2018 Summer Fellows

The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History announces the selection of its Summer Fellows for 2018:

Gregg DrinkwaterGregg Drinkwater is a PhD Candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder. Gregg’s research explores how gay and lesbian Jews transformed the landscape of liberal Judaism in the United States in the post-World War II era. By creating gay synagogues in the 1970s and asserting public gay Jewish identities, gay and lesbian Jews contributed to shifting the boundaries of normative sexual and gender roles within liberal American Judaism. These gay Jewish innovators paved the way for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, the widespread adoption of ritual and liturgical innovations rooted in gay and lesbian experiences, and rapid shifts in Jewish perceptions of homosexuality. The Feinstein Center summer fellowship will support a research trip to New York City where Drinkwater will visit the archive at New York’s LGBT Community Center and conduct interviews with founding members of New York’s gay synagogue, as well as gay and lesbian Jews active in other grassroots gay Jewish groups in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Peter Labuza

Peter Labuza is a PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California focusing on the rise of Hollywood’s entertainment law firms. His dissertation, “When A Handshake Meant Something: The Emergence of Entertainment Law and The Constitution of Hollywood Art, 1944-1967,” examines how a new class of entertainment lawyers aided individuals to establish themselves as artists within an industry that had previously espoused only entertainment. He looks at the history of Anti-Semitism in the history of Los Angeles’s legal profession and how Jewish solo practitioners came to redesign Hollywood through contracts, copyright, and tax law. In doing so, Labuza offers a new history of the postwar Hollywood that emphasizes how the Jewish American experience continued to define the industry through the critical junction between legal history and the business of American art in the 20th century.


Anastasiia StrakhovaAnastasiia Strakhova is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Emory University. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Imagining Emigration: Crossing the Borders of Russian Jewry during the Era of Mass Migration, 1881-1917,” analyzes the impact of mass Russian-Jewish immigration to America on the Jewish population remaining in the Russian Empire. In particular, Anastasiia investigates how Jewish everyday life had changed since great migration started, what kind of new financial possibilities became available in the wake of emigration, and how new transnational Russian-Jewish identities were formed. She argues that America, as a prime destination of immigration, extended both the physical and mental borders of Russian Jewry. By studying the multifaceted interrelation between Russian Jews at home and in immigration, her dissertation pushes for a global understanding of Russian Jewry as a unified collective that expanded across vast stretches of space.

resized Feinstein 2

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives, housed at the Special Collections Resource Center at Temple University Libraries:
Stu Goldman Editorial Cartoon Collection, 1979-2009

Stu Goldman, an award winning syndicated editorial cartoonist, produced illustrations for the Philadelphia newspaper, The Jewish Exponent, from 1981 until his retirement in 2009. At the resized Feinsteinheight of syndication, Goldman’s editorial cartoons were featured in over 70 publications. His drawings, often political in nature and tied to current events, employed humor to illustrate a point or issue a criticism.

During the 1988 presidential campaign season, Goldman drew a number of cartoons depicting the struggle between Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis and then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush to attract the Jewish vote, including the images seen here. To learn more about this collection, contact Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center at scrc@temple.edu or visit Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center Jewish Archives.


Forbidden Foods of the Spanish Inquisition

October 12, 2017 By Ronit Treatman 

Did you know that eating a lunch of eggplants, chickpeas, and a green salad could get you burned at the stake during the Middle Ages? This information was concealed in the archives of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1991, access to some of the records was granted to scholars for the first time. David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson were given the opportunity to examine some of these documents. They co-wrote A Drizzle of Honey based on the information they uncovered in the chronicles of the Inquisition trials. It is a scholarly masterpiece and a cookbook that reveals the customs and prejudices of medieval Spain.

The book describes the types of foods that aroused suspicion mentioned in the archives of the Spanish Inquisition. According to Dr. Gitlitz, the Inquisitors looked for Jewish ritual foods, such as matza unleavened bread and haroset a mixture of nuts and dry fruits , which would be prepared for Passover. They also examined the ways in which these foods were prepared, such as not cooking on Saturday the Sabbath . The authors extracted this information from accusations and confessions recorded by the Inquisitors.

