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Session and Paper Ideas

AJS 45th Annual Conference
December 15-17, 2013 • Boston, MA
Sheraton Boston

The following people are interested in proposing session or paper topics for the AJS 45th Annual Conference. If you would like to submit a paper on the topic of one of these session ideas, or help develop a session around one of the paper ideas, please contact the organizer/author directly at the email address or phone number provided.

If you would like to post a session or paper idea to the list below, please send an e-mail to the AJS at with your name and contact information (e-mail and/or phone number) and a brief description of the paper, session, or topic you wish to explore.

Session Ideas (Roundtables, Seminars, Panels, Meetings)

Paper Ideas

Session Ideas (Roundtables, Seminars, Panels, Meetings)

Submitted by:

Daniel Parmer

Courtship, Marriage, and Children among Contemporary Jewish Families

I would like to submit a session/topic for AJS that I think will be of great interest to scholars studying contemporary Jewish life in the US and abroad. The topic is courtship, marriage, and children among contemporary Jewish families. Themes to be explored may include how Jewish adults make decisions about whom they date; the determinants of marriage; trends in marriage, single-hood and alternative forms of cohabitation; new definitions of 'family'; the role of religion in marriage and fertility; decision making in the Jewish household; and international perspectives and comparisons.

Submitted by:

Ellen Rosner Feig
Bergen County Community College

Jews in the Suburbs: A Pop Culture View

Since the early 1950s, Americans have picked up their families, collected their possessions and moved to the grass covered, ranch filled suburbs; Jewish Americans were no exception as they relocated from urban settings to the suburban setting. While books like Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road look at a typical upper middle class Catholic family and television series like The Wonder Years relates the suburban experience through the eyes of a young boy, what has been the pop culture view on Jewish Americans and suburbia? This session will review literature, films and television series that include Jewish characters including the family in Weeds, Philip Roth's Alexander Portnoy, Jami Attenberg's dysfunctional family The Middlesteins and Rachel Berry from Glee. In addition, we will address the recent films that have a suburban bent and Jewish characters such as Greenberg, Garden State and Bee Season.

Submitted by:

Ben Z. Katz
Northwestern University

Authorship of the Torah

A panel discussing the issue of "Authorship of the Torah" might be of interest. Traditional, Fragmentary and Documentary approaches could all be discussed. Theological implications of the discussion could either be excluded or encouraged.

Submitted by:

David C. Jacobson
Brown University

Rabbinic Literature in Contemporary Israeli Discourse

The recent speech by newly elected Member of Knesset Ruth Calderon, which "went viral" on the Internet among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, calls attention to the growing role of rabbinic literature in contemporary Israeli discourse during the last few decades. Topics for this session could include: the study of rabbinic texts in pluralistic batei midrash and secular yeshivot; the publication of an increasing number of annotated anthologies of rabbinic legends (by such writers as Ari Elon, Ruth Calderon, Admiel Kosman, Ruchama Weiss, and Shmuel Faust); contemporary scholarship stemming from the Yona Fraenkel school of literary analysis of aggadot; collections of contemporary midrashim modeled after classical rabbinic midrash (such as Dirshuni: midreshei nashim, edited by Nehama Weingarten-Mintz and Tamar Biala); new approaches to the study of Talmud in some religious Zionist yeshivot; continuing discussions of the role of mishpat ivri in the contemporary Israeli legal system; the use of rabbinic texts in support of advancing social justice in Israel.

Submitted by:

Shawn Zelig Aster
Bar Ilan University / Yeshiva University

Biblical Literature in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context

Biblical Literature in its Ancient Near Eastern Context, with specific reference to ways in which ancient Near Eastern texts or artifacts illuminate Biblical literature and assist in its exegesis. I would suggest that the session focus on one of the following topics:

  • Theophany
  • Prophetic Literature
  • Historical Narrative

Submitted by:

Ann McCullough
Middle Tennessee State University

On the Margins: Literary Gestures of Negation of Jews in Medieval Europe

I would like to propose a medieval studies session with the title “On the Margins: Literary Gestures of Negation of Jews in Medieval Europe”.  The session would address persons (or entire communities) who speak to us, whether explicitly or implicitly, from the margins.  The marginality of those whom history has attempted to rewrite (and to write out) nonetheless interject their own undeniable influence on the dominant culture.  Topics addressed might include:  the body and embodiment, marginalization as "virtual" or "ghostly", rhetoric of inauthenticity / impurity / blindness, identities threatened by and dependent on the existence of the other, forced conversion, temporality, gestures of dehumanization, literary manifestations of religious tension, hermeneutic concerns of the modern reader. 

