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Kristallnacht Remembrance Featured in the Daily Campus

On Wednesday, November 8, the Center for Judaic Studies hosted a film screening of Denial in remembrance of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Guest speaker and Kristallnacht survivor Hans Laufer  provided remarks and answered questions prior to the screening, which was part of an institution-wide day of reflection and conversation on the theme, "Together: Confronting Racism."

Students in the audience were moved by the relaying of Mr. Laufer's experiences during the Holocaust and his immigration to the United States as well as by the film that followed, which told the true story of Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt’s fight against Holocaust denier David Irving over his falsification of history. 

For more, read The Daily Campus article featuring the event. 

11-8-17 Denial screening Hans Laufer photo credit Ryan Murace The Daily Campus
Hans Laufer speaking prior to the screening of Denial. Photo credit: Ryan Murace/The Daily Campus

Academic Convocation on the Holocaust: Time Capsules in the Rubble

Convocation on the Holocaust, April 24, 2017. Photo credit: Akshara Thejaswi, The Daily Campus

On Monday, April 24, the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, the Human Rights Institute, and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center sponsored the Fierberg Lecture in Judaic Studies annual Academic Convocation on the Holocaust with guest speaker Professor Samuel Kassow, history professor at Trinity College.

Professor Kassow presented on a secret archive of materials collected and hidden by prisoners in the Warsaw Ghetto. All but three members of the group, Oyneg Shabes, led by historian Dr. Ringelblum perished. The collected documents and writings they produced recording Jewish life in Poland before and during the war bore witness to the Holocaust, and the archive now serves as the cultural legacy of Polish Jewry.

For more, read The Daily Campus article featuring the event. 

Daily Campus Describes “The Forbidden Conversation” as Artful and Moving

Gili Getz at UConn April 4 2017 photo credit Owen BonaventuraThe Daily Campus
Gili Getz performing at UConn April 4, 2017. Photo credit: Owen Bonaventura, The Daily Campus

On Tuesday, April 4, the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life and UConn’s Middle East Studies Program sponsored a performance by Gili Getz entitled The Forbidden Conversation. The autobiographical one-man play depicted the actor’s life in Israel and was followed by a presentation on how open conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be conducted constructively despite disagreements in the Jewish community. Read the Daily Campus article featuring the event which describes the performance as artful and moving. 


FleytMuzik Presents Spellbinding Concert

On March 23, 2017, klezmer ensemble FleytMuzik performed "Farewell to the Homeland: Polyn" at Charter Oak Cultural Center as part of a joint programming effort with the UConn Center for Judaic Studies to make available unique cultural events to our community. The concert featured music from the Frand band, a klezmer band from pre-war Dubiecko, Poland.

FleytMuzik created a truly mesmerizing evening as they transported the audience along a journey through the Frand band's music collection, which commemorated through musical compositions important family milestones, including a wedding, bar mitzvah, and voyage to the US.

The Frand band's music was restored by FleytMuzik's leader Professor Adrianne Greenbaum from manuscripts preserved by Sharon Frant Brooks, granddaughter of band member Chaskel Frand who left Poland in 1925 with a violin case full of the band's handwritten compositions. The discovery and subsequent restoration of this collection was a major accomplishment in the revitalization of Jewish klezmer music in the wake of the devastating losses inflicted by the Nazis against the Jews of Poland to both their lives and culture.

FleytMuzik presented a range of the joyful and soulful sounds of klezmer music with complex compositions and masterful artistry. Adrianne Greenbaum, who played several types of flute based on the historical period of the piece, was joined by world-class musicians Michael Alpert, Pete Rushefsky, Jake Shulman-Ment, Brian Glassman, and guest, UConn adjunct woodwind specialist, Walter "Zev" Mamlok.


Dov Waxman on “Trouble in the Tribe”

Dov Waxman, professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northeastern University presented “Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel” on March 9. Professor Waxman discussed three changes that caused a shift in American Jews becoming more critical of Israeli politics: Israeli political ideals shifting to the right, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the changes in how the conflict is conducted on both sides. Professor Waxman also explored the differing views on Israel within the Jewish community itself, explaining that Orthodox Jews tended to be more conservative and non-Orthodox Jews were more liberal. This political divide also accounts for the shifting opinion of Israel with American Jewish communities. For more on this event, check out the Daily Campus article that covered our talk.