In order to figure out what the recipes may have been, Gitlitz and Davidson referred to medieval cookbooks, translating from Catalan, Portuguese, Castilian, and Arabic. Only six cookbooks written before 1492 in the Iberian Peninsula survive to the present. The ingredients described depended on the region and the season. Since the Spanish Inquisition lasted seven hundred years, the time period during which each book was written was also relevant. Some telltale ingredients and cooking techniques flagged by the Inquisition included frying in olive oil, butchering one’s own meat and soaking it in salt water, and serving foods at room temperature.

Every recipe is accompanied by a narrative of what the accused had done to arouse suspicion, and to be reported to the Inquisitors. Bathing, wearing clean clothes, and enjoying food with friends were all actionable wrongs, used to accuse people of observing Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Some recent converts to Catholicism got in trouble for not knowing when to abstain from certain foods, according to the Catholic tradition. In one case, Aldonza Lainez served a cheese casserole to some workers during Lent. She was reported to the Inquisition, and had to explain this oversight.

You may try some of these forbidden recipes on November 5, 2017 at the Mikveh Israel Synagogue. Chef Chad Satanoffsky will prepare several dishes from A Drizzle of Honey. The social hour will begin at 6:00 PM, and dinner will be at 7:00 PM. Dr. Gitlitz will be on hand to talk about his research and the recipes as a part of the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies conference.
YOU can find more information about A Drizzle of Honey and about the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies conference at www.cryptojews.com/events.php.

First printed by The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.


Radiant Others: A Klezmer Music Podcast

Radiant Others: A Klezmer Music Podcast, is a new creation from internationally renowned klezmer trombonist Dan Blacksberg. In each episode, Blacksberg sits down for an in-depth conversation with a musician or other artist whose work has made them an integral part of the klezmer world. Listeners get to go behind the scenes of the lives and work of the individual artists, and the modern history of klezmer music. We ll talk about memorable moments in our artistic development, bring up wild performance stories, and ruminate what it s like to be connected to this international community that makes up the klezmer world.

Dan Blacksberg is one of the acknowledged masters of klezmer trombone. Blacksberg is in high demand as a performer and teacher at festivals like the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, Klezmer Festival Fürth, the now-defunct Klezkamp, and Klezkanda. He has performed and recorded with many of the music’s luminaries, from forward thinkers like Frank London to pillars of the tradition like Elaine Hoffman-Watts. His upcoming album as a leader Radiant Others, will be the first klezmer album to feature the trombone as the lead instrument. Dan also maintains a strong voice in experimental music, having worked with composers Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Joe Morris, and Nate Wooley and performing on recent recordings by experimental metal bands Liturgy and The Body.

Summer Fellows for 2017

The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History announces the selection of its Summer Fellows for 2017:

Ronnie GrinbergRonnie Grinberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History & the Schusterman Center for Judaic & Israel Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Her book project, tentatively titled ‘My Pen is My Weapon: The New York Intellectuals and Masculinity, 1930-1980’ examines how gender, ethnicity, and religion intersected to shape the New York intellectuals, a prominent group of mostly male and Jewish writers and critics at midcentury. Ronnie argues that these intellectuals embodied a new construction of Jewishness in the United States, what she terms an ideology of secular American Jewish masculinity, that in turn profoundly shaped how they understood and interpreted the world. This ideology of secular Jewish masculinity became a defining feature of American intellectual life in the second half of the                                                                       twentieth century.


Sara HalpernSara Halpern, a PhD Candidate at The Ohio State University was selected for her project, “The World of 1939 Stood Still For Us: European Jewish Emigration from Shanghai, 1946-1951,”  which examines the transnational conversations among American, Canadian, and Australian Jewish organizations concerning the emigration of 15,000 Central European Jewish refugees from Shanghai between 1945 and 1951. It grapples with post-Holocaust and Nazism, issues of Jewish ethnicity and “ex-enemy” citizenship within frameworks of United Nations’ aid policies and various immigration laws.  By exploring the process, her dissertation sheds light on long-term consequences of failed international efforts to rescue German and Austrian Jewry from state-sponsored racial persecution including the Evian Conference of 1938.  Simultaneously, and more                                                       relevant to the present, it showcases tensions among refugees, humanitarian organizations and the Western                                             powers over repatriation when it becomes the last available option.

Photo LevinGeoffrey Levin is a PhD Candidate at New York University. His dissertation, “Another Nation: Israel, American Jews, and Palestinian Rights, 1949-1977,” traces the emergence of Palestinian rights as an issue in American Jewish politics. Starting with the little-known tale of an American Jewish volunteer who aided Palestinian war refugees and ending with the public controversy over the pro-peace group Breira, the dissertation connects the changing ways in which American Jews reacted to Palestinian rights with broader shifts in American society, Israeli policy, and global politics. By interweaving the stories of activists and officials with macrohistorical trends, the project explains how and why Palestinian rights arose as a prominent and divisive question in Jewish political discourse.


