JBuzz News August 21, 2014: NYU Calls Off Fall Study Programs In Israel Over Security Concerns

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NYU Calls Off Fall Study Programs In Israel Over Security Concerns

Source: CBS Local, 8-21-14

Other U.S. Colleges Pull Students From Area; Some Say Schools Overreacting….READ MORE

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

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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

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

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

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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.

JBuzz News March 15, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Barach College Jewish Studies Center Presents ‘General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews’

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Jewish Studies Center Presents ‘General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews’ with Jonathan Sarna

Source:  EON: Enhanced Online News, 3-15-12

On March 21, 2012, The Jewish Studies Center at Baruch presents a talk entitled “General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews” with featured speaker Dr. Jonathan Sarna. The event is scheduled at 1 p.m. in Engelman Recital Hall, located on the first floor of the Newman Vertical Campus, 55 Lexington Avenue.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

“the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

Dr. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s 50 most influential American Jews, he was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community, and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life. Dr. Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than twenty books, including the Jews and the Civil War: A Reader and A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew. He is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been praised as being “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

The discussion is co-sponsored by Baruch’s Alumni Relations Office and the Office of College Advancement. For more information, contact Jessica Lang, Director of the Jewish Studies Center, at (646) 312-3975 or jessica.lang@baruch.cuny.edu.

JBuzz Op-eds February 28, 2012: Jonathan D. Sarna: General Ulysses S. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

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Jonathan D. Sarna: Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

Source: NY Jewish Week, 2-28-12

Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses S. Grant.

The surprising tale of how he turned into ‘America’s Haman.’

Purim serves as an appropriate moment to recall a man known for a time as “America’s Haman.” That Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s story ended very differently than the story of Haman in the Book of Esther reminds us how America itself is different, and how often it has surprised Jews for the better.

On Dec. 17, 1862, as the Civil War entered its second winter, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued the most Haman-like order in American history: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” Known as General Orders No. 11, the document blamed “Jews, as a class” for the widespread smuggling and cotton speculation that affected the area under Grant’s command. It required them to leave a vast war zone stretching from northern Mississippi to Cairo, Ill., and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.

Less than 72 hours after the order was issued, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs, Miss., were raided, knocking out rail and telegraph lines and disrupting lines of communication for weeks. As a result, news of General Orders No. 11 spread slowly, and did not reach company commanders and army headquarters in Washington in a timely fashion. Many Jews who might otherwise have been banished were spared.

A copy of General Orders No. 11 finally reached Paducah, Ky. — a city occupied by Grant’s forces — 11 days after it was issued. Cesar Kaskel, a staunch union supporter, as well as all the other known Jews in the city, were handed papers ordering them “to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.

Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw that telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on contemporaries. Some Jewish leaders feared that Jews would replace blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority.

Kaskel decided to appeal to Abraham Lincoln in person. Paul Revere-like, he sped down to Washington, spreading news of General Orders No. 11 wherever he went. With help from a friendly congressman, he obtained an immediate interview with the president, who turned out to have no knowledge whatsoever of the order, for it had not reached Washington. According to an oft-quoted report, he resorted to biblical imagery in his interview with Kaskel, a reminder of how many 19th-century Americans linked Jews to Ancient Israel, and America to the Promised Land:

“And so,” Lincoln is said to have drawled, “the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”

“Yes,” Kaskel responded, “and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”

“And this protection,” Lincoln declared “they shall have at once.”

General-in-Chief of the Army Henry Halleck, ordered by Lincoln to countermand General Orders No. 11, chose his words carefully.  “If such an order has been issued,” his telegram read, “it will be immediately revoked.”

In a follow-up meeting with Jewish leaders, Lincoln reaffirmed that he knew “of no distinction between Jew and Gentile. To condemn a class,” he emphatically declared, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”…READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews

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“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12

WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95

 

Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”

 

Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

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Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

There’s been no national census of Jews since 2001 and none is planned for the indefinite future.

Source: WSJ, 12-2-11

Do we need a new nationwide count of America’s Jews?

It has been 10 years since anyone conducted a census of American Jewry—and no major organization has plans to conduct another one soon. (The official U.S. Census can’t ask questions about religion.) This means that the Jewish community may indefinitely lack the kind of data required for communal planning—how many Jews there are, where they live, whom they are marrying, what Jewish religious movements they adhere to and so forth.

