Announcing the 2020–2021 Fellows

March 5, 2020
Steven Weitzman

The Katz Center announces the 2020–2021 fellows, focused on the theme of America’s Jewish Questions.

Red Sea Coin from Early America, illustrated with blue overlay

It is my pleasure to announce the Katz Center fellowship cohort for the 2020–21 academic year, tackling the theme of “America's Jewish Questions.”

The title of the fellowship theme is meant to convey several dimensions. First and foremost, it signals our vision of a fellowship year organized around interesting and important new questions in the study of American Jewish life. Our incoming fellows are pursuing an eclectic range of projects and are coming to them from varied disciplinary and intellectual perspectives. Beyond aiming to support these projects, we are hopeful that the fellows’ convergence at the Katz Center will help them think in new ways about their research as well as help each other do the same.

In addition, the theme’s title of “America's Jewish Questions” evokes the debate known as “The Jewish Question”—a dangerous discussion about the place of Jews in modern society associated with the European Jewish experience—and that too is intentional. The 2020–21 theme was born in part as a result of an impulse to confront the assumptions that have governed perceptions of the American Jewish experience, including the idea that the history of Jews in the United States is unique, marked by success and progress in contrast to the narrative sweep of European Jewish history.

A recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in the US has challenged how many Jews understand their place in American society; similar reevaluation has emerged within academic research communities. It is not that we want the year to lead to lachrymose or pessimistic understandings, but we do hope that it will introduce new ways of framing the study of American Jews.

As we plan the year’s programming, we are hoping to welcome many others to the Katz Center in addition to the fellowship cohort, including scholars visiting for short periods, members of the Penn community, and interested people from the broader Philadelphia public. We are already at work on a series of events meant to enhance the experience of fellows and to open their research up to outside scholars and other kinds of learners. These include programs about the resurgence of white nationalism and anti-Semitism in the United States, an exploration of the history of American Jewish philanthropy, and a major new conference on early American Jewish history meant to highlight Penn's important new collection in this area, among other lectures, discussions, and gatherings still in the works.

We believe that the upcoming year has the potential to be a real turning point in the study of American Jews, a subject that obviously hits close to home, given the Katz Center's position at the origin point of the United States and its own role in the history of American Jewish life. We are grateful to be able to support so many brilliant and creative scholars, and very much look forward to welcoming them to the Penn community in the fall.



2020–2021 Katz Center Fellows and Research Topics


About the Author

Steven Weitzman

Steven Weitzman

Steven Weitzman is the Ella Darivoff Director at the Katz Center and Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages & Literatures at Penn.

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