Mathias Fuelling is a PhD Candidate at Temple University researching the ways in which the Holocaust has been memorialized in the former Soviet bloc and Soviet Union nations since the end of the Cold War, focusing on the usage of “stollpersteine” or “tripping stones” in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the city of Prague. Stollpersteine are bronze plaques set into the street or sidewalk in front of houses and buildings where Holocaust victims lived before their arrest and deportation to the camps. Related to this, Mathias is also interested in the ways in which the Holocaust was memorialized in the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. His project examines the relationship between the nations in which the Holocaust occurred and the ways in which the Holocaust is memorialized in the United States.


Jewish Studies Scholars Speak Out Against Immigration Ban

We, scholars of Jewish studies from across the United States, call upon our government to maintain its commitment to welcoming refugees; to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants; and to resist the basest impulse of building walls- whether actual or metaphorical-—around our nation and its ideals.As scholars of Jewish studies, we devote our lives to studying a people defined, in part, by its experiences of expulsion and refugeehood. Throughout their history, Jews have been expelled or barred from entry from countries on the grounds of their perceived threats to security and unity. While Jews found refuge in the United States throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, in the 1930s and 1940s, Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied countries suffered at the hands of our country’s then-newly enacted restrictive immigration policies.We know Jews have not been alone in facing expulsion and being denied places of refuge. In our world today, human beings living under repressive and life-threatening regimes seek asylum so they can protect their families and survive. Just as Jews who were turned away from entrance to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s met deadly fates when our country failed to meet the most basic test of humanitarian and moral action, so might the refugees denied entry today.The United State of America is a country of immigrants. At its best, it has stitched together the fabrics of different cultural backgrounds into a rich mosaic. Shoring up our borders by building walls and excluding whole classes of newcomers based upon tests of religion are un- American acts. So too is requiring police forces to treat undocumented immigrants as felons before they are given any due process. Our country is enriched by the labor, culture, and creativity of newcomers who often have entered because they could no longer live in their homelands; our democracy rests on the ability to extend liberties and rights as widely as possible.We ask that you, our elected officials, do everything in your power to stop our country from enacting isolationist policies and fencing ourselves off from the world in which we live. The “benefits” of isolationism will pale in comparison to the risks it poses to refugees and immigrants and to the very founding ideals of the United States of America. Those ideals— and the people brought to our country as a direct result of them—have inspired the best in all of us. Join us in protesting policies and orders that threaten these American ideals and use your positions to advance legal protections for refugees and all classes of immigrants.


