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One Day University: Jewish History

November 18, 2012 9:30 AM – 1:00 PM

Professors and classes for A Day of Jewish History


9:30am - 10:30am

What is Jewish Art?

This question begins with multiple questions. What defines “Jewish”—conceptually and historically? What defines art over the millennia? How are “Jewish” and “art” affected by juxtaposition and how is that affected by interpretations of the Second Commandment. Do we base our discussion on art (its subject? symbols? style? purpose?) or artist (birth? conversion? convictions? intentions?)?

Embedded in the broad questions are those particular to recent history. How does Israeli art fit into the inquiry that began decades before Israel existed? How does “Holocaust art” fit into it: from works of those who perished to those of artists born after the debacle? The increasing urge to address questions without answers—visually, musically, and otherwise—continues to transform Judaism’s dynamic tension between conserving and reshaping traditions of Jewish life from yesterday to today.

Ori Soltes teaches theology, philosophy, and art history at Georgetown University. His dynamic teaching, lecturing, curating and writing reflect a broad series of interests and a unique ability to combine them in unusual ways that are thought-provoking and both challenging and intellectually exciting. Dr. Soltes has lectured at dozens of museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. For seven years, Dr. Soltes was Director and Chief Curator of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, where he created over 80 exhibitions.

10:45am - 11:45am


Explaining Hitler: What We Know Now That We Didn't Know Then

This lecture will look at Hitler the Man, and the Nazi State, to try to make sense of this bizarre and terrible figure. Adolf Hitler never had a friend, had a strange and unusual personal life, and ate only vegetables in a German culture addicted to meat. He kept himself spotlessly clean and tidy at all times. Yet this strange "alien" exercised an incredible power over his followers. What gave Hitler his peculiar power? Why did Germany obey him? What made him so destructive? These questions continue to trouble and disturb the world.

Jonathan Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History and former Chair of the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. . Dr. Steinberg’s teaching covers modern Europe since 1789 with specialization in the German and Austrian Empires, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and modern Jewish history. He has also taught graduate seminars in historical thought and method and recently has taught economic thought from Adam Smith to Karl Marx. His most recent book was the bestseller Bismarck: A Life reviewed by Henry Kissinger on the front page of the New York Times Book Review

12:00pm - 1:00pm

When Harlem Was Jewish

Historically Jewish neighborhoods in New York usually call to mind crunchy pickles on the Lower East Side and Hasidic butcher shops in Brooklyn. One neighborhood that doesn't often get evoked--but probably should--is Harlem.

In the early 20th century, the Manhattan neighborhood above 110th Street, with tenement housing that was affordable and plentiful, was a hotbed for Jewish immigrants. It was far enough from the bustle of mainstream Manhattan to feel like a family-centered neighborhood, but still close enough so that day-jobbers could catch a single subway to work. With more room than the cramped, single-room Lower East Side flats, Harlem was an ideal place to raise a family. The neighborhood was replete with synagogues, Jewish schools, and kosher stores.

During WWI, Harlem's overcrowding reached its peak. Soon after, in the early 1920s, Jews moved on to the greener pastures of Brooklyn and New Jersey. Meanwhile, the cultural movement of the Harlem Renaissance was occurring among the neighborhood’s growing African-American community--an explosion of new musical styles, literature, and film, effectively rewriting the neighborhood's identity. Today, Jewish Harlem remains one more long-forgotten story in a city that's full of them.

Jeffrey Gurock is the Libby M. Klaperman professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. He has been a visiting professor of American Jewish History at Harvard,Yale, The College of Williamk and Mary, and The College of Charleston. His most recent book is Jews in Gotham: New York Jews in a Changing City

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