The Pale of Settlement (This Week in Jewish History)

Emil Flohri, "Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews" (1904).  Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Emil Flohri, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews” (1904). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Officially banned in 1479, no Jews lived in the Russian Empire until Tsarina Catherine II conquered a major portion of Polish territory, instantly inheriting the largest single concentration of Jews in the world. Under her rule the Pale of Settlement was established, determining the region where Jews were allowed to reside, however tenuously, until the 20th century.

The Jews’ Oath vs. Rothschild (This Week in Jewish History)

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Lionel Nathan de Rothschild by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


In 1847, the citizens of London elected its first Jew, Lionel de Rothschild, to the House of Commons. Rothschild, however, refused to take the Christian oath required of all members, and resigned without taking his seat in Parliament. He was immediately reelected a second and even a third time until the Jews’ Disabilities Act was passed on July 23, 1858, allowing Rothschild to represent Londoners without sacrificing his Jewish principles.

Janusz Korczak: Hero to Children in the Warsaw Ghetto (This Week in Jewish History)

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.



Beloved for his children’s stories, Henryk Goldszmidt wrote under the pen name Janusz Korczak.

A lifelong advocate for children’s rights, he ran an orphanage in Warsaw that was world-famous for his innovative pedagogic techniques.

Imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation, he continued to serve in this capacity until the terrible order to deport the Jews to the Treblinka death camp in August 1942. He refused all offers of personal rescue, choosing rather to remain with his young charges right to the very end.


The Pogroms of 1881-1884: This Week in Jewish History


Immigrants approaching Statue of Liberty. Photo by Edwin Levick, Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Immigrants approaching Statue of Liberty. Photo by Edwin Levick, Source: Wikimedia Commons.


For a larger discussion of the five historical narratives, please see my article The end of intimate insularity: new narratives of Jewish history in the post-Soviet era, in Acts of Symposium “Construction and Deconstruction of National Histories in Slavic Eurasia,” originally delivered at Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan, on July 10–13, 2002.



Isaac Bashevis Singer: Singer in the Shtetl, the Shtetl in Singer (2004 lecture)

Isaac Bashevis Singer. Source: MDCarchives cropped by Beyond My Ken, Wikimedia Commons.
Isaac Bashevis Singer. Source: MDCarchives cropped by Beyond My Ken, Wikimedia Commons.

This is a lecture I delivered at the University of Central Florida back in October 2004 (my hair was quite a bit darker and, well, there).  Found the CD when I was cleaning out some old files. There’s a PPT that goes with this lecture, and I’m going to try to find a way to post it.  Anyway, this is the summer, so I won’t be sending out too many new lectures, thought I would add this one as well.  Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991) was a Nobel Laureate for Literature, the first Yiddish writer to receive this distinguished award.  He was also a resident of my current home in Surfside, Florida. Hope you enjoy it!


Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Chabad

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Photograph by Mordecai Baron. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Photograph aby Mordecai Baron. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

A presentation on the life and work of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), the Seventh Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. A native of Nikolaev, Ukraine, and educated in Germany and France, his leadership transformed his Hasidic followers into an international movement that continues to shape the lives of Jews world wide. The lecture was held at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour on Wednesday, June 5th.


Betty Friedan: Jews and American Feminism

Betty Friedan in 1960. Source: Wikipedia Commons
Betty Friedan in 1960. Source: Wikipedia Commons

A presentation on the life and work of Betty Friedan, a prominent American Jewish feminist leader. The author of the landmark The Feminine Mystique (1963), she later became the Founder of the National Organization of Women, and an important political activist for women’s rights.  The lecture was held at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour on May 29, 2013.


Stephen Samuel Wise and the Jews of America

Stephen S. Wise and son (1918). Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Stephen S. Wise and son (1918). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

A presentation on the life and work of Stephen Samuel Wise (1874-1949), an important American communal leader. The lecture will take a broader focus, looking at the history of Jewish settlement in the United States during the 19th century and the major issues facing this immigrant community through the middle of the twentieth century.  The lecture was held at Young Israel of Bal Harbour.