Mika Ahuvia, University of Washington
Yasaman Alavi
Anne Albert, University of Pennsylvania
Elizabeth Alexander, University of Virginia
Ibrahim Alnawateer
Allan Amanik, Brooklyn College
Veronika Ambros, University of Toronto
Jessica Andruss, University of Virginia
Ari Ariel, University of Iowa
Diannr Ashton, Rowan University
Fred Astren, San Francisco State University
Karen Auerbach
Eugene M. Avrutin, University of Illinois
Beverly Bailis, Brooklyn College
Zachary Baker, Stanford University
Shelley Baranowski, University of Akron
Omer Bartov, Brown University
Orit Bashkin, University of Chicago
Mark Bauman, Southern Jewish History Journal
Albert Baumgarten, Bar Ilan University
Murray Baumgarten, UC Santa Cruz
Ronald Bayor, Georgia Tech
Elissa Bemporad, Queens College/the CUNY Graduate Center
Mara Benjamin, St. Olaf College
Sarah Benor, Hebrew Union College
Matthew Berkman, University of Pennsylvania
Joel Berkowitz, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Lila Berman, Temple University
Charles Bernstein, University of Pennsylvania
David Biale, University of California, Davis
Asher Biemann, University of Virginia
Jeffrey Blutinger, California State University, Long Beach
Yael Bobruff
Marion Bodian, University of Texas, Austin
Miriam Borenstein, Wayne State University
Linda J. Borish, Western Michigan University
Lauren Borrasso
Ra’anan Boustan, Princeton University
Shamma Boyarin, University of Victoria, BC Canada
Jonathan Boyarin, Cornell University
Catey Boyle, Tufts University
Ross Brann, Cornell University
Benjamin Braude, Boston College
Francesca Bregoli, CUNY
Naomi Brenner, Ohio State University
David Brodsky, Brooklyn College
Alex Brostoff
Amy Bryman
Darcy Buerkle, Smith College
Andrew Bush, Vassar College
Debra Caplan, Baruch College
Jessica Carr, Lafayette College
Flora Cassen, UNC Chapel Hill
Bruno Chaouat, University of Minnesota
Susan Cobin
Julia Cohen, Vanderbilt University
Ariel Cohen, University of Virginia
Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
Judah Cohen, Indiana University
Michael Cohen, Tulane University
Steven Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Shaye Cohen, Harvard University
Alon Confino, University of Virginia/Ben-Gurion University
Julie Cooper, Tel Aviv University
Jessica Cooperman
Joan Costello
Max Daniel, UCLA
Galeet Dardashti
Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan
Jeremy Dauber, Columbia University
Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University
Rebecca Davis, University of Delaware
Marni Davis, Georgia State University
Carolyn Dean, Yale University
Evelyn Dean-Olmsted, University of Puerto Rico
Rachel Deblinger, UC Santa Cruz
Jonathan Decter, Brandeis University
Erez DeGolan, Columbia University
Irit Dekel, University of Virginia
Nathaniel Deutsch
Hasia Diner, New York University
Marc Dollinger, San Francisco State University
Lois Dubin, Smith College/University of Pennsylvania
Glenn Dynner
John Efron, UC Berkeley
Susan L. Einbinder, University of Connecticut
Ellen Eisenberg, Willamette University
Elazar Elhanan, CUNY
Leah Elias-Nelson
Barat Ellman
Jonathan Elukin, Trinity College
Abram Epstein
Marc M. Epstein, Vassar College
Amir Eshel, Stanford University
Ayala Fader, Fordham University
Marjorie Feld, Babson College
Miriam Feinstein, Yale University
Sara Feldman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kirsten Fermaglich, Michigan State University
Gabriel Finder, University of Virginia
Michael Fishbane, University of Chicago
Eitan Fishbane, Jewish Theological Seminary
Talya Fishman, University of Pennsylvania
Madeleine Fix
Steven Foldes
Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford University
Arnold Franklin, Queens College, CUNY
ChaeRan Freeze, Brandeis University
Joshua Friedman, CUNY Graduate Center
Joshua Furman, Rice University
Sarah Garibova, University of Michigan
Jennifer Geddes, University of Virginia
Maja Gildin Zuckerman
Susan Gish
Jennifer Glaser, University of Cincinnati
Greg Schmidt Goering, University of Virginia
Karla Goldman, University of Michigan
Sarah Gracombe, Stonehill College
Erin Graff Zivin, University of Southern California
Jaclyn Granick, University of Oxford
Cheryl Greenberg, Trinity College
Daniel Greene, Northwestern University
Tova Griffel
Ronnie Grinberg, University of Oklahoma
Denise Grollmus, University of Washington
Rachel Gross, San Francisco State University
Jeffrey Grossman, University of Virginia
Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union
Karen Grumberg
Carol Ha
Aaron Hahn Tapper, University of San Francisco
Liora Halperin, University of Colorado Boulder
Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich, University of Mary Washington
Rachel Harris, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
Alma Heckman, UC Santa Cruz
Kathryn Hellerstein, University of Pennsylvania
Roni Henig, PhD candidate, Columbia University
Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
Jennifer Hirsh, Maryland Institute College of Art
Karina Martin Hogan, Fordham University
Brian Horowitz, Tulane University
Susan Huehn, St. Olaf College
Aaron Hughes, University of Rochester
Anna Igra, Carleton College
Sarah Imhoff, Indiana University
Daniel Itzkovitz, Stonehill College
Jack Jacobs, City University of New York
Adriana Jacobs
Ari Joskowicz, Vanderbilt University
Jonathan Judaken, Rhodes College
Robin Judd, The Ohio State University
Daniel Judson, Hebrew College
Ava Kahn, Chayes Productions
Brett Kaplan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Eran Kaplan, San Francisco State University
Marion Kaplan, NYU
Jonathan Karp, Binghamton University, SUNY
Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham University
Jordan Katz, Columbia University
Ari Kelman, Stanford University
Shaul Kelner, Vanderbilt University
Emil Kerenji
Ronald Kiener, Trinity College
Arthur Kiron, University of Pennsylvania
Jessica Kirzane, Columbia University
Melissa Klapper, Rowan University
