Hannah A. Quint Lectureship in Jewish Studies

Sunday, April 14, 2013

1:00 p.m. - 6 p.m., McCardell Bicentennial Hall 216

The Hannah A. Quint Lectureship in Jewish Studies

25th Anniversary Symposium:

“The Jews in America: Past and Future”

In the spring of 1988 the late Arthur Hertzberg delivered the inaugural Hannah A. Quint Lecture in Jewish Studies, on the topic “Jewish and Arab Nationalism: A Battle of Two Rights.”  Now, to celebrate the 25thanniversary of the establishment of the Quint Lecture, we are holding a symposium that focuses on the situation of American Jewry, taking stock of the last half century or more, and inquiring into the future, highlighting three essential factors in Jewish life: the status of Jews as a minority, the changing relationship of American Jews to Israel, and the role of gender and family in the transformation of Jewish culture.

(The public is welcome. There is no charge for admission.)  


At a Glance (scroll down for detailed program)

1 p.m.        Session One

Professor Riv-Ellen Prell, (University of Minnesota):  “Women, Men and Families:  the Axes of Jewish Cultural Change”

Professor Ted Sasson, (Middlebury College/Brandeis University): “American Jews’ Changing Relationship to Israel”


3:30 p.m.        Session Two

Professor Stephen Whitfield (Brandeis University): “The Place of Jews in American Society”

Rabbi Michael G. Holzman (Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation): “The 'Joining' Paradigm and the Future of Communal Life”

5:15 p.m.  Plenary Discussion: The Jewish Future in America


Detailed Program:

Hannah A. Quint Lectureship in Jewish Studies

The 25th Anniversary Symposium   

1 p.m.        Session One


Riv Ellen Prell (University of Minnesota)

“Women, Men, and Families: The Axes of Jewish Cultural Change”

Many of the key debates about Jewish life in America have focused not simply on Jews but as Jewish men and women.  Religious life, no less than Jewish cultural life, has taken shape around embracing and resisting the larger society’s attitudes and values related to gender.  The 21st century presents variations on these themes, but offers new challenges as well.  New ways of formulating gender and sexuality, as well as families raise important questions for Jewish culture in the century.  Jewish life has been built on boundaries between Jews and non-Jews and between men and women.  Those boundaries are far more porous than previously in American life and suggest that we are entering a period of remarkable change.


Ted Sasson (Middlebury College/Brandeis University)

"American Jews' Changing Relationship to Israel"

Although social scientists and journalists have described American Jews as “distancing” from Israel, the empirical evidence suggests the opposite: Across multiple fields, including advocacy, philanthropy, and educational tourism, American Jews have stepped-up their level of engagement with Israel, and they remain as emotionally attached to the Jewish state as they have been at any point during the last quarter century. Nonetheless, American Jews’ relationship to Israel is changing. The organizational frameworks established during the middle decades of the twentieth century to ensure unified lobbying and fundraising have weakened. Today, American Jews are more likely to advocate politically on behalf of partisan policy positions and target their Israel-bound donations to causes they care about personally. They are also more likely to connect to Israel directly, through travel and consumption of Israeli news and entertainment, and to express diverse views on contentious policy issues. With these changes, they are increasingly behaving like other contemporary diaspora communities—they are becoming a normal diaspora. As a result, American Jews may find Israel more personally meaningful even as their disagreements over Israeli policy issues continue to divide the community.

2:30           Q & A


ca. 3 p.m.        Intermission – Refreshments


3:30 p.m.  Session Two

Stephen Whitfield (Brandeis University)

“The Place of Jews in American Society”

How have Jews in America been defined and categorized in the last seven decades or so?  How have Jews regarded themselves, and how have they sought to situate themselves within a society that at mid-century deemed difference divisive but has since come to appreciate diversity as a source of national strength?  The period that began with the Second World War follows two distinct paradigms. The first lasted until roughly the end of the 1960s; the second fully emerged in the 1980s, and remains in force today.  Both paradigms were expressions of acculturation, efforts to secure the equal place and the status of Jews in these United States.

By the 1940s, the centrality of race to the rise of Nazism had inspired the view that Jews were defined primarily as objects of hostility, as targets of anti-Semitism.  For at least two decades in American social science and popular culture anti-Semitism would come to be seen as inter-changeable with other forms of bigotry.  If prejudice was unitary and fungible, the minorities under assault were therefore assumed to be basically indistinguishable from one another.  The particularities of their own histories and their own cultures were minimized.  But the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the subsequent emergence of racial and ethnic pride, made untenable and incoherent that view of Jewish destiny.  Two events in Israel--the Eichmann trial in 1961 and the Six-Day War in 1967--enhanced awareness of Jewish particularism, which then needed, in the U. S., to be slotted into a multiculturalist paradigm It was color-coded in the sense that Jews were incorporated into a racial and ethnic kaleidoscope that has become both a civic ideal and an observable reality.  But the new paradigm poses the same challenge as does the model that multiculturalism has replaced: can the place of this particular minority in American society be compatible with a sense of Jewish distinctiveness and peoplehood, with an appreciation of the singularity of Jewish destiny?


Rabbi Michael G. Holzman (Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation)

“The 'Joining' Paradigm and the Future of Communal Life”

Before the Emancipation of the Jews of Europe in the late 18th and 19th century, Jewish community was enforced from without; religious authorities had the power to determine markers of Jewish identity.  Kashrut, Shabbat and holiday observance, apparel, and even marital behavior were regulated because individuals were by definition forced into a community.  Identity was not an issue.  It was not even a question.  One was a Jew because one was within the ghetto walls.  Emancipation reversed this paradigm. 

“Joining” eventually became a deliberate choice by an individual.  Earlier generations never questioned this decision or even really saw it as a choice, as they say, “Joining a synagogue is just what a Jew does.”  For them joining was a statement of public Jewish identity and synagogues responded by attaching their primary source of revenue, dues, to the act of joining.   But this kind of unquestioning affiliation no longer works.  Joining today is less of a choice and more of an option, or even part of a hobby.  Simultaneously, younger generations of Jews have been raised in an internet milieu of free initial services followed by a graduated “premium” model of consumerism.  While certain utilitarian purposes (chiefly pre-school and life cycle events) provide entry points to Jewish life, the act of joining a community for the sake of  increasing Jewish learning and practice is questionable. And in a context of extreme cynicism towards institutions, this act is objectionable.  All of this, along with the financial requirements of joining, have transformed joining from an unquestioned assumption to a deliberate choice, to an optional hobby.  “Joining” has now become the chief obstacle to increasing Jewish knowledge and practice.  Asking Jews to officially “join” a community actually pushes them away.   For those already within the synagogue community, the “joining” model creates a fee-for-service atmosphere, a defensive posture for the family, and an assumption of future departure.  Success in synagogue life now comes in reverse.  Successful models like Chabad, Moishe House, the Riverway Project in Boston, even Birthright show that the community must now join the individual.  We do constant outreach through embracing hospitality techniques of welcoming, holding synagogue programming off site, masking the boundary of affiliation, and even providing financial incentives to participation.  In an era when the act of joining is itself in question, we must ask, "What is Jewish community?" 

4:45 p.m.  Q & A


5:15 p.m.  Plenary Discussion with Speakers: The Jewish Future in America


Program in Jewish Studies

Munroe Hall 
427 College St.
Middlebury College

MiddleburyVT 05753