Notes from the Presentation:

Stephen Samuel Wise

Henry Abramson

Touro College South

Young Israel of Bal harbour

Stephen Silver Wise

Born Budapest 1874

Reform Rabbi

Major Jewish Activist

American Zionist

Controversial leadership during Holocaust

Died 1949

Haredi to Neolog

Long line of Rabbis

Grandfather Joseph Hirsch Weisz ultra-Orthodox

Father Aaron also ultra-Orthodox, immigrates to USA and becomes founding member of Jewish Theological Seminary

Stephen Samuel Wise prominent Reform leader, founder of Jewish Institute of Religion (later merges with Hebrew Union College)

The Denominational Spectrum

Immigration to the USA

Father Aaron Rabbi, social liberal

Attempts to unionize workers in father-in-law’s porcelain factory

Father-in-law buys him one-way ticket to New York

German vs Eastern European immigration

Earliest Jewish immigrants: Sefardic Jews

German Jews mid-19th century

Massive wave of Eastern European Jewry after 1881


Ordination 1893 (Adolph Jellinek of Vienna)

Columbia PhD, 1901

Dissertation: translation of Shlomo ibn Gabriol

American mid-century model of “Scholar-Rabbi”


Married Louise Waterman, 1900, took position at Temple in Portland, Oregon

Disciple of Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture movement

Translator, author, social activist

Son author, art specialist (wrote biography of mother)

Daughter author, judge, advisor to Eleanor Roosevelt

The Free pulpit

1906 turned down offer to lead Congregation Emanu-el over issue of a “free pulpit”

Returns to Oregon but comes back to NYC one year later, founds The Free Synagogue

Free pulpit, free seats

American Liberalism

Co-founder of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, 1909)

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, 1920)

Promoted labor causes, attacked corruption

forced resignation of New York mayor James Walker (1932)

Founded and led American Jewish Congress (more activist than American Jewish Committee)

American Zionism

Classical Reform position on Zionism

Founded New York Federation of Zionist Societies (1897)

Worked closely with Herzl

American secretary in World Zionist Congress in Basle (1898)

Involved in drafting text of the Balfour declaration

Ethnic Voting Patterns, 2008

Jewish Denominational Voting Patterns (2008)

International Politics

Close to President Wilson

Represented Zionism at Versailles Peace Conference


Multiple volumes of memoirs, speeches, sermons

Leadership During the Holocaust


How much pressure to put on Roosevelt, State Department?

Advocated strong anti-Nazi policy since 1930s, but criticized for tepid response during war

The Riegner Telegram

August 1942

Telegram addressed to Wise, but intercepted at State Department

Confirmed existence of the “Final Solution”

Wise received it from British parliament


Met with Roosevelt in 1943

30 minutes, mainly Roosevelt talking

Should Wise have invoked his fiery rhetoric and public persona?


Defining American Jewish liberalism for a century

Defining American Jewish Zionism

Menachem Begin: A New Israel

Menachem Begin in 1978. Source: Wikipedia Commons
Menachem Begin in 1978. Source: Wikipedia Commons

A study of the life of Menachem Begin (1913-1992). A native of Poland, he was a proponent of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Revisionist party that stood in dramatic contrast to the dominant left-wing tendency in the Zionist movement. A major figure in Israel’s struggle for statehood, and a founder of the Likud party, he was elected to the office of Prime Minister in 1977. Despite his hawkish ideology, he was the first Israeli leader to sign a peace treaty with an Arab country.  Lecture was recorded on Wednesday, May 1 at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour.


Shimon Dubnow: The Politics of Jewish Identity in the Modern World


Shimon Dubnow (1860-1941), a noted historian and activist whose theories of Jewish survival in the diaspora were extremely influential in the shaping Jewish identity in the modern world, from the future of Russian Jewry to the establishment of the modern Federation movement in the United States.  Dubnow’s scholarship was inextricably intertwined with the effort to establish equal rights for Jews in the Tsarist Empire during a period of phenomenal change. Martyred at the hands of the Nazis, his last words were “shrayb–un farshrayb” (write..and record), a Yiddish phrase that has motivated generations of Jewish historians.

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