Janet Klein, University of Akron
Rebecca Kobrin, Columbia University
Michal Kofman, University of Louisville
Shira Kohn
Ken Koltun-Fromm, Haverford College
Linda Komisar
Moshe Kornfeld, Washington University in St. Louis
Oren Kosansky, Lewis & Clark College
Astrid Kosowski
Rachel Kranson, University of Pittsburgh
Chana Kronfeld, UC Berkeley
Karil Kucera, St Olaf College
Hartley Lachter, Lehigh University
Josh Lambert, UMass Amherst
Timothy Langille, Arizona State University
Andrea Lieber, Dickinson College
Laura Leibman, Reed College
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College
Jon Levisohn, Brandeis University
Laura Levitt, Temple University
Lital Levy, Princeton University
James Loeffler, University of Virginia
Caroline Luce, UCLA
Jason Lustig, UCLA
Loren Lybarger
Shaul Magid, Indiana University
Shana Makuta
John Mandsager, University of South Carolina
Barbara Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary
Jessica Marglin, University of Southern California
Gordon Marino, St. Olaf College
Devi Mays, University of Michigan
Harriet McCleary
Frank Mecklenburg, Leo Baeck Institute
Yitzhak Melamed, Johns Hopkins University
Jeffrey Melnick, UMass-Boston
Shana Minkin, Sewanee: The University of the South
Pardis Minuchehr, George Washington University
Alyssa Mische
Elaine Moise
Lauren Monroe, Cornell University
Chris Monroe, Cornell University
Chana Morgenstern, University of Cambridge
Leslie Morris, University of Minnesota
Joseph Moser, West Chester University
Ghada Mourad
David N. Myers, UCLA
Devin Naar, University of Washington
Pamela Nadell, American University
Benjamin Nathans, University of Pennsylvania
Gabriel Nazziola , NASFA
Rachel R. Neis, University of Michigan
Michael Newmark
Anita Norich, University of Michigan
Vanessa Ochs, University of Virginia
Atalia Omer, University of Notre Dame
Ranen Omer-Sherman, University of Louisville
Marla Osborn, Rohatyn Jewish Heritage
Anne Perez, University of California, Davis
Noam Pianko, University of Washington
Lucy Pick, University of Chicago
Shachar Pinsker, University of Michigan
Celine Piser
Hannah Pollin-Galay, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Riv-Ellen Prell, University of Minnesota
Claudia Prestel
Anya Quilitzsch, University of Michigan
Shari Rabin, College of Charleston
Michal Raizen, Ohio Wesleyan University
Randi Rashkover, George Mason University
Asghar Rastegar, Yale University
Alyssa Reiman, University of Michigan
Shira Robinson, George Washington University
Bryan Roby, University of Michigan
Aron Rodrigue, Stanford University
Monique Rodrigues Balbuena, University of Oregon
Caroline Rody, University of Virginia
Naama Rokem, University of Chicago
Kate Rosenblatt, University of Michigan
Benjamin Rosenthal
Lawrence Rosenwald, Wellesley College
Michael Rothberg, UCLA
Hannah Roussel, University of Michigan
Nina Rowe, Fordham University
Nora Rubel, University of Rochester
Joel Rubin, University of Virginia
Elisha Russ-Fishbane, NYU
Nancy Ruttenburg, Stanford University
Elias Sacks, University of Colorado, Boulder
Gabriella Safran, Stanford University
Edith Salzman
Allison Schachter, Vanderbilt University
Anne Schenderlein
Joshua Schreier, Vassar College
Sebastian Schulman, Indiana University/Smith College
Anna Schultz, Stanford University
Don Schwartz, California State University, Long Beach
Joshua Schwartz, New York University
Shira Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz, George Washington University
Shuly Schwartz, Jewish Theological Seminary
Sasha Senderovich, University of Colorado Boulder
Joshua Shanes, College of Charleston
Susan Shapiro, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Adam Shear, University of Pittsburgh
Judith Shedletsky, NASW
Rona Sheramy
Amy Shevitz, Arizona State University
David Shneer, University of Colorado
Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Connecticut
Ray Shows, St. Olaf College
Nancy Shows
Sam Shuman, University of Michigan
Emily Sigalow, Duke University
Lisa Silverman, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Amy Simon, Michigan State University
April Slabosheski
Eliza Slavet, UC San Diego
Jeremy Sorgen, University of Virginia
Daniel Soyer, Fordham University
Ronit Stahl, University of Pennsylvania
Neta Stahl, Johns Hopkins University
Deborah Starr, Cornell University
Richard Steigmann-Gall, Kent State University
Sarah Stein, UCLA
Lior Sternfeld, Penn State University
Max Strassfeld
Lauren Strauss, American University
Claire Sufrin, Northwestern University
Corliss Swain, St. Olaf College
Jarrod Tanny, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
Magda Teter, Fordham University
Kristina Thalhammer, St. Olaf College
Rochelle Tobias, Johns Hopkins University
Anna Elena Torres, University of Chicago
Ken Travis
Mary Trull, St. Olaf College
Shani Tzoref, University of Potsdam
Miriam Udel, Emory University
Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan
David Wacks, University of Oregon
James Walli
Anne Walter, St. Olaf College
Mira Wasserman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Dov Waxman, Northeastern University
Deborah Waxman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Shayna Weiss
Dov Weiss, University of Illinois
Lee Shai Weissbach, University of Louisville
Steven Weitzman, University of Pennsylvania
Beth Wenger, University of Pennsylvania
Ariella Werden-Greenfield, Temple University
Sarah Willen, University of Connecticut
Jessica Wilson
Rebecca Winer, Villanova University
Sebastian Wogenstein, University of Connecticut
Diane Wolf, UC Davis
Diane Wolfthal, Rice University
Jonathan Wurl, Stanford University
Ipek Yosmaoglu, Northwestern University
James Young, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Sunny Yudkoff, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Orian Zakai, Middlebury College
Saul Zaritt, Harvard University
Sarah Zarrow, New Europe College
Jonathan Zatlin, Boston University
Alexandra Zirkle, University of Chicago