Gathering such data is no easy task. Whereas many Christian churches calculate membership as the sum of all those they have baptized or who have made public declarations of their faith, Jews see themselves as a people embracing religious and nonreligious members alike. Thus life-cycle ceremonies and synagogue membership are insufficient proxies for membership in the Jewish community.

When the United Jewish Communities (now known as the Jewish Federations of North America) surveyed the nation in 2001, the organization pegged the Jewish population at 5.2 million. But the $6 million effort was fraught with problems: Data were lost, the response rate was low, the design was controversial, and the results contradicted those of other studies. One prominent researcher, the late Gary Tobin, characterized the survey as “utter nonsense,” while some others charged its organizers with manipulating population and intermarriage figures in order to raise more money….READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna: In their 40s and 50s, embarking on second careers as rabbis

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Source: JTA, 7-28-11

Various factors are propelling these individuals into the rabbinate. Some long had harbored dreams of becoming a rabbi but wound up pursuing other careers for personal or financial reasons. Others became interested in the rabbinate later in life, prompted in some cases by something specific.

Not all the new rabbis are pursuing congregational jobs. More professional options exist now for rabbinical school graduates, including in the chaplaincy, education and Jewish communal work.

Pursuing the rabbinate as a second career is not a new story in American Jewish life, but it’s more common for those in their mid- to late 20s or early 30s after working for some time in professions such as law or medicine, said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and the chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Sarna said it is unusual for those in their 40s, 50s or 60s to go for the rabbinate, and that it’s more common for older second-career clergy members among Christian denominations.

After the tragedy of 9/11, there was a sudden increase in the number of older rabbinical students, Sarna noted — those who were moved to pursue more meaningful careers….READ MORE

Ellen Smith Named Director of Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program

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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.

Jonathan Sarna and Jay Ruderman: Op-Ed: Education is key in a changing U.S. Jews-Israel relationship

Source: JTA, 4-4-11

The relationship between American and Israeli Jews is changing. For most of Israel’s history, the American Jewish community was larger, wealthier and more powerful than its “poor cousin” in the Middle East, but now the differences between the two communities have greatly narrowed. More Jews are living in Greater Tel Aviv than in Greater New York, and Israel, like the United States, is one of the world’s most developed nations.

In addition, funds from Israel now strengthen the American Jewish community through programs like Taglit-Birthright Israel. Charitable funds no longer flow exclusively in the other direction.

The political relationship between the two communities is likewise changing. Gone are the days when major American Jewish organizations, and the bulk of their members, took their cue from the government of Israel and supported its policies reflexively. Thanks to the Internet, American Jews now hear a full range of voices from Israel. As a result, the spectrum of American Jewish opinion concerning Israel increasingly mirrors the spectrum of opinion within Israel itself.

Given these and other changes, the relationship between the world’s two major Jewish communities is in need of recalibration. To this end, much attention has been paid over the past few years to improving American Jews’ understanding of Israel. In 2008-09, according to a recent Brandeis University study, some 548 courses on campuses across the United States focused on Israel, seeking to improve students’ knowledge of the subject. Centers for Israel studies on American campuses also have proliferated.

By contrast, Israelis learn almost nothing about American Jewry. Not one significant academic center for the study of American Jewish life exists in the State of Israel, and university-based courses on the American Jewish community are few and far between. At the high school level, the study of American Jewish life is equally neglected.

As a result, the understanding of American Jewish life on the part of Israelis is quite limited. They know next to nothing about the deepest issues upon which Israelis and American Jews agree and disagree. They cannot comprehend what church-state separation means and how pluralism operates in the American context. Many fail to understand their American cousins at all.

All Israelis, political leaders in particular, would benefit from knowing more about American Jewish life. The more American Jews and Israelis learn about one another, the better their future relationship will be.

Israelis, including members of Knesset, too often only look inward at Israeli society when legislating and voting on matters that ultimately impact upon American Jewry. Even if their first responsibility is to the citizens they represent and the sovereign state they serve, they would do well to consider how the American Jewish community, too, is affected by their choices.

If every measure considered by the Knesset carried a “Diaspora impact statement” (analogous to our environmental impact statements), consciousness of how Israel’s actions impact upon world Jewry would be heightened.

Six Israeli Knesset members are visiting Boston and New York as part of a program organized by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Foundation to help Israeli leaders gain new perspectives on American Jewish life and on the changing relationship between their country and the American Jewish community. They are meeting with religious figures, community leaders and private citizens.

