Earlier this year we had the pleasure of hosting Menahem Ben-Sasson, a Katz Center fellow and Chancellor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in our public lecture series. He spoke about Israel’s Declaration of Independence, its relationship to the founding and current laws of the State of Israel, and efforts to create a constitution, to which Ben-Sasson himself has contributed. Audience members submitted so many excellent questions that there wasn’t enough time to answer them all on air. Prof. Ben-Sasson was kind enough to respond in writing.
Each year, the Katz Center offers a lineup of public programs to share the fruits of scholarly research with wider audiences. Open to everyone, these lectures feature current fellows along with colleagues from across the field talking about new and critical issues in Jewish studies.
Last week saw the final meeting of a yearlong program that brought fellows together with rabbis from across the United States, to extend the reach of Jewish studies scholarship and use it to think about issues facing the American Jewish communities today. This was the sixth year of the program, called LEAP, which the Katz Center has offered through a partnership with Clal, engaging a new cohort of rabbis and scholars annually, with this year taking place remotely for the first time.
This January 18 marks the first celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day since the killing of George Floyd kindled a wave of mass demonstrations in cities and towns across the United States. The Black Lives Matter protests confronted Americans with painful evidence of the persistence and pervasiveness of racism in this country. Alongside the growing list of black victims of police brutality is the devastation of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected people of color.
The year 2020 has been a transformative one for American society, but what is America becoming? And what role do Jews play in the changes underway?
Even as the country struggles with a pandemic and massive unemployment, many Americans have at the same time been newly awakened to racial injustice and economic inequality. Much of the change now underway has been tragic; some of it is hopeful; and the combination may yet produce a very different America.
The idea that “America is different”—that American Jewish experience has been marked by success and progress in a way that was unprecedented, unexpected, and wildly impactful—is well entrenched. This year at the Katz Center, a diverse cohort of visiting research fellows is looking again at the American Jewish story, not necessarily to overturn a narrative but to reframe the question; in fact, to frame a new set of “America’s Jewish questions.”
Earlier in July Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson unleashed a firestorm of controversy when he posted a quote falsely attributed to Hitler that claimed that Blacks, and not Jews, were the real children of Israel.
This week, design-minded types around Philadelphia are celebrating and exploring the city’s architecture, fashion, interior design, graphic arts, digital innovation, and more in the Design Philadelphia festival. Although the Katz Center is not officially participating, we are watching closely, since design plays a prominent role in our theme of “the Jewish home” this year.