JBuzz News July 2, 2014: Historian Jonathan Sarna leaves hospital, thanks supporters




Historian Jonathan Sarna leaves hospital, thanks supporters

Jonathan Sarna, a leading scholar of American Jewish history, has returned home from the hospital two months after collapsing at his daughter’s college graduation…READ MORE

JBuzz May 21, 2014: Historian Jonathan Sarna Hospitalized, In Critical Condition




Historian Jonathan Sarna Hospitalized, In Critical Condition

Source: The Jewish Week, 5-21-14

Sarna, 59, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, fell ill at a May 17 graduation ceremony for his daughter at Yale University….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 14, 2014: Sylvia Barack Fishman earns national Jewish studies honor




Fishman earns national Jewish studies honor

Source: Brandeis University, 4-14-14

Sylvia Barack Fishman, the chair of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department, the Joseph and Esther Foster Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life, and co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, is 2014 recipient of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry’s Marshall Sklare Award….READ MORE

JBuzz Musings January 7, 2014: Historian Jonathan Sarna elected president of the Association for Jewish Studies




Historian Jonathan Sarna elected president of the Association for Jewish Studies

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Brandeis University Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna was elected President of the Association for Jewish Studies at their annual meeting this past December as was reported by Brandeis University on Monday, Jan…READ MORE

JBuzz News November 9, 2012: Ibrahim Sundiata: Brandeis Professor and journalist reflect on complicated black-Jewish relations




Professor and journalist reflect on complicated black-Jewish relations

Source: The Brandeis Hoot, 11-9-12

Professor Ibrahim Sundiata’s new Class, “The History of Black-Jewish Relations in America,” examines two groups that have helped to define the American experience….READ MORE

JBuzz Features November 1, 2012: Leonard Saxe: Birthright Israels Effect Still Strong Years After Trip




Birthright’s Effect Still Strong Years After Trip

Source: Jewish Week, 11-1-12

Latest study, which tracks alums from six to 11 years out, finds impact on life choices and outlook

Indeed, a new report from Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies — the third in an ongoing longitudinal study comparing young American Jews who participated in the free Israel trip to those who did not — finds that six to 11 years later, the experience continues to affect life choices and outlooks.

Among the findings of the study based on interviews with almost 2,000 people, Birthright alumni — when compared to those who applied for but did not end up taking a Birthright trip between 2001-06 — are:

  • 45 percent more likely to be married to someone Jewish, whether by birth or conversion (however, only 35 percent are married so far);
  • 42 percent more likely to feel “very much” connected to Israel;
  • 23 percent more likely to view raising future children as Jews as “very important”;
  • 22 percent more likely to indicate that they are at least “somewhat confident” in explaining the current situation in Israel.

Nearly 30 percent of participants have returned to Israel on subsequent trips, with 2 percent currently living there. And 25 percent are married to other Birthright alumni, although few met their spouse on the trip itself. (Seven percent of the control group is married to Birthright alumni.)

“As the Birthright population has gotten older, as they’ve moved away from the program, the effects are as strong, or even stronger, than they were,” Leonard Saxe, the director of the Cohen Center and its Steinhardt Social Research Institute, told The Jewish Week. To be sure, this is not the first Cohen Center report touting the impact of the 13-year-old initiative, which boasts 200,000 North American alumni and whose mega-philanthropist founders — Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt — have helped finance the research…READ MORE

The study is available at Brandeis University


JBuzz Reviews April 20, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Jewish vote in elections past and present




Jewish vote in elections past and present

Source: Brandeis Hoot, 4-20-12

Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) recently published his new book “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” discussing the election of 1868 in comparison to today’s political climate.

During the election of 1868, Jewish voters faced a daunting choice. Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant was the man who had issued Order 11 on Dec. 17, 1862, expelling the Jewish people from Grant’s war zone. While it was eventually exposed that Grant issued his order for partially personal reasons related to his father, it was still viewed as a harsh act. The order was revoked on Jan. 4, 1863, upon reaching the desk of President Abraham Lincoln. It held consequences for the Jewish people both psychologically and physically, as some of them were mistreated in the process of relocating.

As Sarna argues, the election of 1868 presented a dilemma for Jewish liberals. “Domestic policies of the republicans during that time period were very much to their liking, but how could they vote for a man who had expelled Jews from his far zone, in what was the single most anti-Semitic act in the United States,” Sarna said.

Sarna describes this choice for the Jewish liberals as an internal one, a question of whether a person should “vote for a party bad for the country in order to avoid voting for a man who is bad for the Jews.”

Sarna wants to get across that Jewish liberals at this time were in turmoil, trying to measure out the “percent of yourself as an American and sense of self as a Jew” and which percent would overcome the other.

He draws a direct parallel to the 2012 elections, arguing that today, there is a “sense on the part of many Jews that Obama is not as supportive of Israel as his predecessors.” If Jewish liberals do not wish to vote for Obama because they question the strength of his support for Israel, their other choice is to vote for the Romney, whose platform goes against what many liberals believe politically.

Sarna believes that “lots of Jews in both cases will find their situation very parallel to the election of 1868.”