By learning more about the American Jewish community, we hope they will come to better appreciate how their actions — such as Knesset efforts to legally define Jewishness for the purposes of marriage or aliyah, Israel’s military actions and how the Foreign Ministry reacts to democratic uprisings in the Arab world — impact upon American Jews and Jews worldwide.

Educating Israel’s political leaders about the American Jewish community should be the start of a larger effort aimed at teaching Israelis as much about American Jews as the latter learn about them.

A new day is dawning in the relationship between American Jews and Israel. The image of wealthy American Jews providing charity to their struggling Israeli cousins is fading fast. More than ever, each community now needs to understand how its interests are bound up with that of the other.

Just as American Jews are becoming better educated about Israel, the time has come for Israelis to learn more about the American Jewish community and their inextricable relationship to it.

(Jonathan Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which has offices in Boston and Rehovot, Israel.)

Jonathan D. Sarna: What the Civil War meant for American Jews, then and now

Source: The Forward, The Jewish Chronicle, 3-10-11

WALTHAM, Mass. — The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is upon us. April 12 is the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the war’s opening shot. From then, through the sesquicentennial anniversary on April 9, 2015 of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and five days later of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, every major event in the “ordeal of the union” seems likely to be recounted, re-enacted, re-analyzed and, likely as not, verbally re-fought.

The American Jewish community, meanwhile, has expressed little interest in these commemorations. A few books, a play, a film and a forthcoming scholarly conference form the totality of the Jewish contribution to the sesquicentennial. When I suggested a talk on the Civil War and the Jews in one setting, the organizers questioned the relevance of the topic. Only a small minority of Jews, they observed, boast ancestors who participated in the Civil War. By the time most Jewish immigrants to America arrived, the war was but a distant memory.

Fifty years ago, for the Civil War centennial, the level of interest within the Jewish community seemed noticeably higher. New York’s Jewish Museum mounted a grand exhibit titled “The American Jew in the Civil War.” Fully 260 photographs, documents and objects appeared in the multi-gallery show. It was the largest display of Jewish Civil War memorabilia ever assembled….READ MORE: The Jewish Chronicle – What the Civil War meant for American Jews then and now

Jonathan Sarna: Science of Judaism Texts Lost in War Are Surfacing in New York

Source: NYT, 3-7-11

 

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Lotte Strauss’s husband, Herbert, owned one of the books in the collection on the Science of Judaism.

In 1932, as the Nazis rose to power in Germany, a Jewish librarian in Frankfurt published a catalog of 15,000 books he had painstakingly collected for decades.

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Renate Evers, head librarian of the Leo Baeck Institute, where titles were found.

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Some of the titles missing from the University Library Frankfurt that were discovered at the Leo Baeck Institute.

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The German identification card of Herbert A. Strauss, who had a Science of Judaism book in his collection.

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

A mid-20th-century map of central Europe that was found among papers in New York.

It listed the key texts of a groundbreaking field called the Science of Judaism, in which scholars analyzed the religion’s philosophy and culture as they would study those of ancient Greece or Rome. The school of thought became the foundation for modern Jewish studies around the world.

In the tumult of war, great chunks of the collection vanished. Now, librarians an ocean away have determined that most of the missing titles have been sitting for years on the crowded shelves of the Leo Baeck Institute, a Manhattan center dedicated to preserving German Jewish culture.

The story of how the hundreds of tattered, cloth-bound books with esoteric German titles ended up in New York includes impossible escapes, careful scholarship and some very heavy suitcases. And while the exact trails of many of the volumes remain murky, they wind through book-lined apartments on the Upper West Side, across a 97-year-old woman’s cluttered coffee table and into a library’s cavernous stacks.

For Jewish scholars, the collection of Science of Judaism texts (in German, Wissenschaft des Judentums) is a touchstone marking the emergence of Jewish tradition as a philosophy and culture worthy of academic study.

“We’re all heirs to the legacy of Wissenschaft,” said Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

The University Library Frankfurt still houses the bulk of the collection, but experts there have determined over several decades that they were missing some 2,000 books listed in the 1932 catalog. In the last two years, a team led by Renate Evers, head librarian at the Leo Baeck Institute, found that her shelves had more than 1,000 of the lost titles….READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna: The Jewish ‘Library of Congress’ Bounces Back From Debt, Then Advances Campaign

The Jewish ‘Library of Congress’ Bounces Back From Debt, Then Advances Campaign

Source: The Forward, 2-2-11 — 2-11-11

Facing a looming deadline to pay off $30 million in tax-exempt bonds, the Center for Jewish History has raised every dollar needed to settle its outstanding debt, the organization’s leadership announced on January 24. It is no small accomplishment for any not-for-profit in the current economic climate, particularly for one that, in recent years, has dealt with management woes and struggled to avoid a merger.

