA, 1-13-11
  • Palin slammed for using ‘blood libel’ term: Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to decry blaming conservatives for the Arizona shooting has raised the ire of some in the Jewish community…. – JTA, 1-12-11
  • Sarah Palin’s ‘blood libel’ claim stirs controversy: Sarah Palin’s newest Facebook page video scolds critics who say her high-firepower rhetoric could have contributed to Saturday’s Arizona shooting rampage. But her use of an emotionally-charged phrase has spawned a controversy all its own.
    Palin called herself the victim of “blood libel” — the original term for blaming Jews for the death of Jesus and an anti-Semitic rallying call that led to countless deaths of Jews, primarily in Europe and Russia.
    Many rabbis called her remarks insensitive, ill-chosen and offensive to Holocaust survivors and other victims of anti-Semitism. Palin’s new video “was like waving a red flag,” said Rabbi David Sapperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “It concerns us. It escalates the intensity of the rhetoric, rather than calming it down. It seems to me she’s missed an opportunity at real leadership.”
    Palin aide Rebecca Mansour said the former Alaska governor stands by her video. “There has been an incredible increase in death threats against Gov. Palin since the tragedy in Arizona, since she’s been accused of having the blood of those victims on her hands,” Mansour said. “When you start to accuse people of having the blood of innocent people on their hands, it incites violence.”… – USA Today, 1-12-11
  • ‘Blood libel’ has particular, painful meaning to Jewish people: The phrase used by Sarah Palin against her detractors usually refers to the false accusations made for centuries against Jews, often to malign them as child killers — and sometimes leading to massacres of their communities.
    In saying her critics “manufactured a blood libel,” Sarah Palin deployed a phrase linked to the false accusations made for centuries against Jews, often to malign them as child killers who coveted the blood of Christian children.
    Blood libel has been a central fable of anti-Semitism in which Jews have been accused of using the blood of gentile children for medicinal purposes or to mix in with matzo, the unleavened bread traditionally eaten at Passover. The spreading of the blood libel dates to the Middle Ages — and perhaps further — and those allegations have led to massacres of Jewish communities for just as long.
    The term blood libel carries particular power in the Jewish community, though it has taken on other shades of meaning. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday that “while the term blood libel has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.” LAT, 1-12-11
  • Sarah Palin’s charge of ‘blood libel’ spurs outcry from Jewish leaders: Sarah Palin’s remarks Wednesday in which she accused critics who would tie her political tone to the Arizona shootings of committing a “blood libel” against her have prompted an instant and pronounced backlash from some in America’s Jewish community. The term dates to the Middle Ages and refers to a prejudice that Jewish people used Christian blood in religious rituals…. – LAT, 1-12-11
  • Palin death threats rise to unprecedented levels: Death threats to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have increased to unprecedented levels in the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, an aide tells ABC News…. – The Daily Caller, 1-13-11
  • Krauthammer on debating Palin’s use of ‘blood libel’: ‘Have we completely lost our minds?’: It has been over four days since a shooting in Tucson that claimed six lives and injured 14, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. However, one of the dominating themes of the day is a debate over former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s response. On Fox News Channel’s Wednesday broadcast of “Special Report with Bret Baier,” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer questioned the sanity of this debate, which involved Palin accusing “journalists and pundits” of manufacturing “a blood libel.”
    “[T]he fact is that even the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League in expressing a mild rebuke to Palin for using this admitted itself in its statement that the term ‘blood libel’ has become part of English parlance to refer to someone falsely accused,” Krauthammer said. “Let’s step back for a second. Here we have a brilliant, intelligent, articulate, beautiful, wife, mother and congresswoman fighting for her life, in a hospital in Tucson, and we’re having a national debate over whether the term ‘blood libel’ can be used appropriately in a non-Jewish context? Have we completely lost our minds?”… – Daily Caller, 1-13-11

QUOTES

     

