American Jewish Culture: ‘Fresh Vitality in Every Direction’

Apr 7, 2013, 10:00 am9:00 pm
Bowen Hall, Room 222
  • Program in American Studies
  • Program in Judaic Studies
Event Description

Lapidus Family Fund Conference in American Jewish Studies

Painting of a woman carrying a tray of food to starving children

Share—Jewish Relief Campaign / Burke, Johnstone Studios ; lithographed by Sackett & Wilhelms Corporation, Brooklyn, N.Y. United States, 1917. Photograph.


9 a.m.   Registration and coffee

10 a.m.   Opening remarks

  • Esther Schor, professor of English; chair, Committee on American Jewish Studies
  • Sidney Lapidus

10:15 to 11:45 a.m.   Panel I: American Jewish History: Immigrants, Ideas, and Ideology

  • Chair: Yaacob Dweck, assistant professor of history and the Program in Judaic Studies
  • Eric Goldstein, associate professor of history and Jewish studies, Emory University
    “‘Sociability and Bright Talk’: East Side Cafés and the Jewish Immigrant Public Sphere”
  • Tony Michels, the George L. Mosse Associate Professor of American Jewish History, University of Wisconsin, Madison
    “The Crisis in American Marxism and the Jewish Turn in the 1940s and 1950s”
  • Jonathan Karp, executive director, American Jewish Historical Society
    “The Unity Principle: An American Jewish Theory of Capitalism”

Noon to 1:15   Buffet lunch provided

1:30 to 3 p.m.   Panel II: (North) American Jewish Letters: Mapping the Future

  • Chair: Sean Wilentz, the George Henry David 1886 Professor of American History
  • Jonathan Freedman, professor of English and American culture, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan
    “Rewriting Dystopia: Jewish Alternative Histories, High and Low”
  • Rachel Rubinstein, associate professor of American literature and Jewish studies, Hampshire College
    “Cosmopolitan Shtetl: Montreal as the Center of the New Jewish World”
  • Josh Lambert, academic director, The Yiddish Book Center; visiting assistant professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    “‘Strange Times’: The Millennial Boom in American Jewish Literature”

3:15 to 4:45 p.m.   Round Table: New Directions in American Jewish Culture

  • Chair: Alana Newhouse, editor-in-chief, Tablet Magazine

4:45 p.m.   Closing remarks

  • Hendrik Hartog, the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty; director, Program in American Studies
  • 5 – 5:30 p.m.   Wine and Cheese reception

Break for dinner

7:30 p.m.   Keynote Address

  • Francine Prose
    “American Jewish Storytelling: King David, Grace Paley, Philip Roth and Me”


Yaacob Dweck is assistant professor of history and Judaic studies at Princeton University. His first book, The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Moden, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice, appeared in 2011.

Jonathan Freedman is the Marvin Felheim Collegiate Professor of English, American Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author most recently of Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2009) as well as Professions of Taste: Henry James, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture (Stanford University Press, 1991) and The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-Semitism in Literary Anglo-America (Oxford University Press, 2001). He is currently working on a book on Jews and decadence. In addition to Michigan, where he is currently the head fellow in the Frankel Institute for Jewish Studies seminar for 2002-13, he has taught at Yale, Oxford, Caltech, Williams College, and the Bread Loaf School of English.

Eric Goldstein is the Judith London Evans Director of Jewish Studies at Emory University, where he is also associate professor of history and Jewish studies. He is author of The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton University Press, 2006). He is currently completing a project on the reading culture of Eastern European Jewish immigrants to American, tentatively titled Turn a Page: How Reading Transformed Jewish Immigrants to America, 1870-1930.

Jonathan Karp is the director of the American Jewish Historical Society and associate professor of history at Binghamton University. He is the author of The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe: 1638-1848 (Cambridge University Press, 2008). He has written extensively on the topic of Jews as economic and cultural brokers in early modern and modern Jewish history and is completing a book titled Chosen Surrogates: A Class and Cultural History of Black-Jewish Relations.

