UW News

January 28, 2019

UW’s Stroum Center affiliates present on Holocaust, Ladino archives and more at 50th anniversary Jewish studies conference

UW News

The October 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11, was a stark reminder to college students that anti-Semitism is alive in America, says Richard Block, a University of Washington associate professor of Germanics and affiliate of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.

Block was among many Stroum Center faculty and student affiliates who presented at the 50th annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies Dec. 16-18 in Boston. The Stroum Center is part of the UW’s Jackson School of International Studies.

At the conference, Block held a roundtable discussion titled “Teaching the Holocaust in the Age of Trump,” where he said participants remarked on how student attitudes had changed since the panel was first proposed last February.

“Until Pittsburgh, students, even in courses dedicated to study of the Holocaust, did not consider anti-Semitism a real threat and did not think of Jews as a vulnerable minority,” Block said.

Though the Holocaust itself seems to have “receded in importance for today’s students,” he said, “students were for the most part more aware of anti-Semitism and more concerned about similar risks to vulnerable groups today.”

Upcoming events at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies:

Jan. 28, 7-8:30 p.m.: “Jews and Human Rights: Forgotten Past, Uncertain Future,” with James Loeffler, professor of history, the University of Virginia. HUB Room 145.

Feb. 5, 3:30-5 p.m.: “Dancing with the Angel of Death: Demonic Femininity in the Ancient Synagogue,” with Laura Lieber, professor of religious studies and classics, Duke University. Thomson room 317

Feb. 12, 3:30- 5 p.m.: “How Frontier Jews Made American Judaism,” with Shari Rabin, assistant professor of Jewish studies, College of Charleston. HUB room 145.

See more events online.

Block said in the last two years, U.S. immigration policies and those elsewhere “have made comparisons between Nazi Germany and these practices necessary and instructive. The vilification of specific groups, the explicit appeal to racist ideologies, and the disrespect for democratic institutions and practices have led even cautious Holocaust historians to warn that the similarities are too close for us to believe it could never happen here.” Jews remain a target of bigotry, he added, and “Jewish life even in America is under renewed threat.”

Missing from the dialogue, Block added, were participants from the South or from schools with religious affiliations. Given the strong response to the December discussion, he said, there may be follow-up discussions at the German Studies Association conference in the fall.

Other presentations by UW Stroum Center affiliates included:

  • “Uncovering the Shroud of Oblivion: Ladino Archives and the Future of Jewish History” by Devin Naar, associate professor of international studies, history and Jewish studies
  • “Animals and the Holocaust in Hebrew Literature,” by Naomi Sokoloff, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature
  • “Radicalism and Violence in Religious Zionist Thought” by doctoral student Hayim Katsman
  • “Ottoman Jews and the Emergence of Modern Psychiatry,” by doctoral student Canan Bolel

Two Stroum affiliates — Annegret Oehme, UW assistant professor of Germanics and Hamza Zafer, assistant professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization — also wrote featured articles for the 50th anniversary issue of AJS Perspectives, the association’s magazine. Oehme reflected on a key teacher and her path to studying Old Yiddish in “From Old Yiddish to Modern Mentorship” and Zafer told of what brought him to study Judaism in “Found in Translation.”

Noam Pianko, director of the Stroum Center and professor of international studies, wrote on the center’s website that the founders of the association, which has historically been based in the Northeast, “would have likely been surprised to see the especially strong showing of University of Washington faculty and graduate students playing important roles in this jubilee celebration.”