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Jewish History Matters

History Podcasts

Explores why Jewish history matters through in-depth discussions of new research, current topics, and enduring debates about Jewish history and culture.


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Explores why Jewish history matters through in-depth discussions of new research, current topics, and enduring debates about Jewish history and culture.




84: The First Aliyah and Historical Memory of Jewish Settlement in Israel/Palestine with Liora R. Halperin

Liora Halperin joins us to discuss her book The Oldest Guard: Forting the Zionist Settler Past, and the broader issues it raises about the history of Zionist settlement in Israel and Palestine, historical memory, and why it all matters. Listen in as we dive into the history and memory of the early Zionist movement, and the ways in which it has shaped the discourse and debates over more than a century. You can read an excerpt of The Oldest Guard here. Liora R. Halperin is Associate Professor of International Studies and History, and Distinguished Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies, at the University of Wshington in Seattle. THE OLDEST GUARD is her latest book, published in 2021; and she is also the author of BABEL IN ZION: JEWS, NATIONALISM, AND LANGUAGE DIVERSITY IN PALESTINE, 1920–1948.


83: Ethical Technology and the Holocaust with Deb Donig

In this episode, Deb Donig joins us for a conversation about the intersection between contemporary technology and culture and the lessons of history. Listen in as we dive into ethical technology, the Holocaust, and what it means to learn from the past as we think about the present and future. Deb Donig is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Cal Poly. She is the co-founder of the Cal Poly Ethical Technology Initiative, the incoming Director of the Center for Expressive Technologies, and the host of “Technically Human,” a podcast where she talks with major thinkers, writers, and industry-leading technologists about the relationship between humans and the technologies that we create. She has taught and published on a wide variety of areas including human rights, Holocaust memory, science fiction, ethical technology, and more. Thanks so much for listening to our conversation, which we hope will spark more discussions about why studying the past matters as we look at the world around us.


82: The War in Ukraine and its Historical and Cultural Context with Amelia Glaser and Jeffrey Veidlinger

This episode, Jeffrey Veidlinger and Amelia Glaser join us to talk about the ongoing war in Ukraine and its historical and cultural context. We recorded on Tuesday, March 8th, 2022, and we are working to get this episode published as quickly as possible because so much can change so quickly. Listen in as we think about the background to the war, how we can understand Jewish history in Ukraine, and particularly Putin’s deranged claim to “denazify” Ukraine. Amelia Glaser is Associate Professor of Literature at UC San Diego, where she also holds an endowed chair in Judaic Studies. She is the author of “Jews and Ukrainians in Russia’s Literary Borderlands” (Northwestern UP, 2012), and most recently “Songs in Dark Times: Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine” (Harvard UP, 2020). Currently, she is the Rita E. Hauser fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, where she is at work on a book about contemporary Ukrainian poetry and community, and she is also curating a series of translations of recent poetry from Ukraine for LitHub. Jeffrey Veidlinger is Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of numerous books including, most recently, In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust, published in 2021,


81: Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Contemporary Holocaust Debates with Victoria Aarons, Jenny Caplan, and Jodi Eichler-Levine

This episode, we are hosting a roundtable discussion with Victoria Aarons, Jenny Caplan, and Jodi Eichler-Levine about Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus, and the recent controversy from January 2022 when a school board in Tennessee banned its teaching. This is a timely topic that ties together the history of Holocaust memory, Holocaust literature (including children's Holocaust literature), education, and broad social and cultural issues of the present. Listen in as we dive into why Maus is such an important, even landmark work in Holocaust literature, what happened with this attempt to ban Maus, and what it tells us about ongoing debates about what is taught in schools and universities. Topics, books, and relevant articles discussed today include: Maus and Maus II, by Art SpiegalmanJenny Caplan, "You Can't Just Swap Out 'Maus' For Another Holocaust Book. It's Special." (JTA, Jan. 31, 2022)Minutes of the McMinn County, Tennessee, school board meeting where Maus was banned (Jan. 10, 2022) Our three guests bring together a wide range of research and thinking on the Holocaust, Holocaust literature and education, and also the intersection of Holocaust memory and popular culture: Victoria Aarons is the O.R. and Eva Mitchell Distinguished Professor of Literature in the English Department at Trinity University in San Antonio, where she teaches courses on American Jewish and Holocaust literatures. She is the author or editor of numerous books, most recently Holocaust Graphic Narratives: Generation, Trauma, and Memory, which was published in 2020 by Rutgers University Press. Jenny Caplan is an assistant professor of religious studies at Towson University, where she's also the program director for Jewish studies. She teaches courses in Jewish comics and graphic novels, and has several recent and forthcoming publications on Jewish identity, gender, meaning making, and comics. Her forthcoming book on American Jewish humor will be published with Wayne State University Press. Jodi Eichler-Levine is the Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization and Professor of Religion Studies at Lehigh University. She is the author of Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis: How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community, which was published in 2020 the University of North Carolina Press . She is currently writing a book about the intersections between religion and the Walt Disney Company.