“We feel secure that we’ve gotten our message out to a substantial number of people,” Bruce Slovin, the center’s founder and chairman, said in an interview. “We’re going to embark on new projects and can work on the substance of the center.”

The center is a consortium of five organizations: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Its campus, near Manhattan’s Union Square, opened in 2000.

With 150,000 square feet of on-site archive space, and another 10,000 square feet off-site, some 100 million individual documents and artifacts, and 500,000 volumes in its library, the center, which bills itself as the Jewish version of the Library of Congress, is the largest Jewish historical collection outside Israel.

But it has also had vocal critics, including the prominent American Jewish historian and Forward columnist Jonathan Sarna. Yet, Sarna said that the success of the center’s fundraising campaign has changed his perspective.

For many years, Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and a member of the AJHS’s academic council, argued that building the institution was a mistake. “The money, I said then, should have gone into scanning the documents [owned by the respective consortium members] rather than creating bricks and mortar as a memorial to the donors,” he said. “Now that it’s financially viable, it’s perfectly clear that it has found a place. One goes there and sees a variety of scholars and interested New Yorkers doing research.”

Sarna called the center “unquestionably the most important Jewish archive in the country and one of the most important in the world.”

Before raising the $30 million, which took 15 months, the center faced a debilitating financial burden. Terms for renewing its letter of credit were poor, and paying the required principal and interest on the existing credit line necessitated taking $1.5 million from its endowment each year. All this interfered with the center’s ability to raise operating funds — funds that otherwise might go toward creating new public programs and making archival materials available online….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

Jonathan Sarna, Mark Raider: Small-City Congregations Try to Preserve Rituals of Jewish Life

Roger Ackerman, 78, prodded his aging congregation at Temple Sinai in Sumter, S.C., to create a living will that includes a maintenance plan for its cemetery.

Source:  NYT, 12-1-10

…According to Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, most Jews in the United States have migrated from small communities to large cities: he estimates that 85 percent of the country’s 5.2 million Jews live in 20 metropolitan areas, primarily on the East and West Coasts and in Sun Belt states.

Mr. Sarna estimates there are 150 to 200 communities across the country that could benefit from the project’s help.

The process of dismantling a community, experts say, is fraught with potential tensions involving both purse and heartstrings. Mark A. Raider, a professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Cincinnati, cited disagreements over disposition of material assets.

“Where there’s money, real estate and other significant resources, there tends to be differing and often opposing views about who should control it,” Dr. Raider said.

Rabbi Mychal Springer, director of the Center for Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says the project will have to deal with “extraordinary sensitivity on the part of all people involved.”

“When a community is shutting its doors and making decisions about what should be,” Rabbi Springer said, “some people let go sooner and others hold on longer. There can be a lot of angst, disagreement and regret….READ MORE

Professor Jonathan Sarna on the impact of the recession on Jewish communities

Source: JPR News Release, 7-7-09

Jonathan D Sarna*, Professor of American Jewish History and Director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, Mass, USA, delivered the JPR William Frankel Memorial Lecture in July in the auditorium of Berwin Leighton Paisner, in association with the Jewish Chronicle. The lecture was chaired by Harold Paisner, Chairman of JPR.

Professor Sarna gave a stark warning that over the coming year, the Jewish community would have to make difficult decisions concerning ‘who will live and who will die’ in Jewish communal life. He predicted that organizations that were weak or undercapitalized before the recession were the least likely to survive.

He highlighted five trends to watch out for:

1. He observed that some Jewish organizations in the United States either have, or are close to being merged into non-Jewish organizations. He said that today Jews seemed confident — maybe too confident — that deals could be made with secular non-Jewish or even avowedly Christian organizations, without Jewish identity being lost.

2. Efforts to re-engage small donors. Historically, large, wealthy donors have always dominated Jewish philanthropy. Today they are cutting back, but new technologies have made it easier to re-engage small donors cheaply.

3. Calls for higher standards of ethics and greater transparency in Jewish philanthropy. Madoff losses, investment losses and nationwide dissatisfaction with high executive salaries and perks are affecting the nonprofit world. Donors, and in some cases governments are demanding more financial openness, greater disclosure of conflicts of interest, and less reliance on the wisdom of a small, wealthy clique. He predicted that Jewish non-profit organizations would be stronger in the years ahead, if these reforms were instituted.