Submitted by:

Emily Sigalow

New innovations in Jewish Spirituality

New efforts to enhance Jewish spirituality abound. This panel will examine new innovations in Jewish spirituality that range from the rise of Jewish healing services in synagogues to new forms of Jewish yoga practiced in JCC's. Possible topics to explore include new forms of contemplative prayer, Jewish healing services, Jewish yoga, Jewish meditation, Jewish spiritual retreats, etc. I welcome sociological, historical, anthropological, and comparative perspectives on these new spiritual innovations.

Submitted by:

Roslyn Weiss
Lehigh University

Hasdai Crescas

I would like to propose a session on the great medieval philosopher Hasdai Crescas. The paper I'm working on compares how Crescas conceives his relationship to Maimonides with how Maimonides conceives his relationship to the sages--when they clearly disagree.

Papers on any aspect of the thought of Hasdai Crescas would be welcome.

Submitted by:

Victoria Khiterer
Millersville University

Jewish Avengers and/or the Participation of Jews in the Revolutionary Movement and Terrorism

I would like to propose a session on Jewish avengers and/or on the participation of Jews in the revolutionary movement and terrorism. The persecution of Jews and Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire and during the civil war in Ukraine created avengers including Pinkhas Dashevsky, Dmitrii Bogrov, Fanni Kaplan, and Sholom Schwartzbard. The session will analyze the motivation of Jewish avengers, their involvement in the revolutionary movement, how they planned and committed their revenge and the consequences of their assassinations or assassination attempts for Jewish people and for Jewish-gentile relations. I am going to present in the session my paper about Dmitrii Bogrov and the assassination of Peter Stolypin.

If you are interested in submitting a paper for this session, please
contact Victoria Khiterer at

Submitted by:

Jessica Kirzane

Interethnic Encounters in Modern Jewish Literatures

I would like to submit a session/topic for AJS on interethnic encounters in Jewish literature. I think it could be helpful to think about the borders and boundaries of Jewishness in the Jewish literary imagination by examining literary moments in Jewish literature in which Jewish and non-Jewish characters interact and explore their differences and similarities. This description is purposefully broad - I think it would be constructive to have a conversation between scholars who work with a variety of languages and geographical spaces, and think about the Jewish representation of a variety of "Others" within their literatures. Please contact me if you have ideas or are interested in participating.

Submitted by:

Erin Corber

Nicholas Underwood

Testaments of Youth: Voluntary Organisation and Young Jews in the Modern Era

We wonder if there is any interest on the part of potential presenters to assemble a panel devoted to Jewish youth organisations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Topics may include Jewish youth associations, youth-oriented religious groups, young Jews' involvement in youth sections of [adult] political groups (Jewish or non-Jewish), Jewish youth presence or imagery associated with the young in various political and social movements, and beyond. Questions addressed may include, but are not limited to: what can the history of youth offer to Jewish history, writ large? What is the place of voluntary organisation and association in modern Jewish life? How do young Jews contribute to national or international politics or culture?

Submitted by:

Naomi Sokoloff

Rereading David Grossman's "See Under: Love"

Upon its publication in 1986, David Grossman's "See Under: Love" was hailed as a masterpiece that brought innovative treatment of Holocaust themes to Hebrew literature. This was a path-breaking novel that caused a sensation on the Israeli literary scene through its focus on the second generation, through its use of the fantastic and of post-modern narrative techniques, and through its attention to children’s literature and the Holocaust. How has this novel held up over time? Reading it now, at a distance of almost thirty years, we can reassess this important work of fiction by asking how artistic responses to the Holocaust have subsequently evolved and by considering whether Grossman’s novel was indeed prophetic of emerging trends in Holocaust studies. Possible topics to explore include: depictions of the second and third generation in literature; children's literature and the Holocaust since the 1980s; adaptations of "See Under: Love" in theater and film; the representation of Holocaust perpetrators; narrative experiment, humor and fantasy in responses to the Holocaust; Grossman’s own subsequent publications and the place of “See Under: Love” in his work.

