[Re]Thinking Jewish Heritage: Opportunities and Limits Amidst Openings and Closings

Open to the Public
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Gellner room
Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 6:00pm
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm

As a radical student activist in the late 1950s and 1960s, the author imagined himself walking in the footsteps of his Paterson, NJ, grandparents who fought to improve the living and working conditions in the textile mils in Lodz, Poland and Paterson. The Remembered and Forgotten Jewish World investigates the politics of heritage tourism and collective memory to see and hear what of these roots appear in walking tours, Jewish museums and memorial sites.  In an account that is part travelogue, part social history, and part family saga, the author visits key Jewish museums and heritage sites from Berlin to Belgrade, from Krakow to Kiev, and from Warsaw to New York. 

Scholars at a 1999 conference celebrating the 26th anniversary of the publication of Irving Howe’s prize-winning opus, World of Our Fathers, observed that the world of Yiddishkeit had largely been displaced in heritage tourism by a Holocaust narrative.  Touring heritage sites in the years after 2011 confirmed the continuing dominance of such a narrative that focused on sites of the Shoah and remnants of synagogues and cemeteries.  The prewar life of the Jewish community, when discussed at all, highlighted the achievements of great men – rabbis, scholars and philanthropists (and their wives); everyday quotidian experiences of the poor, the working class, shopkeepers and of their wives and children received little attention.

During the years of his travels and research, the author found new work -- a exciting New Jewish History being produced by a new generation of cultural anthropologists, folklorists and social historians – for whom the Jewish Street, and notably the Bund in which my grandparents had cut their political teeth was at the center of the making of Modern Jewish identity.  The New Jewish History offered the potential of a new paradigm for Jewish Heritage tourism, even as the Holocaust narrative remained dominant. Illustrated with slides, the lecture will illustrate the possibilities, challenges, disappointments and surprises that frame the robust and changing terrain of Jewish Heritage today.

Daniel Walkowitz is a social and cultural historian who in nearly a dozen books, two dozen articles and four films for public television has worked to bring America’s past to both academic and broad public audiences.  Emeritus Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Emeritus Professor of History at New York University, from 1989 to 2004, he Directed the Metropolitan Studies Program, from 2004-07 served as the Colleges’ inaugural Director of College Honors, and from 2007-10 served as the College’s inaugural Director of Experiential Education. 

As co-founder and co-Director of New York University's Graduate Program in Public History, Walkowitz pioneered efforts to bring America's past to broad general audiences in film and video.  As Project Director, he supervised the 90-minute docudrama, "Molders of Troy" (PBS, 1980), which was based on his book, Worker City, Company Town: Iron and Cotton Worker Protest in Troy and Cohoes, New York, 1855-1884 (Illinois, 1978).  In 1990, he produced and wrote (with Gerald Herman) "Public History Today," a thirty-minute informational video for the National Council on Public History. That same year, Walkowitz produced (with Barbara Abrash), "Perestroika From Below" (1990, Channel 4, UK), an hour-long documentary of the miners' strike in Donestk, Ukraine, which he also directed, wrote and narrated. This film evolved into a video oral history and documentation project on the working-class community in Donetsk co-directed by Walkowitz and Professor Lewis Siegelbaum, which is described in their book, Workers of the Donbass Speak: Identity and Survival in the New Ukraine, 1989-1994 (SUNY, 1995). To complete these and other research projects, Walkowitz has been the recipient of nearly $1 million in grants from, among others, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Council of Soviet and East European Studies, Channel 4 (UK), New York Council for the Humanities, and the Massachusetts Humanities Council.  His more recent books are Working With Class: Social Workers and the Politics of Middle-Class Identity (North Carolina, 1999), and, co-edited with Lisa Maya Knauer, Memory and the Impact of Political Transformation in Public Spaces (Duke, 2004) and Contested Histories in Public Space: Memory, Race, and Nation (Duke, 2009). These volumes are in Duke's series, Radical Perspectives on the Past, for which Walkowitz is the General Co- Editor.

In 2010 he published Rethinking U.S. Labor History, a co-edited (with Donna Haverty-Stacke) collection of new work on work and labor.  That same year he also published, City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Modern America, a transatlantic exploration into the related histories of English Country Dance and the folk dance movement in the United States (NYU Press).  The book also serves as the basis for a documentary with the same title he produced with Charles Weber and Stephanie Smith for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage for public television (forthcoming, Folkways,  2018).  This study represents a merger of his professional interests in the lives of common folk and his long-term personal involvement in international folk dance. He has performed with Narad, a Balkan performance troupe in Baltimore, and the Chelsea English Country Dancers of New York, led workshops in Scandinavian dance and the waltz, and presently teaches English Country Dance with Country Dance*New York.

In September 2018 published an edited collection,The Culture of Work in the Modern Age (Bloomsbury), and a monograph,The Remembered and Forgotten Jewish World: Jewish Heritage in Europe and the United States (Rutgers). The book combines a family history with analyses of heritage tourism in thirteen cities in eight countries, in search of the history of a Jewish socialist narrative represented by his paternal grandmother in whose footsteps he always imagined himself walking.