80: Jewish American Writing and World Literature with Saul Noam Zaritt

Saul Noam Zaritt speaks about Jewish American literature, its place in world literature, and what this tells us about how we understand modern Jewish history and culture at large. It’s the focus of his recent book, Jewish American Writing and World Literature: Maybe to Millions, Maybe to Nobody, where he explores a number of Jewish writers who were working in Yiddish or in translation, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sholem Asch, Jacob Glatstein, Saul Bellow, and others, and what their work tells us about the transformation of modern Jewish culture. In addition, we’ll talk about what this all means when we think about modern Jewish studies and how we understand it in its broader cultural context. Purchase Jewish American Writing and World Literature: Maybe to Millions, Maybe to Nobody Saul Noam Zaritt is an Associate Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard University. He studies the politics of translation in modern Jewish culture and he is a founding editor of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. His book, Jewish American Writing and World Literature: Maybe to Millions, Maybe to Nobody, which is the center of our conversation today, was published in 2020. He is currently at work on a second book, entitled “A Taytsh Manifesto: Yiddish, Translation, and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture.”


79: Palestine and the Power of the Archive with Gil Z. Hochberg

In this episode, our guest is Gil Z. Hochberg, who will be speaking about how we can develop a sophisticated approach to thinking about Palestine and Israel through the concept of “the Archive." Gil Z. Hochberg is the Ransford Professor of Hebrew and Visual Studies, Comparative Literature, and Middle East Studies at Columbia University where she is also chair of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. She is the author of numerous books, the most recent of which is Becoming Palestine: Toward an Archival Imagination of the Future, which was published by Duke University Press in 2021. Purchase Becoming Palestine: Toward and Archival Imagination of the Future Read the introduction to Becoming Palestine In this episode, Gil and I will think through the importance of archives - both historical archives themselves, and the archive as an idea - in the context of Israel and Palestine. As Gil points out in her book, the question of archives raises crucial issues about Israel and Palestine, developments in Palestinian culture, and the ongoing conflict at large. As she suggests, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been dominated by the archive of the past: historians from the 1980s onwards have unearthed archival evidence of the Naqba, the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948, which has shaped the ongoing debates on the politics of the region. But is there a limit to the political power of this archival knowledge? As we’ve seen, even though we know about the Naqba we are not exactly closer to any kind of justice, or political resolution of the conflict. So as Gil suggests, we might speak about the limits of the archive of history and start to think about what it means to create an archive of the future. This is obviously an issue that is of deep interest to me on an intellectual level, on a historical level, and also in terms of thinking through the politics of the conflict and Israeli and Palestinian culture, which is truthfully one of the reasons I reached out to Gil to be on the podcast. But I also think there is something deep to consider here: In what ways can the idea of the archive contribute our thinking about Palestine and Israel? What does it mean to talk about archives of the future? And in this light, how and why does history matter?


78: Jewish Primitivism with Samuel Spinner

In this episode, we're joined by Sam Spinner to talk about Jewish primitivism. Listen in as we take a deep dive into primitivism in European culture, Jewish primitivism and its politics, and what it all means when we think about twentieth century Jewish life. Read an excerpt from Jewish Primitivism from Stanford University PressPurchase Jewish Primitivism (Amazon) Samuel Spinner is the Zelda and Myer Tandetnik Assistant Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Johns Hopkins University. His book Jewish Primitivism, which is the starting point for our conversation today, was published in 2021 by Stanford University Press. Spinner is a co-editor of “German Jewish Cultures,” a book series published by Indiana University Press, and he also serves as an editor of the Yiddish Studies journal In Geveb. Jewish Primitivism is a phenomenally exciting investigation of primitivism in modern Jewish literature, photography, and graphic art. Primitivism—the elevation and valorization of so-called “primitive” cultures—is an important movement in European art and culture broadly speaking, and Spinner’s book explores how primitivism manifested itself in modern Jewish culture. Thanks for listening.


