Knowing the Victim? Reflections on Empathy, Analogy, and Voice from the Shoah to the Present

One of the core questions of the humanities is how can we know what we know. In the field of Jewish studies, one of the sharpest formulations of this fundamental epistemological question arises in the study of the Holocaust. Is it the case, as Elie Wiesel famously declared, that only survivors can really know what took place in concentration and death camps? Some scholars have flipped this question and asked whether survivor testimony can be deemed sufficiently reliable for historical reconstruction, especially on its own.

A Message from the Director: Troubles at the Heart of Democracy

It has always been a source of pride for the Katz Center that it is located so close to the birthplace of American democracy. That democracy is now having to reckon with many painful issues at the same time—racism, violence, and people’s distrust of a government that is meant to represent and serve them—and that too is now manifest in the Center’s immediate environs, in different kinds of loss being experienced by people who live and work very close to home for us.

Outside In: Fellows Write from and about Home

The Katz Center fellowship is a residential one, meaning that its central aim is to bring people together to work physically side by side for extended periods, with fellows making temporary homes in Philadelphia. With the arrival of COVID-19, this defining feature of our collective work has disappeared. Instead, under orders to shelter in place, our homes are capturing our attention in new ways. Home’s boundaries, contents, and location, its material and emotional culture, are, for the moment at least, our whole worlds.

Pandemic and Plague: Echoes from the Jewish Past

In our own attempt to make sense of the radically altered world we now inhabit and to provide intellectual stimulation to our readers, the editors of JQR asked four prominent scholars to reflect on what historical and literary resonances the COVID-19 pandemic prompted in them. The forum below offers concise responses that move in time from the Black Death in the fourteenth century to Israel in the twentieth.

Jewish Studies and the Arts of Resilience in the Coronavirus Era

In fifteen years serving as an academic director, I have never experienced such a cascade of painful decisions as I have faced in the last few weeks, scuttling programs and plans that were years in the making, disappointing people, calling a halt to scholarly work that it is my responsibility to help advance. Of course, the disruption that the Katz Center faces is nothing compared to what so many are going through at Penn, in Philadelphia, and around the world right now.

A Personal Message from President Gutmann

This is a generation-defining moment. And like every such moment that has gone before, it is not only the crisis itself but also how we respond that matters most. 

The Penn community has responded heroically. Everyone has had truly difficult decisions to make. That we have done so together will contribute directly to the health and lives of members of our community and countless others. We will continue to do this guided by the best understanding and evidence for what will protect and save lives.