Josh Lambert is the academic director of the Yiddish Book Center and visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the author of Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture, forthcoming from NYU Press, and American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide (2009). He co-edited a special issue of the journal Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States on “The Future of American Jewish Literary Scholarship” in 2012, and he is a contributing editor of Tablet magazine.

Tony Michels is the George L. Mosse Associate Professor of American Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York (Harvard University Press, 2005), which won the Salo Baron Prize from the American Academy for Jewish Research, and is editor of Jewish Radicals A Documentary History (NYU Press, 2012). He is currently writing a book on the history of Jews, communism, and anti-communism.

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine, which she founded in 2009. Before that, she spent five years as culture editor of the Forward, where she supervised coverage of books, films, dance, music, art, and ideas. She also started a line of Forward-branded books with W. W. Norton and edited its maiden publication, A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward. A graduate of Barnard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Alana has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and Slate.

Rachel Rubinstein is associate professor of American literature and Jewish studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. She is the author of Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination (Wayne State University Press, 2010), and coeditor of Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon: Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse (Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies, 2008). She serves on the editorial board of Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History. Her work has appeared in American Quarterly and Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies.

Sean Wilentz is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History and former director of the Program in American Studies. A real-life cousin of his has a minor role in The Plot Against America.

Keynote Speaker Francine Prose

Hailed by Larry McMurtry as “[o]ne of our finest writers,” Francine Prose is the author of numerous novels, including My New American Life (HarperCollins, 2011); Goldengrove (2008), a profoundly moving novel about a young girl plunged into adult grief and obsession after the drowning death of her sister; A Changed Man (2005), for which she won the first Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction; and Blue Angel (2000), which was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award. About My New American Life, Donna Seaman wrote, “Prose is dazzling in her sixteenth book of spiky fiction, a fast-flowing, bittersweet, brilliantly satirical immigrant story that subtly embodies the cultural complexity and political horrors of the Balkans and Bush-Cheney America.”

Prose’s nonfiction books include, Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (HarperCollins, 2009); Reading Like A Writer (2006), a New York Times bestseller; The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, a national bestseller; Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles, a biography of the painter for the Eminent Lives series; Sicilian Odyssey, a travel book; and Gluttony, a meditation on a deadly sin. Her award-winning young adult novels include Bullyville and After. She is also the author of Hunters and Gatherers, Bigfoot Dreams and Primitive People, two story collections, and a collection of novellas, Guided Tours of Hell. Prose has also written four children's books and co-translated three volumes of fiction. Her stories, reviews and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Observer, Art News, The Yale Review, The New Republic, and numerous other publications.

A fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities and a 1999 Director's Fellow of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers, Prose is a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, for which she has written such controversial essays as “Scent of A Woman's Ink” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Can't Read,” and Bomb magazine. She writes regularly on art for The Wall Street Journal.

In 2010, Prose was awarded the prestigious Washington University International Humanities Medal. She has also been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1989 Fulbright fellowship to the former Yugoslavia, two NEA grants, and a PEN translation prize.

Prose has taught at Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Arizona, University of Utah, the Bread Loaf School of English, and Sewanee Writers Conferences. She currently teaches at Bard College. A film of her novel, Household Saints, was released in 1993. In 2009, Prose was elected into the Academy of Arts & Letters. She lives in New York City.

Conference Organizer

Esther Schor is professor of English and chair of the Committee on American Jewish Studies at Princeton University. She teaches courses on British Romanticism as well as on literature, scripture, and religion. She is the author of the biography Emma Lazarus, which won the 2006 National Jewish Book Award, and she has curated exhibitions on Lazarus for the American Library Association and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. She has published two books of verse, Strange Nursery and The Hills of Holland, and is now writing a novel-in-verse based on an actual child-murder scandal in Nova Scotia. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Raritan, The New Republic, Tablet Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement and European Romantic Review, among other venues.