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: “The Levittown Problem”

On August 13, 1957, William and Daisy Myers and their three children, an African American family, moved into the all-white community of Levittown, Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter found themselves confronted by angry residents displeased with their arrival. Large crowds gathered during the day and hurled insults towards the home, while at night, cars drove by flashing their lights and honking their horns. The situation escalated over the course of eight days, with rocks being thrown through the windows of the Myers’ home and another stone knocking a local police officer unconscious. In response, the Pennsylvania State Police were sent to Levittown to restore order, where they would remain for nearly two months before a semblance of calm returned.

Crowd protests, August 1957
Crowd protests first black family moving into Levittown, 08/17/1957, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection


The events in Levittown attracted the attention of the national press and a wide range of civic and religious organizations that shared a common mission to combat prejudice and discrimination. One of these organizations was Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which frequently worked to promote fairness and equal opportunity in housing for African Americans throughout Philadelphia. The JCRC would not take a direct role in events taking place in Levittown, but correspondence between JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, and several other regional Jewish organizations, demonstrates the level of interest they shared. On October 18, Stephen Remsen, the director of the Philadelphia based Jewish Labor Committee, wrote to Fagan saying, “The pressures of time and the fact that my Levittown file is at home preparing itself for some more speeches to everybody and his brother make it difficult for me to do justice to your request.”

The apparent request was for an account of the role of Levittown’s Jews in response to the unrest. The letter praises the activities of the local Jewish Community Council, which worked in cooperation with Protestant and Quaker groups to actively support the rights of the Myers.  Remsen notes that there were some “individual” Jews who were either neutral or opposed to the racial integration of their community, yet also stresses that he could find no evidence that any Jew took part in any of the protests or acts of mob violence. Perhaps the most interesting comments in the letter come when Remsen expresses concern to Fagan about the way Jews are sometimes perceived and how this could influence events in Levittown.

Remsen writes: “If there was any problem, it was the identification of the Myers move-in as a Negro-Jewish-Quaker movement and cause. While the Rabbi and all the others of Jewish faith who were in this fight tried to remain in the background, it was impossible to do this. I am convinced that the enemy – smelling one Jew in the community – would have played the anti-Semitic game even if that one Jew did nothing but study the Torah.”