Please send proposals to Professor Naomi Sokoloff, University of Washington (

Submitted by:

Edward K. Kaplan

Colloques des intellectuels juifs de langue française

I would like to organize a session based on the Colloques des intellectuels juifs de langue française, yearly conferences whose goal was to revive and renew French Jewish life and philosophy after the Shoah. The meetings began in Paris in 1957 and featured the regular participation of André Neher (leçons bibliques), Emmanuel Levinas (leçons talmudiques), Léon Askenazi, Éliane Amado Lévy-Valensi, Vladimir Yankélévitch, Jean Wahl, and many others: Jewish, Christian, assimilated, "juifs perplexes." Sefardic and Ashkenazi French thinkers explored the relevance of tradition to contemporary problems such as history, faith, forgiveness, temptations, Israel, messianism – and of course Jewish identity. Colloquia papers and often animated discussions were subsequently published in several volumes by Presses Universitaires de France. These deftly edited proceedings will comprise the foundational source of the proposed session which will address the rebuilding and evolution of French Jewish intellectual life and thought post World War II.

While my intention is to have the December 2013 AJS session address the initial Colloquia, 1957-1963, I propose to continue the session devoted to Colloques des intellectuels juifs de langue française well beyond those years.

Submitted by:

David Mendelsson
Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion

Jewish Education as a Prism through which to Understand Diaspora Jewish Communities

I would like to suggest a round table or panel that uses the prism of Jewish education through which to understand Diaspora Jewish communities and their relationship to the general society.

A number of scholars have studies this field in countries such as the US, Argentina, Brazil and my own work on the Anglo-Jewish community.

Submitted by:

Henry Greenspan
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Thinking Clearly About "After the Survivors"

Much has been said about the impact on Holocaust memory and history when "there are no survivors."  This panel would be committed to taking a clear-headed, realistic look at the impact of the loss of survivors across different kinds of knowing and different kinds of teaching.  Among the relevant aspects would be:  (1) The loss of people who have direct memory of the world that was and the people who were; (2) The impact of not being able to pursue questions in direct conversation (versus through memoirs, archived testimonies, and so on);' (3) The impact not being able include survivors as participants in our classrooms.

Submitted by:

Eliza Slavet
University of California, San Diego

"I ♥ Jews"  &/or "I ♥ Being Jewish"

Seeking paper-proposals for a panel on philo-semitism. Particularly interested in papers which address the following:

--the relationships between philo- and anti-semitism, conceptually, theoretically, &/or historically
--the desire/urge to be Jewish (of individuals who are immediately recognized as Jewish and of individuals who may not be immediately/universally recognized as Jewish by "mainstream" Jewish institutions/communities)
--the blurry lines between love/hate and/or admiration/jealousy
--the admiration/jealousy of the perceptionthat the Jewish people are the "model minority," "ultimate victim," and/or "rulers of the world"

Please email me with ideas/proposals/suggestions.

Submitted by:

Sean Burrus
Duke University

The Materiality of Jewish Death

This session would explore through archaeological, anthropological, sociological and art historical lenses the roles that material culture plays in the Jewish experience of death, mourning and remembrance. From tombstones and the tearing of garments to food and fasting, papers would be encouraged that deal with specific aspects of Jewish funerary customs, ancient or modern.

Submitted by:

Yaniv Feller

Intersections of Jewish and Postcolonial Thought

Postcolonial theory is one of the most influential theoretical strands of our time and it has a profound impact on the study of various fields within Jewish Studies. Yet—with a few exceptions—its relevance for the study of Jewish thought has not been sufficiently addressed in scholarship. The proposed panel will bring Jewish thought into dialogue with postcolonial theory: How does Jewish philosophy serve as the colonized other of general philosophy? What are the power-relations involved in different modes of dialogical thinking? To what extent do colonial fantasies, and critique of them, shape Jewish political theory? Can Jewish thinkers be considered as writing from a subaltern position? What is the meaning of debates on Jewish essence in a post-essentialist age?

