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Past Lapidus Lectures and Courses


March 23, 2015
4:30 p.m., 219 Aaron Burr Hall

Golda Meir: American roots, Zionist life

Professor Pnina Lahav, Boston University School of Law

Born in abject poverty in Kiev, Czarist Russia, Golda ended her formidable life as Prime Minister of Israel. This lecture explores the American tissue of her identity.  

In 1906, Golda and her family immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There she attended public school, learned English and steeped herself in the progressive culture of the period. By the time she arrived in Palestine in 1922, she was a married woman, an aspiring politician gifted at making connections with her audience, and a passionate follower of Socialist Zionism. Amidst pervasive gender-based discrimination she spent most of her time in the company of men and rose to the top of the Israeli political leadership. In 1969, her party elected her as Prime Minister of Israel, a role that brought her to the White House and secured her a powerful voice on the world stage. The 1973 Yom Kippur War, which occurred on her watch, precipitously ended her career. She died heartbroken, five years later.  

The lecture addresses the American fingerprints on Golda’s identity and the impact that major legal developments in the United States during and after World War I had on her emotional and political development.   It also covers some crucial milestones for her—her difficult family life, her success at codifying fair labor standards for Israel, and the challenges of navigating Israeli politics between the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars.

Pnina Lahav is a Professor of Law at Boston University. She is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Yale Law School and Boston University.   She earned several prestigious fellowships including a Rockefeller Fellowship, a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, CA and a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.   She also served as a Religion Fellow at Boston University’s School of Theology. Professor Lahav has published numerous articles on constitutional law, freedom of expression and women’s rights. Most recently she has been working on the issue of women’s prayers in Judaism and Islam.   She is the author of the acclaimed biography Judgment in Jerusalem: Chief Justice Simon Agranat and the Zionist Century (University of California Press, 1997) and the editor of several other volumes. Presently she is working on a biography of Golda Meir through the gender lens.

Cosponsored by the Program in Judaic Studies, the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and the Program in Law and Public Affairs

 free and open to the public

Spring 2015

The Invention of the Promised Land: American Jewish History
Professor Yaacob Dweck

Over the past three and a half centuries Jewish immigrants have described America both as "the promised land" and "the land of impurity." The course examines these conflicting descriptions as it explores developments in Jewish life in America from the mid seventeenth century through the late twentieth century.


AMS 323 / JDS 323   America in Judaism
Rabbi Lance Sussman

Although the idea of an “American Judaism” emerged in the early decades of the nineteenth century, scholars have yet to define this concept in precise terms and explain how it differs from a simpler historical understanding of “Judaism in America.”  Our seminar will examine the Americanization of Judaism beginning with the earliest transplanted Iberian concepts of Judaism in the “new world” to the transformation of Jewish religious life in the United States.  Special attention will be paid to Jewish theology, the rabbinate, gender, denominationalism, and the polity of the American synagogue.

RABBI LANCE J. SUSSMAN, Ph.D. began his service as the eighth Senior Rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in July 2001. He earned his Ph.D. at the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (Cincinnati).   A "Rabbi Doctor" in the tradition of KI's Dr. Bert Korn, Sussman is a renowned author and dynamic lecturer. Rabbi Sussman has published numerous books and articles, including Isaac Lesser and the Making of American Judaism, and Sharing Sacred Moments (a collection of his sermons), and served as an editor of Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. His online and print book and movie reviews attract wide attention. He has appeared in several PBS specials on Judaism in America and has co-produced a documentary of his own, Voices for Justice with  Dr. Gary P. Zola. Rabbi Sussman served as national Chair of the CCAR Press, the publishing arm of the Central Conference of American Rabbis for ten years and recently was elected President of the Association for Progressive Judaism, an independent Reform think tank based in New York City.  He is a Trustee of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the American Jewish Historical Society (NY) and is an active member of the Academic Advisory and Editorial Board of the American Jewish Archives (Cincinnati).  Previously, Rabbi Sussman served as Chair of Jewish Studies Department at Binghamton University-SUNY and has offered courses in Jewish History at Hebrew Union College in New York City and Princeton University.  He currently teaches American Jewish History at Princeton University and Modern Jewish History at Temple University and Gratz College.  Rabbi Sussman is currently serving as Curator for a major exhibit on "Jews, Judaism and American Culture, 1776-1860" at the Center for Jewish History (NY) opening February 2014.

ENG 410 / AMS 393 / THR 368 / JDS 410 Jewish Identity and Performance in the U.S.    
Jill S. Dolan, Department of English; Lewis Center for the Arts; Program in the Study of Gender and Sexuality
Stacy Wolf, Program in Theater, Lewis Center for the Arts; Princeton Atelier     

What does Jewishness mean in the U.S.? Is it ethnicity or religion? Identity or culture? Belief or practice? How do performance and theater answer or illuminate these questions? We’ll consider plays and performances, bodies and texts, performers and spectators, history, memory, and the present.