77: Rabbi Leo Baeck with Michael A. Meyer

In this episode, we're joined by Michael A. Meyer to talk about Rabbi Leo Baeck and his legacy, as a window into twentieth-century German Jewish history, both before the Holocaust and also in the shadow of that tremendous tragedy. Listen in as we discuss his new book, Rabbi Leo Baeck: Living a Religious Imperative in Troubled Times, and think about the big picture lessons we can take away from Baeck’s life and his legacy. Read an excerpt from Rabbi Leo BaeckPurchase Rabbi Leo Baeck on Amazon Michael A. Meyer is the Adolph S. Ochs Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College. He is a distinguished scholar in the fields of modern Jewish history, German Jewish history, and beyond. Among his books, notable ones include: The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749-1824, which was published in 1967, and Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (1988). He also edited Ideas of Jewish History (1974), and the four-volume German-Jewish History in Modern Times, which was published in four volumes from 1996 to 1998. More recently, he has written Rabbi Leo Baeck: Living a Religious Imperative in Troubled Times, which was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2020, and is the focus of our conversation in this episode. Rabbi Leo Baeck is a stirring biography of one of the most prominent rabbis of the last century. Born in 1873, Leo Baeck became a spiritual leader of German Jewry in the first decades of the twentieth century, as a rabbi in Silesia and later in Berlin, where he was the chief rabbi from 1912 to 1942, when he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There, Baeck played an important role in the attempt to develop Jewish cultural activities in the most adverse of circumstances. After the war, Baeck settled in London, where he continued to play a leading role in the rebuilding of German Jewish cultural life in its diaspora; he passed away in 1956, but his legacy lives on in many ways, among them the many synagogues that bear his name and also the Leo Baeck Institute, the research institute on German Jewry which was established in 1954 with branches in London, New York, Jerusalem, and today also in Berlin. Rabbi Leo Baeck is a biography that tells us the life story of one man, Leo Baeck; and like much of Michael Meyer’s excellent scholarship it offers cogent and coherent insight into his religious ideas within the context of the broader intellectual history that shaped his lifetime. But the book also does something bigger, by offering us a very personal window into the world of German Jewry in the early twentieth century, in the Nazi era, and also the story of its postwar legacy.


76: Iraqi Jewry and Its Global Diaspora with Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah

In this episode, we're joined by Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah to talk about Iraqi Jewry and its global diaspora. Listen in as we dive into the development of Iraqi or Baghdadi Jewry and its many satellite communities in the twentieth century—in India, China, Singapore, and elsewhere—and how we thereby can understand the global nature of Jewish communal, commercial, and other kinds of networks, and also the meaning of diaspora and dispersion more generally. Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah is an assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Groningen. She is the author of Baghdadi Jewish Networks in the Age of Nationalism, which was published by Brill in 2021, and is the starting point for our conversation in this episode.