We invite papers that reflect on these and similar questions. Please send 350 words abstract and a short biographical paragraph by April 21st to Yaniv Feller (

Submitted by:

Eric Engel Tuten
Slippery Rock University

Perceptions of and (Non-)Attachment to Eretz Israel/Palestine from Ancient to Modern Times

I propose a session with the tentative title above. The topic spans time, not space (location), but certainly the perceptions of and (non-)attachment to said space have changed over time. Along with this proposal, I am in search of a co-organizer who (1) may have an interest in (or perhaps even have addressed) issues related to the general topic and (2) would be willing to help me conceptualize the topic and contribute to crafting the wording for the session proposal.

My own research interest (in this specific context) is the Jewish National Fund (keren kayemeth Leisrael, KKL or JNF), which was the main land-purchasing arm of the Zionist movement. I am particularly interested in the ways in which JNF founders and leaders nationalized biblical ideas related to the Land. The JNF was founded on the biblical principle spelled out in Leviticus 25: 23: "for the land is Mine; for ye [Israel] are strangers and sojourners with me." According to this passage in Leviticus, G-d was owner and custodian of the Land (Eretz Israel) and the Israelites were mere "tenants" or "aliens" on the land.[1] The passage also speaks of the fact that G-d's land should not be sold and allows for a "right of redemption" on all landed property. JNF leaders nationalized these concepts by granting that the JNF hold "in perpetuity" all land it purchased, and to hold this land on behalf of/in the name of the Jewish people worldwide. In this formulation, the Jewish people (a nation-in-the-making in Zionist ideology) seemingly replaced G-d as owner of the land purchased by the JNF.[2]

[1] Norman C. Habel, The Land is Mine: Six Biblical Land Ideologies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 98.
[2] Ruth Kark, "Napoleon to Allenby: Processes of Change in Palestine, 1800-1918," in Paul Scham, et. al, eds, Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue (Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, n.d.), 20.

Submitted by:

Jessica Roda
Canadian Research Chair of Urban Heritage (UQAM)

Stakes and Issues of the Representation of Jewishness in the Arts

By looking at musical and dance performances, exhibitions and theatre related to Jewish experiences for general public, this panel will discuss an array of understandings of "Jewishness" in art. Who decides what Jewishness looks like to consumers, what Jewishness sounds like, and for what purposes these decisions are made? The objective of the panel is to compare the representation of Jewishness in different artistic manifestations and to discuss about the issues and stakes of such representation in the context of the promotion of Cultural Diversity and Multiculturalism in Urban Spaces.

If you are interested by the topic, please contact me as soon as possible: Jessica Roda, Postdoctoral researcher with the Canadian Research Chair of urban heritage (UQAM)

Submitted by:

Rosemary Horowitz

Affect and Witnessing in Holocaust Literature

Whether predicting the destruction of European Jewry or responding to the tragedy, Holocaust literature has been inevitably reader-oriented because it wishes to inform and to teach about an unprecedented historical event. Since the phenomenon of the Final Solution has no point of reference in human history, the rhetoric employed by writers is of utmost importance. Our panel proposes to study the lessons that writers wished to teach and the rhetorical devices they were searching for or experimenting with to communicate their message. Rachel Brenner will discuss the re-humanizing impact of the Jewish plight on the emotionally numbed, ethically diminished Polish characters in first person narrative stories in early postwar Polish literature by the writers Jozef Mackiewicz, Tadeusz Borowski, and Kornel Filipowicz; Rosemary Horowitz will focus on the language of pathos in Yankev Glatshteyn's 1940 novel for young adult readers, Emil and Karl. We are seeking two additional panelists for our session. Contact or for more information

Submitted by:

Noam Pines

Renana Keyda

Cultural Reactions to Atrocities

Thinking of the twentieth century as the century of atrocities, we are interested in examining the diverse ways in which Jewish literature across different times and places has responded to acts of atrocity.