4. A new focus on ‘sweat equity’. Young, creative, technologically savvy Jews will give time to causes that inspire them. The goal is for them to make a difference and, also, as a side benefit, to socialize.

5. Both demographic decline and greater aliyah as jobs disappear in the diaspora. Demographic decline frequently accompanies prolonged downturns: people simply do not feel secure enough to have children.  Professor Sarna warned that this will have a ripple effect on Jewish education and communal life. And with unemployment for young people at the highest levels in decades, it was no surprise that Jews were turning to aliyah, especially the Orthodox.

He explained that these changes underscore one of the great demographic transformations in contemporary Jewish life:  Israel is overtaking the United States as the largest Jewish community in the world. Indeed, while Israel’s demographic rise marks the ultimate triumph of Zionism, for the rest of the world, however, this development will demand adjustments in communal thinking and the flow of money and power.

Professor Sarna predicted that when the economy recovers, we will know much more about the changes that the ‘Great Recession’ has wrought, but it was still far too early to take their full measure now.

In the meantime, he posed two crucial questions about the future:

First, will the years ahead be marked by assimilation or revitalization? It was easy to make the case both ways. For example, one week we hear that intermarriage is going through the roof, and the next that, in some communities new Jewish day schools are bursting at the seams. So which will predominate – assimilation or revitalization?  The truth is, he said, that nobody knows the answer.  It would be determined day by day, community by community, Jew by Jew.

The second question is whether the Jewish community will be able to identify a mission compelling enough for young Jews to become passionate about and rally around? The great causes that once energized contemporary Jewry – immigrant absorption, saving European, Soviet, Arab and Ethiopian Jewry, creating and sustaining a Jewish state–have now been successfully completed. Today, for the first time in memory, no large community of persecuted Jews exists anywhere in the diaspora.   Nor will 21st century young western Jews gain the kind of meaning from helping Israel, keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust and fighting antisemitism that their parents did.

In the meantime there is no shortage of secular and universal causes that attract young Jews, as well as social justice organizations directed at Jews. Jews are also embracing programmes to promote conservation, environmentalism, and the like.  These are significant causes, with a sound basis in our tradition, Professor Sarna said, but they are not, ultimately, Jewish causes, in the way that Zionism and the Soviet Jewry movement were. He concluded that Diaspora Jews are the poorer for not having a well-defined, elevating mission to inspire us.  Once the economic downturn is behind us, he called for the goal of formulating a new and compelling mission for our Jewish community to be high on our collective agenda.

*Professor Sarna is a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life, and the author of many books, including the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. He is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Director of its Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program.

Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s fifty most influential American Jews, he was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community, and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life.

http://www.brandeis.edu/departments/nejs/faculty/sarna.html

Jonathan Sarna: Jewish agencies forced to downsize

Madoff, economy have big impact

Source: Boston Globe, 5-22-09

Jewish organizations in Boston and beyond are going through a significant downsizing as a result of a combination of the down economy and the Madoff scandal. Combined Jewish Philanthropies, an umbrella organization that helps finance several hundred local Jewish groups, gave preliminary approval yesterday to a 15 percent cut in the amount it will distribute next year. The organization had already cut its budget by 15 percent, laid off about 10 percent of its workforce, and imposed a 7 percent pay cut on senior managers and a one-week furlough for everyone making over $45,000.

The Reform Jewish movement plans to close its regional office in Needham next week. The Bureau of Jewish Education, in Newton, is debating whether to close after Combined Jewish Philanthropies cut 80 percent of its funding. Multiple organizations, from the Anti-Defamation League to Hebrew College to Facing History and Ourselves, have laid off small numbers of workers, and many others have trimmed salaries, benefits, or programs.

“The American Jewish community has probably lost 30 percent of its wealth, and we have no idea how to cut the costs of the Jewish community by 30 percent,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

Sarna said that across the nation, there are unusual signs of the impact: In addition to widespread cutbacks, a few Jewish organizations are merging with non-Jewish organizations, and some Jewish community centers are closing.

“It’s a very tough time, and we’re at the stage now where everybody is defending their turf,” he said.

Opinions differ about whether the Jewish community, which has over the last decades established and funded an extraordinarily diverse network of schools, synagogues, and community organizations, is going through a major shakeout or a temporary belt-tightening….