April 7, 2013
10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Lapidus Family Fund Conference in American Jewish Studies
American Jewish Culture: 
'Fresh Vitality in Every Direction'
Bowen Hall 222
on the Princeton University Campus

7:30 p.m.
Keynote by Francine Prose
author of My American Life

"American Jewish storytelling: King David, Grace Paley, Philip Roth and me"



Jonathan Freedman, Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan
Eric Goldstein, History and Jewish Studies; Editor of American Jewish History, Emory University
Jonathan Karp, American Jewish Historical Society
Josh Lambert, Academic Director, The Yiddish Book Center
Tony Michels, Department of History, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Alana Newhouse, Editor-in-Chief, Tablet Magazine
Rachel Rubinstein, American Literature and Jewish Studies, Hampshire College
Our title was drawn from an 1881 letter from Emma Lazarus to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, voicing her new, expansive notion of American literature, and her vision of what it might yet become.  Inspired by Lazarus's optimism, we have assembled a group of scholars and writers to join a conversation about contemporary American Jewish Culture, its historical frameworks, and where we might look for "fresh vitality" in the future.  Our aim was to address the multiplicity of issues, texts, contexts, objects, regions, and methodologies in play in the field of American Jewish Studies. 

Conference organizer: 
Professor Esther Schor, Associate Chair, Department of English; Chair, Committee on American Jewish Studies

Conference was free and open to the public. 

ENG 356/ JDS 377/ AMS 378  
Topics in American Literature: American Jewish Writers
Esther Schor, Department of English

American Jewish writers are known to adopt a variety of personae: they may write as exiles, as citizens, as provocateurs, among other figures. Why these strategies—and what sort of mark have they left on the rich body of writing we have before us? on American letters? on modern Jewish literature? We’ll address these questions while considering the historic sweep of American Jewish writing from the 18th to the 21st centuries.


The Program in American Studies and the Program in Judaic Studies presented
The Lapidus Family Fund Lecture in American Jewish Studies

Mr. Wyrick's Tablets: America's Embrace of the Ten Commandments

Jenna Weissman Joselit
Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History
Director of the Program in Judaic Studies
The George Washington University

March 29, 2012
4:30 p.m.
East Pyne 010

Course offered Spring 2012

338/JDS 336/HIS 450 The Invention of the Promised Land: American Jewish History

Yaacob Dweck, Department of History
Over the past three and a half centuries, Jewish immigrants have described America both as “the promised land” and “the land of impurity.” This course examines these conflicting descriptions as it explores developments in Jewish life from the mid seventeenth century through the late twentieth century.


The Lapidus Family Fund Lecture in American Jewish Studies

Filming the Judeo-Christian Synthesis:  Biblical Epics and Cold War Culture

Julian Levinson

Samuel Shetzer Professor of American Jewish Studies and Associate Professor of English, The University of Michigan

Wednesday, February 23, 4:30 p.m.

East Pyne 010

Julian Levinson’s work focuses on various dimensions of the encounter between Jews and American culture, including the influence of Transcendentalism on American Jewish literature, the representation of the Holocaust in Hollywood film, and the place of Jewish studies in the contemporary multicultural academy. His book,

Exiles on Main Street: Jewish American Writers and American Literary Culture

(Indiana University Press, 2008) was awarded the National Jewish Book Award for American Jewish Studies.

See below for the video of the conference.

AMS Workshop

February 23
216 Aaron Burr Hall

Julian Levinson
In Defiance of Amnesia: Reading Postwar American Jewish Poetry

Cosponsored with the Program in Judaic Studies and funded by the Lapidus Family Fund in American Jewish Studies

Course Offered Spring 2011
365 (ENG 356)   
American Jewish Writers
Esther Schor, Department of English
Reading fiction, poetry, essays and graphic novels from the 18th to 21 centuries, we will examine how American Jewish writers have left a mark both on American letters and on Jewish literature. Topics include immigration and assimilation; city Jews; Jewish feminism; secularity vs. religious observance; and the Jew in multicultural America. Texts include films, video, and song lyrics as well as Yiddish-language poetry in English translation.

Good for the Jews?: A Symposium of Scholars and Artists on Jewish Identity in American Theatre and Performance
Saturday, December 11, 2010
9:00 AM - 5:30 PM

James M. Stewart ’32 Theater
Lewis Center for the Arts
185 Nassau Street
Princeton, New Jersey
Conference Organizers - Jill Dolan and Stacy Wolf
This day-long symposium showcased current scholarship on U.S. Jewish theatre and performance, as well as raised provocative questions about the meaning of Jewish identity in American cultural production at large.  Scholars, playwrights, critics, directors, and performers discussed their work, shared ideas, and issued challenges to those involved in thinking about performance through the lens of Jewish identity.  Each speaker delivered a short talk or performance, then students moderated a Q & A and discussion among the panel speakers and the symposium audience.  Interviews with McCarter Theatre Artistic Director and multi-award-winning director and playwright Emily Mann and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies framed the day. 

