The Birth of Ashkenaz: Graduate Seminar in Budapest this May
Thrilled to be returning to the Ashkenazium later this summer to spend time with some really brilliant European students looking at the Birth of Ashkenaz. Here’s the course description, please visit https://www.ashkenazium.eu for more information:
A survey of the earliest Jewish communities of Europe that formed the nucleus of Ashkenazic civilization, 900-1400 CE. Population movements from northern Italy and the Iberian Peninsula will be studied, as well as the early medieval charters that established the legal basis for Jewish settlement. Emphasis will be placed on the unique characteristics of the Ashkenazic experience, and how they led to lasting innovations in communal organization and cultural development. Unfortunately the course will be taught by a Litvak, with absolutely no sense of humour, but Hasidim will be standing by to resuscitate as necessary.
New Unpacked Videos
Very pleased to be working closely with the really talented, amazing team at Unpacked. Here’s a few new videos to which I had the privilege of contributing.
YouTube recently made it easy to transform my playlists into Podcast format, which has long been a demand from fellow students of Jewish history. I just uploaded one list to start: the Jewish History Lab (114 videos). Should be populating on Google Play and (I think) Apple Podcasts, but for now it’s available on my YouTube channel. Not available in all countries yet. Enjoy in good health!
Really enjoyed visiting Edmonton last week for this conference, very intelligent and receptive audiences.
My keynote was preceded by a general welcome to the conference from Dr. Ryan Dunch, and starts with something that is widespread at the University of Alberta: an acknowledgment that the University is situated on land that originally belonged to First Nations. I was frankly touched by this acknowledgment, which is not a rote statement but appears in different forms in email headers, websites, and the like.
Then a senior scholar whose work I respect deeply, Dr. John-Paul Himka, delivered a longish introduction to my work which frankly made me blush. I was surprised at how familiar he was with my career as a graduate student, reading well outside his own areas of specialization.
My talk begins around 14:00. The Q&A at the end went on for another hour or so beyond the video. I hope you find it meaningful!
I am deeply honored to address the Chevra Kadisha at the Riverdale Jewish Center at their annual 7 Adar celebration. The “Holy Association” is a group of men and women who undertake, usually on a volunteer basis, the difficult task of preparing our deceased loved ones for burial. If you are in the neighborhood, please join us.
Thanks to the History, Religion, and Classics Graduate Students’ Association at the University of Alberta for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at their conference this Thursday evening. Unless you are in Edmonton, please join us via Zoom (RSVP at www.bit.ly/JEWISHUK1000, more information on the conference at www.hcrgsa.ca/keynoteandroundtable). Please note that the times listed are MST.
Really thrilled to meet the Queens Jewish Center community! Please come by and say hello if you’re in town.
Very honored by this invitation from the History, Classics and Religion Graduate Students Association of the University of Alberta! Please join us in person (if you’re in Edmonton, eh?) or via Zoom (RSVP at www.bit.ly/JEWISHUK1000).
Includes the Pre-Publication Draft of Volume 1 (400 pages)!
Imagine that, while browsing in the library, you come across one book unlike the rest, which catches your eye because on its spine is written the name of your family. Intrigued, you open it and see many pages written by different hands in many languages. You start reading it, and gradually you begin to understand what it is. It is the story each generation of your ancestors has told for the sake of the next, so that everyone born into this family can learn where they came from, what happened to them, what they lived for and why. As you turn the pages, you reach the last, which carries no entry but a heading. It bears your name.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020)
Leaping into the open sky with not much more than a canvas parachute and a British radio strapped to her back, Hannah Szenes plummeted into Nazi-occupied Europe. Born to a Hungarian-Jewish family in Budapest, she had already made her escape from the Holocaust by immigrating to Israel in September 1939. Despite securing her personal safety in the land of Israel, she could not resist the call to help her endangered people: in 1943 she was among 240 volunteers for a dangerous program operating behind enemy lines. Thirty-two of the bravest, including three women, were ultimately selected for the mission. Hannah was twenty-three years old.
She was captured shortly after infiltrating Hungarian territory. Tortured and abused, she stubbornly refused to reveal the radio transmitter codes, protecting her comrades with her very life. After months of brutality, her frustrated and cowardly captors finally executed her by firing squad on November 7, 1944. She refused the blindfold.
Hannah Szenes (pronounced Senesh) is remembered not only for her courage, but for her poetry, including the moving “Blessed is the Match,” which she penned while on her mission. Among her poems is the characteristically brief “There are Stars.”
There are Stars
Whose light reaches the earth when they themselves are gone and no more
There are people
Whose radiance illuminates when they themselves are gone and no longer among us
These lights —
Brilliant in the dark of night —
They kindle for humanity the lights along the path.
Her metaphor is at once both cosmic and historical. Just as there are stars in the night sky whose radiance is reflective of the brilliance they exuded many light-years ago, only reaching and illuminating the earth eons later, so too are there people who lived centuries ago, yet their influence is still felt as immediately as one perceives the stars in the night sky.
The goal of The Jewish People: A History is to provide a constellation map to the broad swath of stars that continue to “kindle for humanity the lights along the path.” This book is introductory in tone, assuming that most readers will have only some familiarity with the scope of some 4000 years of history, although it is hoped that more specialized readers will also benefit. To strike this balance between a popular and a scholarly book the footnotes have been displaced from print to a digital home at henryabramson.com, which will have the added advantages of allowing readers to provide feedback and me the possibility of adding the occasional correction and update.
Translations are generally my own, with the exception of Biblical verses and passages from the Babylonian Talmud, which are taken from the Koren Tanakh Magerman Edition and the Noé Edition of the Koren Talmud Bavli, respectively. Dates are provided in the standard Gregorian calendar, with Before Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE) used instead of BC and AD. The names of geographic locations, a source of perennial dispute, are generally provided using anachronistic terms familiar to contemporary readers. The middle eastern home of the Jewish people is rendered as the Land of Israel, distinguishing it from the post-1948 State of Israel, or simply Israel.