75: The Jews’ Indian and Global Settler Colonialism with David S. Koffman

David S. Koffman joins the podcast to talk about Jews and native peoples in North America. It’s the topic of his recent book, The Jews’ Indian: Colonialism, Pluralism, and Belonging in America, which serves as the jumping off point for our wide-ranging conversation. In this episode, we dive into how American Jews imagined Indians in the 19th and 20th centuries — similar to the broader process of how other white settlers created their own imagined version of native peoples — and what this means this means we try to make sense of American Jewish history, and modern Jewish history as a whole, within the wider context of nineteenth- and twentieth-century politics and cultures. David S. Koffman is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at York University, where he holds the J. Richard Schiff chair for the study of Canadian Jewry. He is also the editor in chief of Canadian Jewish Studies. In today's episode, we think critically about the place of American Jews within the process of white settlement in the American context as well as beyond. As David explains in his book The Jews’ Indian, which was published in 2019, American Jews, and other white peoples, had complex and changing relations with the natives who they encountered. This is clearly an important issue in general terms, as we can look at the white imagination of the Indian in all sorts of cultural contexts — whether we talk about cowboy and Indian radio and TV programs, or wild west novels and stories like those of Karl May in German culture and beyond. However, within the context of Jewish history, these issues raise very unsettling questions: How is it that American Jews saw themselves? In what ways did American Jews seek to differentiate themselves from Native Americans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as they similarly tried to distinguish themselves from African Americans, in an effort to cultivate themselves as “white”? How did this change in the second half of the twentieth century, as Jews became involved in the struggle for native rights? And what does this all mean in terms of Jews’ broader part in the process of settler colonialism in the United States and also around the world? David’s book offers a tremendously novel take on modern Jewish history, both in American and also beyond it: he suggests that we look at Jewish life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through the lens of colonialism and settler colonialism in particular.


74: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its Afterlife with Avinoam Patt

Avinoam Patt joins us to talk about the Warsaw ghetto uprising and its afterlife: How it was understood during the time of the Second World War itself, and how it’s been remembered in the decades since. In our conversation today, the book offers a platform to think deeply about how the Ghetto uprising has been mythologized, the role of Warsaw in modern Jewish memory, and the history and memory of the Holocaust at large. Purchase The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw: The Afterlife of a Revolt on Amazon Avinoam Patt is the Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies at the University of Connecticut, where he is also the Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. Avi’s research focuses on the history of the Holocaust and its aftermath, and his first book was Finding Home and Homeland: Jewish Youth and Zionism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust, which was published in 2009. He has also edited a number of volumes, and his most recent book which we’ll be talking about today is The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw: The Afterlife of the Revolt, which was published in 2021 by Wayne State University Press. The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw, which is the starting point for our conversation today, explores how the Jews who fought in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising have been understood and why it matters. People outside of Europe knew about the uprising soon after it too place — but given the war’s chaos, it was unclear who exactly had led the it. So in the months and years that followed, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was instrumentalized, or put to use, by Jewish socialists, Zionists, and others who wanted to take credit for the uprising and thereby lend legitimacy to their own ideologically-driven understanding of the ghetto uprising and the Holocaust at large.


73: Polish Jewish Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Union with Eliyana Adler

Eliyana Adler joins us to talk about Polish Jews who fled to the Soviet Union in 1939, and who subsequently survived the Second World War and the Holocaust in Siberia and Central Asia. Listen in as we discuss her book Survival on the Margins: Polish Jewish Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Union, and the big picture issues it raises about how we understand the Holocaust, what it means to be a survivor, and the paradoxes of history: those Jews who were deported by the Soviet Union found themselves far away from the Nazi genocide.


72: Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging with Alma Heckman

Alma Heckman joins us to talk about twentieth-century Moroccan Jews, and especially Moroccan Jewish communism and its broader politics, which is the focus of her recent book The Sultan’s Communists: Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging.


71: Streaming the Holocaust with Marat Grinberg

Marat Grinberg joins us to speak about how the Holocaust is portrayed and represented in popular culture, particularly in contemporary television. Listen in as we dive into how the Holocaust has played a role in the tv landscape, from “The Plot Against America” (the recent adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel) and “The Man in the High Castle” to “Hunters” and “Judah.”


70: Dancing and Jewish Modernity with Sonia Gollance

Sonia Gollance joins us to talk about her book It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity, an exciting new book which deals with the history of dance and modern Jewish culture.


69: American Judaism Beyond the Synagogue with Rachel B. Gross

Rachel B. Gross talks about nostalgia and lived religion in American Jewish life, which is the focus of her book Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice. Listen in as we talk about a variety of ways in which American Jews connect to their past through nostalgia—through historical museums like the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York’s Lower East Side, through genealogy, through children’s books and dolls, and through delis and other foodways. As Rachel explains, nostalgia actually offers a kind of lived religious practice, even if it is beyond the synagogue.