Letter to Fagan, 1957
Letter to JCRC exec. director Maurice Fagan, 10/18/1957

Fred Grossman, director of the regional Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, also wrote to Fagan on October 18 about his assessment of events in Levittown. Grossman describes some of the harassment endured by the Myers family and their supporters over the previous weeks and similarly lauds the work of Jewish groups, despite, “reports of anti-Semitic comments and instances of hostility from non-Jewish neighbors previously friendly or at least indifferent.”   Grossman also makes it clear that Jewish support for racial integration was not universal, and, in terms that are a bit more stark than Remsen’s, says that, “Although there are many Jews who are strongly opposed to integration and who resent the Myers, few if any of these agree with the violence or the attrition techniques aimed at driving the Myers out.”

Following these letters, Fagan submitted a report on October 23, 1957, to the JCRC board of directors that outlined what he saw as four key reasons why Jews had a stake in Levittown: “(1) the family which sold the home [to Myers] is Jewish; (2) the friendly family next door is Jewish; (3) organized Jewish groups and synagogues were called upon to make a public stand; and (4) Levitt of Levittown is Jewish.”

Levittown Problem report, 195
“The Levittown Problem and the Jewish Community” report, 10/23/1957

A local group, the Levittown Citizens Committee, took the lead in organizing support for the Myers and appealing for peace in their community. Comprised of Levittown residents, as well as local rabbis, Protestant ministers, and members of the Society of Friends, the group lent direct support to the embattled Myers and campaigned against the racism on their streets. Before it was over, the Myers and their friends would endure numerous forms of intimidation, including the burning of several crosses and the painting of “KKK” on the home of Myers’ Jewish neighbor. For several weeks, a vacant house situated next to the Myers’ home was occupied by members of the Levittown Betterment Committee–a hastily organized group that wanted to preserve Levittown’s whiteness. This vacant house was used as a rallying point for the demonstrators, which featured a Confederate flag flying above and the loud broadcast of songs, such as “Old Man River” and “Dixie.”

Eventually, William and Daisy Myers appealed to the Pennsylvania State Attorney General and charges were filed against members of the Levittown Betterment Committee, followed by a court ordered injunction issued on October 23, 1957–the same day as Fagan’s report. Records show that the JCRC was ready to lend aid if called upon, but no such request came from Levittown’s Jewish community, which had no formal relationship with their organization. The JCRC’s board of directors issued formal resolutions of commendation to both the Levittown Citizens Committee and the Levittown Jewish Community Council on December 20, 1957. Their commendation to the Levittown Jewish Community Council read, in part:

“The Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council notes with pride and gratification the courage, dignity and integrity with which the Jewish Community of Levittown, in the main under the leadership of the Levittown Jewish Community Council, expressed its regard for human dignity and democracy when the Myers family was threatened by mob harassment and violence.”

Letter to Levittown community, 1957
Letter to Levittown Jewish Community Council, 12/20/1957

The events that took place in Levittown, Pennsylvania, are a small chapter in the larger story of American’s struggle over civil rights, but in many ways it represents themes that would reverberate in numerous communities across the country. While not all Jews took up the fight against segregation, in many cases American Jews could be found either on the front lines or working to support the efforts of those who were.



Additional photographs of crowds protesting the Meyers’ family move to Levittown, PA, can be found in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin photograph collection.

To learn more about the Levittown communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, see Suzanne Lashner Dadyanim’s essay on The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia’s website.

–Kenneth Cleary, Project Archivist, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Collection, SCRC

This is the first post of an occasional series highlighting the work of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The records of the JCRC, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, are currently being processed and will be available for research in early 2018.

Summer Fellows for 2016

The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History announces the selection of its Summer Fellows for 2016:

IMG_2921Aaron Welt, a PhD Candidate at New York University, is the 2016 Kaiserman Summer Fellow. His dissertation, “The Shtarkers of Progressive Era New York; Crime, Labor, and Capitalism in an Age of Mass Migration, 1900 -1930,” explores the world of Jewish labor racketeers – referred to in Yiddish as “shtarkers” – in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era garment industry of New York City. This project surveys the operations of a cohort of Yiddish-speaking gangsters over the first two decades of the twentieth century and assesses the influence of shtarkers in the encounter between American Jewish immigrants and industrial capitalism. Additionally, this dissertation analyzes the era’s political responses to industrial violence and the role Jews played in the city’s major political and social debates concerning Progressive urban reform.