Like the election of 1868, Jewish voters have to consider their obligations as Americans as well as their obligations to the Jewish community. Sarna discussed whether a person can forget they are Jewish in a voting booth, or whether that is an identity that cannot be left outside the voting polls. Making connections to further back in history, Sarna even related the election of 1868 to the Federalist papers—their “concern over factions” and “putting the needs of country first regardless of group interest.”

Sarna does admit that the impact of the Jewish vote in both the election of 1868 and today may be over-exaggerated. Grant won the election of 1868, yet it may have been more because of black voters who approved of his efforts to improve their lives and grant them rights. Indeed, Sarna believes that the “power of the Jewish vote was exaggerated by four to five times,” and that people believed there were more voters than actually existed.

At the time, the media was concerned with the ramifications of Order 11, so the Jewish vote came to the forefront despite the fact that the number of Jewish voters was not as large as imagined.

Leonard Saxe: Study Jewish numbers on rise 6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates




Study: Jewish numbers on rise

6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates

Brandeis Professor Leonard Saxe has some good news for those fearing for the future of Judaism in America. The number of American Jews is actually increasing, not decreasing. A Brandeis team estimates the total US Jewish population at 6.4 million as of 2010, up from 5.7 million in 2000, and 5.5 million in 1990….READ MORE

Alex Joffe: Israel Studies 101




Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 10-3-11

The modern American research university is a house of many rooms.  The field of Israel Studies, which has emerged in the past decade, occupies one of the newest—and smallest—of those rooms.  Israel Studies programs are meant to address a serious problem and take advantage of a large opportunity on campus.  What happens to them in the coming years will tell us something significant about Israel as a topic of study and about the American university itself.

Studying Israel  Jan Jaben-EilonJerusalem Post.  The growth of interest in Israel as a field of serious academic study is not just American but worldwide.

Multicultural Israel in a Global Perspective  Association for Israel Studies.  The Association for Israel Studies, in existence since 1985, plans its 2012 conference in Haifa.

Follow the Money  Alex JoffeJewish Ideas Daily.  Between 1995 and 2008, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and about $88 million in gifts to American universities. What has their money purchased?

Jewish Studies in Decline?  Alex JoffeJewish Ideas Daily.  Retiring faculty are not replaced, less research money is allocated, and fewer students enter the field. Is there a future for the academic study of Judaism?

In American universities over the past 150 years and more, academic programs and departments have come and gone.  One reason is that increasing specialization is, to some extent, intrinsic to the pursuit of knowledge.  Departments such as physics and chemistry broke off from one another as their disciplines grew too large and complex to be confined within a single intellectual and administrative space.  There have been fractures in disciplines like anthropology, where scholars of culture and scholars of biology discovered that they could no longer bear one another.

More recently, specialization has also been fueled by demands, from the subjects of study themselves, for inclusion on the academic menu.  Since the 1960’s, we have seen a proliferation of ethnic and gender studies programs meant to bring the narratives of ignored or excluded groups into the larger discussion.  Jews and Jewish Studies programs in American universities have been among the leaders of this drive for inclusion through separation.

At their best, such efforts have created true and valuable diversity—in the sense of new streams of thought—within American universities.  They have also created walled-off compartments in which faculty can preach to choirs of student disciples (or simply to themselves) and the politicians among them can clamor for more resources, often by claiming past or present discrimination.  Unlike Jewish Studies programs, which are largely funded by Jewish donors, most ethnic and gender studies programs are paid for by the host universities themselves.  Such programs can perhaps best be characterized as having produced some scholarship and much politicking.

Israel Studies programs have a different provenance.  After World War II, U.S. universities saw the rise of “area studies,” in which scholars crossed the boundaries of disciplines like history, economics, and political science in pursuit of ‘useful knowledge’ about a geographic region or cultural area.  Middle Eastern Studies departments emerged as part of this trend.  They are long awash in funds from, among other donors, Arab governments.  Predictably, these departments have been dominated by scholars of the Arab and Muslim worlds.  As their subjects have increasingly become the focus of world conflict, these scholars have—perhaps inevitably, in light of the current university climate—become advocates…. READ MORE

Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.


Ellen Smith Named Director of Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program



Source: Brandeis Now, 7-21-11

Ellen SmithPhoto/Mike Lovett

Ellen Smith has been named director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.

Smith has been an associate professor at Hornstein, as well as an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Near East and Judaic Studies. She also co-directs advanced training programs at Brandeis for Jewish professionals and organizations.

Hornstein offers four graduate-level dual-degree programs.

“Hornstein is the only location that is able to integrate these degrees, that is also a leader in non-profit and social justice management,” Smith said.

She begins her post as director on July 1. Joseph H. and Belle R. Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna, with whom she’s collaborated on various projects for the past 20 years and who is a past director, has been named chair of the program.

“We’re excited to be working together again,” Smith says. “We’re a very happy team.”

Smith is also a principal of Museumsmith, a firm specializing in museum exhibitions and historic site interpretations throughout the nation. She is a former of the American Jewish Historical Society and the National Museum of American Jewish History. Trained as both an academic historian and a museum curator, Smith has published more than three-dozen books, articles and catalogs including “The Jews of Boston, which she co-edited with Sarna.

A popular speaker locally and throughout the country, Smith sits on numerous academic and civic advisory boards, and is past president of Boston’s Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center.

“Her dedication to the Hornstein program ensures both a smooth transition and strong leadership ahead,” Sarna says.