68: The Jewish Refugee Crisis of the Seventeenth Century with Adam Teller

Adam Teller joins us to speak about the seventeenth-century Jewish refugee crisis following the 1648 Khmenlytsky pogroms—how it helps us to understand the transnational transformation of Jewish life in early modern times, as well as when we want to think deeply about refugee issues on a wider scale, something which is of course still relevant today. Adam Teller is Professor of History and Judaic Studies at Brown University. Adam has written widely on the economic, social, and cultural history of the Jews in early modern Poland-Lithuania. His most recent book, Rescue the Surviving Souls: The Great Jewish Refugee Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, which is the starting point for our conversation today, was published by Princeton University Press in 2020, and it was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in History.


67: Is a Two State Solution Possible in Israel/Palestine? Considering the Paradigms of the Conflict with Ian Lustick

In our latest episode, Ian Lustick joins us to talk about the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Listen in as we dive into how we might think about the paradigm of a two-state solution in historical perspective, and the ways in which history matters when we look at issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and beyond. Ian Lustick is the author of an important book, Paradigm Lost: From Two State Solution to One State Reality, which is the focus of our conversation today. He holds the Bess W. Heyman Chair in the Political Science Department of the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches Middle Eastern politics, comparative politics, and computer modeling. Paradigm Lost is an important book, and a profoundly challenging one. It presents an argument that not everyone will agree with. The idea that a two state resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is no longer possible is not really a new one: it’s been a quarter-century since the Oslo agreements, and pessimism seems to reign. But Lustick offers two powerful but potentially controversial ideas about the failure of the two state solution. First, he insists that it is not just about the inability to implement a good idea since the ‘90s. Instead, he places the blame directly on Israel’s settlement project and its “territorial maximalism,” which has its roots in the history of the entire twentieth-century conflict. He points to Zev Jabotinsky’s notion of the “Iron Wall,” the idea that Arabs would only negotiate with Jews after they had been defeated - which had the paradoxical outcome that repeated Israeli victories emboldened the Israeli leadership so they were less likely to come to the negotiating table. He also emphasizes the collective memory of the Holocaust as a profound factor in Israeli society, and the pro-Israel lobby in the United states, both of which embolden Israel’s hawkish parties and make the Israelis less likely to come to negotiate a two state solution. Secondly, Lustick — who once was a proponent of the two state solution, now says that it is a distraction from reality. He argues that there is, and has long been, just one state between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. The pursuit a of a two state solution, he posits, is an unrealizable dream when the real need is to push for equal rights and citizenship for all people living in this territory which is effectively one state. It is, as he puts it, a paradigm shift: borrowing the language of the history of science and Thomas Kuhn in particular, he talks about the fundamental structures of how we look at the world. If we replace the paradigm of a two-state solution with a new paradigm, a one-state reality, it totally changes the way that we look at the conflict, the questions we ask, and the kinds of resolutions we might strive towards. Again, not everyone will agree with Ian’s analysis, but we hope the book, and our conversation today on the podcast, will help generate conversations about Israel, the Palestinians, and the way we look at the future of the region.


66: The Hitler Haggadah with Jonnie Schnytzer

How could someone title a Passover Haggadah the "Hitler Haggadah"? Listen in as we explore an incredible source, a 1943 Judeo-Arabic Passover Haggadah from Morocco which retells a story of freedom—not of the Exodus from Egypt, but of the Holocaust and the Allied invasion of North Africa in the 1940s. In this episode, Jonnie Schnyzter, who edited this new translation, joins us to talk about the Hitler Haggadah, what it tells us about the Holocaust, about Middle Eastern and North African Jewish history, and about the meaning of Passover and the Seder as malleable holidays and rituals which contribute to the construction of historical memory. Purchase The Hitler Haggadah from Print-o-Craft Jonnie Schnytzer is a Phd candidate at Bar Ilan University, with a focus on medieval kabbalah. His dissertation is focused on the thought of the 14th-century kabbalist Rabbi Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi, and Jonnie is also preparing a critical edition of Ashkenazi’s commentary on Sefer Yetsira. Jonnie also edited an English edition of ‘The Hitler Haggadah’, which we’re talking about today.


65: Waste Siege: Infrastructure and the Environment in Israel/Palestine with Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins talks about how we can look at Israel/Palestine and global issues in new ways, through the fascinating lens of waste—the byproducts of human society and what we do with them.