We call for papers that explore the different ways in which literature and other modes of expression react to, address, and come to terms with modern atrocities such as pogroms, ethnic cleansing, genocide and occupation, from the perspective of victim and perpetrator alike.

Looking at various cultural discourses such as poetry, prose, film and journalism alongside court proceedings and historical accounts, we wish to inaugurate a cross-disciplinary debate on the different approaches to atrocities and the ethical quandaries they engender.

Please email paper submissions to or by April 21st.

Submitted by:

Claire Le Foll
University of Southampton

Jews in National Movements and State-Building of East-European "Small Nations", 1905-1941

I would like to propose a session on a neglected area of the Jewish / non-Jewish relations – the relations between Jews and the other national minorities among which they lived in Eastern Europe. In this panel, I will present a paper on the way Belorussian nationalists integrated Jews in their national project and, after 1918, in the institutions of the Belorussian People's Republic. Papers on similar topics or on the Jewish response to Belorussian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Estonian or Latvian nationalisms are very welcome. I am also looking for a chair/discussant. Please contact me if you are interested or have any ideas on this topic.

Submitted by:

Yedida Eisenstat

Rewritten Midrash in Medieval Bible Commentaries and Transmission of Traditions

I'm organizing a session of papers addressing rewriting and reworking of midrashic material as it appears in medieval biblical commentaries and midrashic collections. Papers in this session will address traditions as they are changed and represented in different collections and commentaries as well as offer explanations or hypotheses as to why those changes occur as they do in their different contexts. Papers may also offer a theoretical framework in which to analyze the changing of these traditions.

Submitted by:

Beth Cohen
California State University, Northridge

Post-Holocaust Reconstruction of the Jewish Family

The high birth rate in DP camps has been documented as a reflection of Holocaust survivors' resilience and the starting point for the restoration of the rupture in Jewish life. This panel would take a more nuanced look at the reconstruction of Jewish life/family after the Shoah. How did survivors begin the emotional and physical process that led to marriage and family after the war? How did survivors regard sexuality and childbearing? What did family mean? Many survivors were not first time parents. They had surviving children and cobbled together families with new partners. And how did the Jewish community; religious, Zionist, etc. stand in for children who had no parents? These are some possible questions this panel would consider.

Submitted by:

Deborah Starr
Cornell University

Jewish Movies without Jews

This panel seeks papers that explore the nature of Jewishness in cinema beyond the presence of Jewish characters within the diegesis. We do not seek to claim or label films as "Jewish." Rather we propose to explore and unpack the signification of implied or repressed Jewish characters and/or narratives. Through close readings of individual films, we hope to address some of the following questions: How does place serve as a marker of Jewishness, or geography map traces of (current or former) Jewish presence? To what extent do narratives of persecution or immigration identify characters as Jews or imply parallels with Jewish experiences? In what ways do films imply the Jewishness of characters not identified as Jews, whether through linguistic signs such as language and accent; through back-stories; or through the visible presence of Jewish objects? Most importantly, how does the presence or absence of Jews or Jewishness shape the films and our understanding of them? Films to be discussed may (but need not) involve creative involvement by Jews as, for example, directors, screenwriters, or actors. We encourage submissions that discuss films produced outside of the U.S.

Submitted by:

Bernard Dov Cooperman

Adam Shear

History of the Hebrew/Jewish Book

We are looking for participants for sessions focusing on the history of the Hebrew/Jewish book at the upcoming AJS Annual Conference, December 15-17, 2013 at the Sheraton Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. We envision proposing one or two sessions exploring the transition from manuscript to print in the early modern period, changes in formatting of printed Hebrew texts, technologies of textual production and dissemination in the modern era and dissemination and related questions.  Please contact either Adam Shear <> or Berny Cooperman <> with suggestions and for further information. Please note: submissions will require that you be a paid-up member of the AJS. The deadline for submission is May 8 at 5 pm so we would appreciate hearing from you by May 1.