Course offered Fall 2010
393 (ENG 410/THR 368) 
Jewish Identity and Performance in the U.S.
Jill S. Dolan, Department of English and Program in Theater
Stacy Wolf, Program in Theater
What does Jewishness mean? Is it ethnicity or religion? Identity or culture? Belief or practice? How do performance and theater answer or illuminate these questions? We’ll consider plays and performances, bodies and texts, performers and spectators, history, memory, and the present.


The 2009-2010 Lapidus Lecture was delivered on 
Tuesday May 4, 2010, 4:30 p.m. East Pyne 010

Professor William E. Forbath
Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law at the University of Texas at Austin
"Hebrew" Immigrants and Their "Jewish" Advocates: Jews, Law, and Identity Politics in the Progressive Era

Cosponsored with the Program in Judaic Studies

William Forbath holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law and is Associate Dean for Research at the School of Law and is also Professor of History at UT, Austin.  He teaches constitutional law and legal and  constitutional history.  He is the author of Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement and about seventy articles on legal and constitutional history and theory.  He has two books in progress: Courting the State: Law and the Making of the Modern American State and Social and Economic Rights in the  American Grain.  He is on the boards of several scholarly journals and public interest organizations.

You can view the lecture by clicking here.

In the Fall 2009 semester, Rabbi Lance Sussman taught America in Judaism, AMS 323/JDS 323/REL 394.  The seminar examined the Americanization of Judaism beginning with earliest transplanted Iberian concepts of Judaism in the "new world" to the transformation of Jewish religious life in the United States.  Special attention was paid to Jewish theology, the rabbinate, gender, denominationalism and the polity of the American synagogue.

Rabbi Sussman also presented a workshop as part of our fall 2009 workshop series.

Monday, November 9, 12 p.m., Dickinson 210
Tolstoy's Rabbi,  American Progressivism and Jewish Agriculture:  A First Look at Dr. Joseph Krauskopf and the Founding of the National Farm School
Rabbi Lance Sussman, Visiting Professor of Religion and Senior Rabbi, Congregation Keneseth Israel
Cosponsored with the Program in Judaic Studies


The 2008-2009 Lapidus lecture was held on Monday, December 1, 2008 in the James M. Stewart '32 Theater, 185 Nassauu Street.  Josh Kun, Associate Professor, Annenberg School for Communication, Department of American Studies & Ethnicity, USC, gave a lecture entitled "And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: Music, Memory, and the Politics of Jewish-American History."  He is the author of multiple publications including Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (University of California Press). He received his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from U.C. Berkeley and worked closely with the late Michael Rogin, as well as Leon Litwack and the late Larry Levine. He was recently awarded a Casden Grant for his research on African American and Jewish American popular music culture. The project he is working on will take the form of a musical anthology, and it is tentatively titled “Go Down Moses: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations.” Click here for more information about Josh Kun.  Professor Kun also delivered a noon workshop on the same day.

In the fall 2008-2009 semester, Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit taught Growing Up Jewish in America (AMS/JDS 334).  And in Spring 2009, Professor Esther Schor taught American Jewish Writers (ENG/AMS/JDS 365).


The 2008 Lapidus lecture was held on February 20, 2008, with Jonathan Sarna delivering a lecture on "The Democratization of American Judaism" in McCormick 101 at 4:30 p.m.  Jonathan Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and director of its Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program.  He also chairs the Academic Advisory and Editorial Board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati and is chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.  Author or editor of more than twenty books on American Jewish history and life, his most recent book, American Judaism: A History (Yale University Press), won the 2004 "Jewish Book of the Year Award" from the Jewish Book Council.  Professor Sarna also presented a workshop on "The Mystical World of Colonial American Jews" at 12 noon on February 20 in Chancellor Green 105.  Professor Sarna also acted as an advisor and contributor to the newly premiered PBS series, The Jewish Americans.

In the spring 2008 semester, Professor Suzanne Last Stone, of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, taught a course on Jewish Law and American Legal Theory, AMS/JDS 322. 

Sidney Lapidus and Professor Sean Wilentz at the Feb. 20, 2008 Lapidus Lecture

Jonathan Sarna with the American Studies Program Director, Dirk Hartog

Professors Deborah Nord, Starry Schor and CJL Rabbi Julie Roth at the reception following the Sarna lecture


In February 2007, Leon Wieseltier presented the inaugural lecture, titled “Of What Use is History to American Jewish History?”