  • Sarah Palin: America’s Enduring Strength: ….The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.
    Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
    There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure…. – Sarah Palin on Facebook, 1-12-11Video
  • The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that, in part, came to Ms. Palin’s defense, Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said in a statement: “It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder, Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks.” But Mr. Foxman added that “we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood-libel.'” He called it a phrase “fraught with pain in Jewish history.” – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Benyamin Korn, Director Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin: “Sarah Palin got it right, and we Jews, of all people, should know a blood libel when we see one. Falsely accusing someone of shedding blood is a blood libel, whether it’s medieval Christians accusing Jews of baking blood in Passover matzahs, or contemporary Muslim extremists accusing Israel of slaughtering Arabs to harvest their organs, or political partisans blaming conservative political figures and talk show hosts for the Tucson massacre.”
  • David Harris, president of the National Democratic Jewish Council, in a statement: “Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a ‘blood libel’ against her and others. This is of course a particularly heinous term for American Jews, given that the repeated fiction of blood libels are directly responsible for the murder of so many Jews across centuries — and given that blood libels are so directly intertwined with deeply ingrained anti-Semitism around the globe, even today.”
  • Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice: “The term ‘blood libel’ is not a synonym for ‘false accusation,’ It refers to a specific falsehood perpetuated by Christians about Jews for centuries, a falsehood that motivated a good deal of anti-Jewish violence and discrimination. Unless someone has been accusing Ms. Palin of killing Christian babies and making matzoh from their blood, her use of the term is totally out of line.”
  • Benyamin Korn: Op-Ed: Blame real inciters, not Palin and Tea Parties: Extreme rhetoric can inspire extreme behavior, even violence. But there isn’t a shred of evidence that anything that anyone on the political right — or left — said or wrote inspired Jared Lee Loughner to launch his deadly rampage in Arizona…. – JTA, 1-13-11
  • Noam Neusner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush in Pundit Wire: “The term ‘blood libel’ is so unique, and so tinged with the context of anti-Semitism, that its use in this case — even when Ms. Palin has a legitimate gripe — is either cynically calculated to stimulate media interest or historically illiterate. It is therefore distracting to Ms. Palin’s underlying message, which is one of sympathy for the victims and outrage that she and others are being accused of inspiring a mass murderer.”

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Alan Dershowitz Defends Sarah Palin’s Use of Term ‘Blood Libel’: The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People,its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term. – Big Govenment, 1-13-11

Historian uncovers new insights into Jewish Religious life in the Byzantine empire

NEWS:

Source: Medievalists.net, 1-10-11

New research has uncovered a forgotten chapter in the history of the Bible, offering a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture. The study by Cambridge University researchers suggests that, contrary to long-accepted views, Jews continued to use a Greek version of the Bible in synagogues for centuries longer than previously thought. In some places, the practice continued almost until living memory.

The key to the new discovery lay in manuscripts, some of them mere fragments, discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century. The so-called Cairo Genizah manuscripts have been housed ever since in Cambridge University Library.

Now, a fully searchable online corpus (http://www.gbbj.org) has gathered these manuscripts together, making the texts and analysis of them available to other scholars for the first time….READ MORE

Beth Wenger: ‘Heritage’ positions American Jews in Jewish America

BOOK REVIEWS:

Source: Jewish Journal, 1-5-11

“Heritage,” warns Beth S. Wenger in “History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage” (Princeton University Press, $35), “is always a partisan effort.”

According to Wenger, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Jewish studies program, the heritage embraced by American Jews is invented if not entirely imaginary. She insists that the way American Jews see themselves can be “self-congratulatory, often embellished, and sometimes a blend of fact and fiction.”  She argues that “American Jews gradually manufactured a collective Jewish history in the United States,” and the end result has been “[t]he creation of a shared, usable Jewish past” but not necessarily a wholly factual one.

Viewed from the stance of a professional historian, the whole enterprise of heritage-making strikes her as a “messy blend of truth and myth … often self-aggrandizing and self-congratulatory, and almost always self-serving.” The purpose of Jewish myth-making in America has been to “[foster] a sense of Jewish belonging” in a place where we are a tiny minority, and she concludes that “Jews wrote America into Jewish history, and Jews into American history.”

A revolution in Jewish consciousness was at work among the Jews who managed to reach the New World. “The Zionist typology of the ‘new Jew’… had an American corollary,” Wenger writes. “American Jews created a myth of America as the new Zion, an alternate form of the Promised Land.” So it was that the Yiddish poet Avraham Liessin, writing in 1897, saw the Statue of Liberty as a symbol with special meaning for Jewish immigrants: “Man/freed from tyranny/grows free and proud/with a spirit that knows no bound/and a will forged of steel.”…READ MORE

“Shoah” and a new view of history; Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin”

Look Again “Shoah” and a new view of history.

Source: David Denby, The New Yorker, January 10, 2011

Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour documentary on the Holocaust is being re-released.

Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah,” the shattering nine-hour documentary about the Holocaust, which was first shown in New York in 1985, has, on its twenty-fifth anniversary, reopened here and will soon appear in museums, universities, and select theatres across the country. Back in 1985, the film left me bruised and sore, moved by its clarifying passions and its electrifying rhetoric, and amazed by its revolutionary form. Lanzmann, a French filmmaker and intellectual journalist, omitted photographs, newsreels, and documents (all the usual historical materials), and, instead, reconstructed the past from what remained of it in the present. He used the testimony of three groups of people: survivors of the death camps in Poland, most of them Jews who worked for the Nazis and either escaped or outlived the camps at the end of the war; Nazi guards and functionaries; and Polish witnesses, some of them farmers living near the camps who respond to memory with a bemused shrug and a few smiles, others villagers who make typical anti-Semitic remarks. And Lanzmann filmed, with obsessive precision and poetic eloquence, the physical remnants, the trains, tracks, and roads that conveyed prisoners to Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz-Birkenau—camps that the Poles left standing, half as memorial sites and half as cursed and loathsome wastelands, and whose environs and interiors he crosses and crisscrosses. All this was fascinating, but I wondered whether seeing “Shoah” again could teach audiences anything new. And was there not a possible moral danger in fascination—the habit of returning to the Jewish catastrophe over and over for an emotional workout without receiving further illumination from it?

There is, however, a startling new interpretation of the period which makes another viewing of “Shoah” necessary not as an immersion in sorrows but as a fresh experience. A few months ago, Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale, brought out a stunning book called “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” (Basic; $29.95), which chronicles not just the Holocaust but also the many mass killings perpetrated during the years 1933 to 1945 by both the Nazis and the Soviets, especially in eastern Poland, the Baltic states, and areas nominally within the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Belarus. Parts or all of this vast territory were stormed by armies and occupied no less than three times: first, by the Red Army, after the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 in effect ceded eastern Poland and the Baltic states to the Soviet Union; then, beginning in June, 1941, by the German attack on the same lands, an assault by three million men which subsequently advanced deep into the Soviet Union; and then, of course, by the Soviet counterattack and “liberation,” which expelled the Germans from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1944 and 1945. Each army was accompanied by killing units: the Nazis by S.S. death squads, German “security police,” and local thugs who were recruited, or intimidated, into doing their part; the Soviets by the secret police—the N.K.V.D.—which, in 1939 (and after), continued the mass exterminations begun on Stalin’s orders in the early thirties, when five and a half million people, most of them in Ukraine, were starved to death. In all, from 1933 to 1945, fourteen million noncombatants died in what Snyder calls the “bloodlands.”…READ MORE

Hasia Diner: On Jan. 21, University of Buffalo Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage Opens 2011 David Blitzer Lecture Series

Source: University of Buffalo News, 1-3-11

[ photograph ]Historian Hasia Diner will open the 2011 David Blitzer Lecture Series with two presentations on Jan. 21.

The 2011 David Blitzer Lecture Series presented by the University at Buffalo Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage in Jewish Studies will open on Jan. 21 and continue through April 4 with free public lectures on the UB North Campus and in Amherst’s Temple Beth Tzedek by five leading Jewish scholars, philosophers and historians.

All events in the series, both on and off campus, are free of charge and open to the public.

The series will open with presentations by American historian Hasia Diner, PhD, who is the Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University and director of the Goldstein Goren Center for American Jewish History.

Her first talk, “No Generation of Silence: Postwar American Jews and the Memory of the Holocaust,” will take place at 3 p.m. Jan. 21 in 120 Clemens Hall, UB North Campus.

Diner will address the creation of a memorial culture by American Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust and its destruction of European Jewish life. It is a culture, Diner says, that not only memorializes the 6 million who perished, but attempts to remake the world in light of this catastrophe.

At 7 p.m. that day, Diner will present the lecture, “Jewish Peddlers and the Discovery of New Worlds” at Temple Beth Tzedek, 621 Getzville Rd.

She will discuss how, from the middle of the 19th century into the first decades of the 20th century, peddling — selling goods place-to-place or door-to-door — helped many of the millions of Jews emigrating out of Europe and the Ottoman Empire to create new lives and new communities across the globe…READ MORE

National Yiddish Book Center alters focus, cuts staff

Source: JTA, 1-3-11

The National Yiddish Book Center, amid a change in focus, has laid off four employees and closed its bookstore.