Submitted by:

Dalia Wassner PhD
Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Jewish Cultural Production through a Comparative (beyond Jewish) Post-colonial Lens

I invite proposals for papers that study Jewish cultural production through a comparative (beyond Jewish) post-colonial lens. In other words, how have Jews and other "others" responded through their cultural productions (literature, art, theater, film) to a marginal status within colonial and post-colonial societies, and how have these subalterns used their own voices to respond/challenge/join a majority that by and large, excludes them? My own paper is focused on Latin America, and I invite submissions by scholars with the same regional focus, as well as beyond. Please submit a 350 word abstract and brief bio by Wednesday, May 1 to: Dalia Wassner PhD, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at

Submitted by:

Laura Rosenzweig
San Francisco State University

Steven Carr
Indiana-Purdue University

"Jewish" Hollywood and American Politics, 1930-1968

We are seeking 1 or 2 more presenters to join our panel.  Our session will investigate the various ways in which Jewish identity worked within Hollywood to confront various issues in American politics in the mid-20th century.  We would like to investigate the question, "How did various individuals and groups who identified as Jewish and who worked within or alongside the studio system cope with the political turmoil of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s?"   Currently, our first paper focuses on the Motion Picture Division of the Community Relations Committee of Los Angeles and its work with the film industry between 1937-1946, especially amid revelations of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.   Our second paper presents the unlikely role that the Jews of Hollywood played in the 1930s that led to the creation of HUAC.

Submitted by:

Amalia S. Levi, Ph.D. student
College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, College Park

The Changing Nature of Primary Sources in the Context of Diasporic Histories

I am putting together a proposal for a session at AJS and looking for participants. The session can be either seminar-style or a roundtable.

The topic I would like to explore is the changing nature of primary sources in the context of diasporic histories, such as Jewish history, and how as scholars we try to make sense out of it. Recently there has been a lot of hype about 'big data', but big data are not something new: we have always had big data in the form of archival, museum, library, or personal collections. What we lacked was meaningful ways to seamlessly access, link, and manipulate dispersed and disparate analog material existing all over the world, as is the case with Jewish history. The deluge of social media has created a vast, new—and presently, untapped—archive of already digital primary sources that reflect our lives today, especially in the case of ethnic populations. Questions that the session will seek to answer, and possibly develop in a white paper, are: Has the changing nature of primary sources affected our research? If yes, in which ways, and if not, what are the barriers and challenges we encounter? How do we visualize the process of researching, teaching, or writing Jewish history based on these new realities? As scholars of Jewish history, what are new applications, platforms or tools that we would like to see developed by archives, libraries, and museums in order to conduct research and produce scholarship?

Please, send one paragraph describing your interest in participating, and contribution to the discussion, as well as a short bio to Amalia S. Levi at amaliasl [at] by May 2. Also, in your e-mail, indicate your availability for the seminar format (or not), since AJS states that seminars will take place over two or three meetings over the conference (see more details here:

Submitted by:

Moshe Kornfeld

Episodic Jewish Culture

This panel proposes “episodic Jewish experience” as a framework within which to analyze the various projects of contemporary American Jewish life within a neoliberal economic context.  Considering the “episodic” (as opposed to “ethnic” or “identity-political”) nature of Jewish experience raises questions about who cultivates and activates these experiences, and why. Such self-conscious Jewish cultural projects are made available to Jewish publics through institutions devoted to the creation of episodic Jewish experiences. This panel asks how thinking about Jewish experience as episodic can enrich our understanding of differences and boundaries among and between Jewish cultural engagements such as Zionism, Yiddishism, progressivism, etc. What can social-scientific research methodologies tell us about Jewish experiences that are imagined and produced in administrative offices and consumed by Jewish individuals and communities? Ultimately, this panel investigates the role of episodic Jewish experiences in defining contemporary American Jewish life.