Two Feinstein Center Summer Fellows have also been chosen for the 2016 summer:

Stefanie HalpernStefanie Halpern, a PhD Candidate at the Jewish Theological Seminary, was selected for her project, “Crossing Over From the Yiddish Rialto to the American Stage.” Her work situates the study of Yiddish theater as essential to a more complete understanding of the American theatrical institution through looking at the ways Yiddish drama, performance, and artists transitioned from the American Yiddish theater to the mainstream English-language stage. Yiddish actors such as Bertha Kalich and Jacob Ben-Ami, proponents of the realistic school of acting, would go on to find fame in America by distinguishing themselves from the melodramatic actors that dominated the Broadway stage. Set designers like Boris Aronson, trained in various European artistic movements, would re-define the design aesthetic of the American theater. And Yiddish playwrights such as David Pinski and Jacob Gordin, through translation and adaptation, would find expression on the mainstream stage, positioning the Yiddish drama firmly within the realm of high theater art. All of these theater practitioners helped shape dramatic and theatrical aesthetics and tastes that remain important components of the American stage today.

genovesephotoHolly Genovese is a PhD Candidate at Temple University. Her project, “A Pennsylvania State Historical Marker for the Hebrew Literature Society,” involves a State Historical Nomination for the Hebrew Literature Society, a educational facility, settlement house, library and social center, that was a centerpiece of Philadelphia’s Jewish Quarter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the building is still standing, it is completely unmarked, as are almost all buildings reflective of Philadelphia’s immigrant past. By applying for a historical marker, and writing a reflective article about the process, this project fights against the hegemony of colonial history in Philadelphia and helps to center low-income Jewish immigrants in the Philadelphia’s history.

IMG_5591 (1)

Announcing the Feinstein Center’s Jewish Professional Internship Program

Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, along with the College of Liberal Arts, now offers undergraduate students the unique opportunity to gain three course credits while working with arts and culture organizations, social justice start-ups, educational institutions, synagogues and other Jewish community spaces, and more. Feinstein launched its Jewish professional internship program last spring to give students the chance to develop professional skills, while learning about Jewish history and culture outside of a traditional classroom. Working side by side with Jewish professionals, students see how the skills they are gaining in the classroom to think critically, analyze texts, and solve problems have deep value in professional environments. Joyce Salzberg, an alumna of Temple University, has provided generous support for the program.

According to senior Colan Rodgers, his experience in the program is preparing him for life after Temple University: “I am now looking to my future and thinking about what I am going to do in a few months when I am no longer a Temple student in a new way. I am so glad that I was able to attain this internship with Jewish Farm School through a previous Jewish Studies class and that the experience has been a real synthesis of my time at Temple, my passions, and my Judaism.” Sophmore Maxie Erhlich agrees that the program is helping her plan for her future and notes, “So far my internship at the Gershman Y has been a great experience for me. It gives me the chance to reach out to people. The people I have contacted might even be a future employer one day!”

Not only do interns benefit from the program, their host organizations do as well. Rabbi Leah Richman, Community Engagement Specialist at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, explains, “The Feinstein Center internship program has been extremely helpful in providing us with a motivated, reliable, and capable student intern. We are very appreciative to the Feinstein Center for offering this program as it allows us to impact the community in ways that would otherwise be impossible given our current staffing.” Likewise, Nati Passow, Executive Director of the Jewish Farm School, says, “As we continue to grow our work here in the Philadelphia area, Feinstein’s internship program is valuable not only to have the additional assistance an intern can provide, but also to be making a lasting and mutually beneficial institutional connection as well.”

Each of the six students enrolled in the inaugural Feinstein Jewish Professional Internship Program last semester has dedicated ten hours a week to a Jewish organization in the Philadelphia area. Host organizations include the Jewish Farm School, Jewish Federation, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, the Gershman Y, Historic Congregation Mikveh Israel, and Repair the World. Over the course of the program, students write reflective essays about their experiences, participate in workshops with Jewish professionals, and receive one-on-one mentoring from Feinstein instructors.

 Feinstein welcomes its next cohort of interns, who begin work on August 29th. Several new organizations have joined the program, including the National Museum of American Jewish History, Challah for Hunger, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. By introducing students to the Jewish professional world, the Feinstein Center and its partner institutions including the Center City Kehillah ensure individual students and the Jewish community of Philadelphia a vibrant future.

Feinstein’s Jewish Professional Internship Program is open to all Temple students in good academic standing. For more information or to get involved, contact Ariella Werden-Greenfield (Ariella.Werden@Temple.edu).