Nathan Schachter Reflects on Serving on the Selection Committee for the Jewish Plays Project

Nathan Schachter, UConn sophomore, reflects on his experience as a member of the selection committee for the 2nd Annual Jewish Playwriting Contest.
“I was immersed in the conversations among the committee that came out of these readings, as we discussed what worked, what didn’t, which plays were our favorites, and why. Being the only student on the committee, it was interesting to hear what the other members, who had much more maturity, life and wisdom on me, both artistically and Jewishly, had to say on the topic” – Nathan Schachter
This past February, I had the opportunity to sit on the selection committee for the 2nd Annual Hartford Jewish Playwriting Contest. The selection committee included community members at Charter Oak Cultural Center and UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. We selected 3 plays from a pool of 10 that we wanted to see continue on to the next round.  I was asked by Professor Jeffrey Shoulson of the Center for Judaic Studies to sit on this committee, and I am extremely fortunate to have done so.
Throughout the process, of selecting the top three plays, it was eye-opening to see the amount of new Jewish work that is being produced around us today. In reading the plays I was assigned to read, I was challenged to think about what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. I was immersed in the conversations among the committee that came out of these readings, as we discussed what worked, what didn’t, which plays were our favorites, and why. Being the only student on the committee, it was interesting to hear what the other members, who had much more maturity, life and wisdom on me, both artistically and Jewishly, had to say on the topic.
On February 16, I left campus and attended the Jewish Playwriting Contest at  Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford. There, our top 3 plays were performed in front of an audience, ranging from non-Jewish prospects to UConn’s own acting students. Using text-in votes, we all decided on our favorite play that would be moving on in the 2017 Jewish Play Project Festival in New York City in April, where the ultimate winner will be given a chance for their play to be further developed and workshopped. I am looking forward to see where our favorite, Book of Esther, makes it in the rest of the competition!

The Rescuers: Film Screening and Talkback with Director Michael King and Executive Producer Joyce Mandell

By Jillian Chambers

UConn Hillel, the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, and the UNESCO Chair and Institute for Comparative Human Rights were honored to host Director Michael King and Executive Producer Joyce Mandell of the award-winning film The Rescuers. The film was screened for the audience, followed by a question and answer session with King and Mandell.

The film chronicles the journey of Stephanie Nyombayire, a young Rwandan anti-genocide activist, and Sir Martin Gilbert, a leading Holocaust historian, as they travel across Europe and elsewhere interviewing survivors and descendants of the diplomats who rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis. The film explores the connection between the Holocaust and other genocides, such as in Darfur.

One story featured in the documentary was that of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a French diplomat who worked himself into physical exhaustion processing visas for Jewish refugees attempting to enter Spain. Additionally, Sousa Mendes was able to have the fees associated with documentation waived, which allowed more Jewish refugees the opportunity to come to Spain. Sousa Mendas was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1966, the first diplomat to be honored in this way.

The documentary also followed Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, an attaché for the Nazis. Upon finding out that Danish Jews were to be deported, Duckwitz coordinated with the Swedish prime minister to take in 95 percent of Jews in Denmark, totaling over 7,900 people. Similar to Sousa Mendas, he was named Righteous Among the Nations by Israel in 1971.

The film viewing was followed by a talkback with King and Mandell. King commented on how Stephanie’s story was important to tell. “She shows that genocide is still happening,” said King.

One audience member asked what motivated King to direct the film. King replied, “I was teaching in Florida when Joyce called me about the exhibit on Ellis Island about the diplomats. She told me how impactful it was. We discussed it and I did some research and I realized it was a wonderful story.”

We thank Joyce Mandell and Michael King and all those who came out to this event!

Professor Ariela Keysar Presents in Remembrance of Kristallnacht

By Jillian Chambers

In remembrance of Kristallnacht, Professor Ariela Keysar of Trinity College presented two talks on anti-Semitism. Professor Keysar’s colloquium featured “Variations of Anti-Semitism in a Global Perspective: Conceptual and Methodological Issues,” and her public lecture was titled “International Comparison of Anti-Semitism on Campus: Why Are Women More Likely to Be Targeted?”

In Professor Keysar’s first event, she quoted an America Jewish college student who said in 2014 “subtle anti-Semitism – it’s the last socially acceptable form of racism.” Professor Keysar went on to define anti-Semitism: a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. There can be both rhetorical and physical manifestation of anti-Semitism; they can be directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, or toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. Professor Keysar’s presentation asked to what extent Jews’ experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism vary by country, through the lens of the victims?