Submitted by:

Matt Boxer
Brandeis University

Investing in the Jewish Future

We are looking for a paper to round out a panel on the long-term benefits of investing in free and low-cost Jewish educational experiences for youth and young adults. We currently have two papers. One will discuss the social scientific theory justifying such investment, touching on such wide-ranging topics as Dewey's approach to public education, the DuBois-Washington debate, social justice and the economics of Jewish life, the science of gratitude, and others. A second paper will use data from a long-term follow-up study of applicants to and participants on the Taglit-Birthright Israel program to illustrate the long-term benefits of participation. A respondent from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston's local Jewish Federation, will comment on all papers in the session, providing the perspective of a local communal planner whose job inherently entails taking the best research on Jewish education and ensuring that its lessons are applied in communal settings.

If you are interested in submitting a paper for this session, please contact Matt Boxer at

Submitted by:

Shirah W. Hecht

Current Research by and for Synagogue Congregations

I would like to organize a session for AJS in Boston next December that will address recent trends in Jewish congregational research. The panel will include current thinking and work on how data collection has been used to serve congregational process and goals. The focus is on applied research by, for, and about Jewish congregations; depending on the papers offered, it could take a more theoretical direction. The panel would benefit from including everything from "big data" to small-scale approaches and projects. Papers will also likely frame any applied work within larger issues that face congregations now. Larger issues relate, for example, to collaboration among congregations towards effective and affordable programming (that is my topic), helping congregations become more internally vibrant, or other issues of congregational change and viability. The panel ideally may also include non-academic stakeholders in this field, such as those who fund synagogue innovation and vitality projects. If you would like to present on a panel with this topic or have related suggestions, please contact me at

Submitted by:

Susan Breitzer
Campbell University

Comforting and Afflicting Whom?—Religious Judaism and the Rabbinate as Labor's Ally

I am trying to organize a panel on the role of rabbis, synagogues, and Jewish religious organizations as supporters of labor movements and working class causes. From the late nineteenth century onward, rabbis and Jewish institutions have played important roles in both supporting workers and labor movements, and serving as the conscience of both employers and communities in regard to worker justice issues. This role has continued into the twentieth century, in both American and transnational contexts. Yet the role of Jewish religious leaders and organizations as supports of labor has not always been what it seems or what it could be. The purpose of this panel therefore is to take a comparative look at the way that Jewish religious-labor alliances have worked or not. I am particularly interested in papers that address cases in which good intentions on the part of religious organizations have ended up hurting as much as or in place of helping. I am particularly interested in seeking papers with a pre-twentieth century and/or non-U.S. Focus.

Paper Ideas

Submitted by:

Morton J. Merowitz

Ultra-Orthodox Mores and Mental Health

I'd like to make a presentation at the next AJS conference on the correlation between ultra-Orthodox mores and mental health. Given that Jewish law,as interpreted by Orthodox codifiers, places a premium on fecundity, how does/might this impact on young mothers overwhelmed by the demands of numerous children? I'd like to examine how two or three poskim address this issue--since this issue has increasingly caught the attention of the press as well as feminists. It seems to be an issue which might well be addressed at a session of the AJS.

Submitted by:

Nathan Harpaz

Architecture in the Establishment of Tel Aviv

Established as a Jewish settlement in 1909 and dedicated a year later, Tel Aviv has grown over the last century to become Israel's financial center and the country's second largest city. This presentation examines a major period in the city's establishment when Jewish architects moved from Europe, including Alexander Levy of Berlin, and attempted to establish a new style of Zionist urbanism in the years after World War I.

The presentation explores the interplay of an ambitious architectural program and the pragmatic needs that drove its chaotic implementation during a period of dramatic population growth. It explores the intense debate among the Zionist leaders in Berlin in regard to future Jewish settlement in the land of Israel after World War I, and the difficulty in imposing a town plan and architectural style based on European concepts in an environment where they clashed with desires for Jewish revival and self-identity. While "modern" values advocated universality, Zionist ideas struggled with the conflict between the concept of "New Order" and traditional and historical motifs.