As part of its strategic change from saving and restoring ancient Yiddish texts to educating people about them, the center in Amherst, Mass., made the layoffs in December, the Amherst Bulletin reported.

The cut positions include the director’s personal assistant, a major gifts officer, the bookstore manager and a designer of the center’s magazine, according to the newspaper. The center’s vice president and program director also resigned, leaving the center with 16 employees.

A rise in administrative costs was a part of the reason for the layoffs, center president Aaron Lansky told the Bulletin.

The center, in operation since 1980, has collected more than 1 million Yiddish volumes.

Journey Into Morocco’s Past through The New York Center For Jewish History

EXHIBITIONS:

Source: Morocco Board, 1-2-11

Sometimes a museum exhibit invites us to inquire further and uncover a body of knowledge that was always there, that others have studied for decades (if not centuries), and that changes the way we look at things.  The small but well-designed museum exhibit, Looking Back: The Jews of Morocco held at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, running through April 18, 2011, is one of these “inviting” museum exhibits.

Taken together with the masterful and lyrical opening night keynote address by University of Oklahoma Professor Norman A. Stillman introducing it on October 14, 2010, the exhibit is recommended for all who are interested in the subject of Jews in Morocco or the Sephardic Jewish experience in North Africa.[1] This article will give an overview of the event and add context with supplemental sources.

Integration of Jews in Morocco for Centuries

The museum provides a selective history of the Jews in Morocco from their arrival in Morocco around 586 B.C.E. (the period of the destruction of the First Temple) to the present.  A series of panels covers their experience and contributions from the earliest Jewish settlements in pre-Islamic times, through the arrival of Arab populations and thereafter, and through the era of the French protectorate (commencing in 1912) and World War II; Moroccan independence in 1956; and the mass Jewish emigration from Morocco.

A key theme of the exhibit is the integration of Jews into Moroccan society. The first panel entitled “Introduction of Moroccan Jewry” notes that “Jews settled among the Berber population [in Morocco] in the pre-Islamic period, and some Berber tribes are said to have converted to Judaism.” Another adds: “A symbiotic relationship between Berbers and Jews was rich and enduring over the centuries.  Conversant in Berber dialects, Jews dressed like Berbers, practiced saint worship like them, and participated in … [their] celebrations.”[2] According to a separate essay by Yaelle Azagury, “[i]n some regions of the Atlas Mountains, Jews lived so close to traditional Arab tribes that one could hardly tell the difference: They looked like Arabs, spoke only Arabic, and possessed a limited awareness of the modern world.”[3] To the same effect, Professor Daniel Schroeter observed in another source that in “Berber-speaking regions, Jews were usually bilingual, speaking Berber with their Muslim neighbors, and Judeo-Arabic at home.  In a few of the most isolated communities of the High Atlas, some Jewish communities spoke Berber only.”[4]READ MORE

Timothy Snyder: “Bloodlands” Named Best History Book of 2010 & Jewish Journal Review

Source: Jonathan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal, 12-31-10

Photo

Timothy Snyder‘s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin has been named best history book of 2010 by The Atlantic, The Economist, The Financial Times, History Today, The Independent, The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Seattle Times, The Telegraph, The Forward, and Reason Magazine.

I’ve been running a Polish film festival in miniature at my house with a series of war movies by Andrzej Wajda, including “A Generation,” “Kanal,” “Ashes and Diamonds” and “Katyn.”  As a Polish film historian observes on the commentary track, these are movies that only a Polish director could make — and only a Polish audience can fully appreciate — if only because the blood-soaked soil of Poland was, in a real sense, the ground zero of World War II.

That observation came to mind as I read Yale history professor Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” (Basic Books: $29.95), a brilliant, important and highly original look at a swath of territory that includes not only Poland but also Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states. As Americans, we may be stirred by heroic memories of Guadalcanal and Normandy, but in terms of sheer brutality and carnage, they cannot be compared to what happened in central and eastern Europe. And, as Snyder insists on pointing out, the tragedy was not limited to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

To be sure, the concentration camps and killing fields of the Holocaust were located in what Snyder calls the bloodlands, but he seeks to make a different and larger point.  Between 1933 and 1945, the death toll in the bloodlands reached a total of some 14 million souls.  “Yet not a single one of the fourteen million murdered was a soldier on active duty,” he writes. “Most were women, children and the aged; none were bearing weapons; many had been stripped of their possessions, including their clothes.”…READ MORE