Research shows, as Professor Keysar explained, that experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism in Europe have increased. Especially in Hungary, within the last 12 months Jews have personally heard a non-Jew utter anti-Semitic comments, heard that “Jews are responsible for the current economic crises,” heard non-Jewish people suggest that the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated, and heard non-Jewish people suggest that the interests of Jews in their country are different from the interests of the rest of the population. The survey that Professor Keysar cited also found that more Jews in Sweden and France than in any other of the investigated European countries claim to have been physically attacked because they are Jews.

In the United States, Professor Keysar noted that rhetoric targeting Jews escalated in the heat of the presidential election season. Particularly on social media, people asserted that Jews control the media. More than eight hundred journalists received anti-Semitic tweets, and the bios of anti-Semitic Twitter users frequently contain the words “Trump, nationalist, conservative, American and white.”

Professor Keysar’s next presentation on International Comparisons of Anti-Semitism on Campus asked why young Jews are more likely to experience hostility today. Similar to the study she cited in her previous presentation, the survey asked Jewish college students to share their experiences with anti-Semitism. 54 percent of students either experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism, moreso in the United States than in other countries like the United Kingdom and Canada.

Some important factors that are associated with anti-Semitism on campus, Professor Keysar explained, include gender, current religion, belonging/attending Hillel, and Zionist tendencies. Those that identified as female and held “Super Zionist” ideals were found to have a greater likelihood of encountering anti-Semitism on campus.

The Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life would like to thank Professor Ariela Keysar for her wonderful presentations and everyone who attended for their enthusiasm.

Missed Comedian Jesse Appell? Watch His Presentation Here!

Up-and-coming comedian Jesse Appell visited UConn on November 16 as part of his college circuit tour. He discussed his experiences of being a Jewish-American comedian living in China and the ways humor can transcend culture by tapping into commonalities people share. 

Appell’s visit was the final event of our Jewish Humor Series and was made possible by UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford, UConn’s Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, and UConn’s Asian American Cultural Center.

A graduate of Brandeis University, Jesse continued his studies in Beijing in 2012 where his receipt of a Critical Language Enhancement Award made possible intensive language study, and a Fulbright scholarship funded his research on Chinese comedy. His unique brand of intercultural comedy mixes Jewish humor with the traditional art of Xiangsheng, a 150-year-old Chinese comedy folk art.

As well as studying and performing Xiangsheng, Jesse also performs bilingual improv and has been showcased on Chinese television. He writes a comedy blog for China Personified and LaughBeijing and created the LaughBeijing project in an effort to connect Chinese and Western culture through comedy and to develop new ways of combining the comedic styles of both groups.

“Jews, Liquor and Life in Eastern Europe” – A Recap

By Jillian Chambers

Glen Dynner TalkThe Center for Judaic Studies hosted Professor Glenn Dynner of Sarah Lawrence College on October 20. He presented his talk, “Jews, Liquor, and Life in Eastern Europe” to an enthusiastic audience in the Class of 1947 Room in the Homer Babbidge Library. Dynner showed how Eastern Europe became a safe haven for Jews in the 1800s and how changes in social dynamics later forced them out.

According to Dynner, while Jews and Christians in the 1800s did not enjoy coexistence in a social sense, they came together through the Jewish tavern. When grain exports fell in Poland, the excess grain became the basis for a burgeoning vodka business. Because the nobility believed Jews were less likely to drink the product than Catholics, who were known to drink socially after events like church, Jews were granted rights to own taverns. Using this general view of Jewish sobriety, Jewish families were able to come to Poland and make money in the tavern business.

Problems later arose, as Dynner described, when vodka became stronger and cheaper due to advances in distilling techniques. Drunkenness became rampant and it fostered a tone of cultural superiority, where citizens who frequented the taverns were under the impression that “the Jew is sober because he wants to exploit you.” Anti-Semitism increased in these communities until eventually the Tsars drove the Jews out of the liquor trade by increasing taxes on taverns, or by expelling them to the countryside in Pogroms. They saw the Jews as the cause for an epidemic of alcoholism, rather than the nobility who supplied them with the alcohol. However, all this did was push the tavern system underground, Dynner explained.

Professor Dynner’s presentations showed the audience the utility of applying historical lessons in modern times. We thank Professor Dynner for coming out and educating us about the Eastern European Jewish experience!