Submitted by:

Eliza Slavet
University of California, San Diego

Reconsidering Scholarship on Philo- and Anti-Semitism

In “Chickens, Eggs and Feedback Loops: Reconsidering Scholarship on Philo- and Anti-Semitism,” Eliza Slavet uses Sander Gilman’s 1986 book, JEWISH SELF-HATRED, as a jumping-off point to discuss the myriad ways in which external and internal representations of Jews—both positive and negative—interact and transform one another. Slavet problematizes the scholarly practice of excerpting positive and negative statements from larger texts: rather than simply discounting
radically divergent statements from the same text or author as exceptions to the reality, she proposes reading such excerpts closely in order to begin to move beyond categorical distinctions between philo- and anti-semitisms.

Please email me with ideas/proposals/suggestions:

Submitted by:

Nancy Nield PhD

At the Crossroads of Documentation, Apparition, and Diaspora: Gabrielle Rossmer’s Search for Lost Family Memory

I’m seeking an appropriate session for my abstract, copied below, which focuses on the intersection of the Holocaust and visual art in the work of a Jewish-American artist.  Panels which might be interested in my work include those which explore the Shoah, post-memory, diaspora, modern/contemporary artistic response to the Holocaust, feminist response to the Holocaust.

The American- Jewish artist Gabrielle Rossmer’s In Search of the Lost Object isa 1991 installation comprised of multiple sections which the artist installed in several sites and configurations. My paper will delineate the multivalent aspects of the installation’s lost objects, arguing that they are not only theoretical, but decidedly material, painfully autobiographical, and intertwined with Rossmer’s identity—and her family’s-- as Jews defined through the Holocaust, diaspora, the transmission (or its lack) of family memory, and the relationship between memory and unheimlichheit (translated here as uncanny). Indeed, Lost Object evokes the tension between home and unheimlichheit, home and diaspora,by drawing attention to the signifiers of the Rossmer’s Bamberg, Germany home as simulacra.

Submitted by:

Norbert Samuelson

A Brief Intellectual History of the Concept of Light, from Genesis through Spinoza

I would like to read a paper at the 2013 AJS annual meeting in Boston with the following tentative title:  "A Brief Intellectual History of the Concept of Light, From Genesis through Spinoza".  The kind of sessions into which this paper could be included are the following:  1. Jewish Philosophy and/or Theology and/or Intellectual history, in a session organized around biblical and/or post biblical and/or early modern Jewish thought.  2. A session devoted to Judaism and science.

Submitted by:

Michelle Facos
Indiana University Bloomington

Emma Lamm Zorn: Ethnographer and Philanthropist

This paper will consider the seminal role played by Emma Lamm Zorn (1860-1942) in the revival of folk culture in her adopted central-Swedish province of Dalarna had important regional, national, and international consequences. Since today hand-carved and brightly-painted Dalarna horses are generic national symbols and Swedish dance and fiddle groups thrive in North America as well as in Sweden, it seems hard to believe that Sweden's traditional arts were on the verge of extinction in 1900. Lamm Zorn and her renowned painter-husband, Anders, are credited with initiating Sweden's revival of folk music (1897) and dance (1906), creating what is still the largest collection of regional vernacular architecture, establishing and funding a handicraft association (1905), a community college (1912), and a summer camp (1920) and orphanage (1917) where children learned traditional handicrafts. Although most of the credit for these enterprises has been attributed to Anders Zorn (1860-1920), a native of Mora in Dalarna, evidence indicates that Emma not only directed these various projects during her husband's extended and frequent absences, but took a leading role in initiating them.

Lamm Zorn came from a bourgeois Swedish-Jewish family in Stockholm that valued culture and education. She learned a dozen languages, including Moramål, Anders's native dialect, after they were married in 1885.While the alliance between an urban, bourgeois, Jewish girl and the illegitimate son of a Mora peasant was unusual, Lamm Zorn evidenced an early, empathetic interest in peasant culture: in an 1884 letter to her cousin, Lamm Zorn described Ivan Turgenev's first novel, Rudin: "he gives us in his characters only Russians, and above all people whose character and feelings are valid for all people." Lamm Zorn had, in fact, much to gain from marrying Anders. She may well have seen an opportunity for greater autonomy than would likely have been the case had she married a youth from Stockholm's ruling class, where norms were rigid and roles, well established. Her cultural, intellectual, and economic capital was significantly greater than Anders's which, initially at least, gave her a sense of independence, if not superiority.