Like a Reed: Cultural Genocide, Resistance and Resilience
Tradition tells us that Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar advised, “Be pliable like a reed, not rigid like a cedar.” In 18th and 19th centuries, as the modern nation-states of Europe began to form, the Jewish people of Central and Eastern Europe developed their own distinctive language and culture known as Yiddishkeit, or “the Jewish way of life.” The violence of pogroms, the genocide of the Nazis, and the oppression of the Soviets could not break Yiddishkeit. Instead, Yiddish culture was a source of strength and comfort for Jewish people and communities during the Holocaust and in the decades that followed. This year, we examine the role of Yiddish in sustaining Jewish people and communities through and beyond the Holocaust. We also turn to consider the ways other cultures have served as sources of resilience and perseverance for their people in the face of oppressive and even violent government policies.
Lecture: The Book Smugglers of the Vilna Ghetto: A Story of Resistance to Cultural Genocide
Tuesday, September 20, 7:00pm
Student Life Center, Ballroom B
David Fishman, Professor of Jewish History at Jewish Theological Seminary
In Vilna, the city Jews called “The Jerusalem of Lithuania,” a group of ghetto inmates risked their lives to rescue thousands of rare books, documents, and works of art from the Nazis. In an operation that lasted eighteen months, they smuggled the materials past guards and buried them in bunkers. Those members of the group who survived the War returned after Vilna’s liberation and dug up the materials. They eventually smuggled the books across Europe until they reached the United States and Israel. What did they rescue, and why did they do it?
David Fishman is Professor of Jewish History at Jewish Theological Seminary, is director of Project Judaica, based in Ukraine at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy University, and is director of the Jewish Archival Survey, which publishes guides to Jewish archival materials in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. For 15 years he was the editor-in-chief of YIVO-Bleter, the Yiddish-language scholarly journal of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He is a member of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Museum and serves on the editorial board of the journal Polin. He is the author of the National Jewish Book Award-winning The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis (2017) and The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture.
Lecture: Translating the Holocaust: Chava Rosenfarb’s Recreation of the Lodz Ghetto in Her Epic Trilogy, The Tree of Life
Tuesday, October 25 at 7:00pm
Student Life Center, Ballroom C
Goldie Morgentaler, Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge
Goldie Morgentaler is Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge where she taught 19th-century British and American literature, as well as Jewish literature. She is the translator from Yiddish to English of much of Chava Rosenfarb’s work including Rosenfarb’s seminal Holocaust novel, The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto. Her translation of Rosenfarb’s book of short stories, Survivors: Seven Short Stories won a Canadian Jewish Book Award and the Modern Language Association’s Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies. She is also the editor and one of the translators of a collection of Rosenfarb’s essays called Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays, published by McGill-Queens University Press in 2019. This collection won a 2019 Canadian Jewish Literary Award as well as the Jewish Public Library’s Segal award in 2020. She has also translated into English several short stories by the great Yiddish classical writer, I. L. Peretz. Both of her parents were Holocaust survivors.
Film: “Song Searcher: The Times and Toils of Moyshe Beregovsky”
Wednesday, October 26, 7:00pm
For ticketing, visit the Nashville Jewish Film Festival website and enter the code song22 at checkout.
Presented with the Nashville Jewish Film Festival
This film is the story of a man’s lifelong search for authentic Yiddish folk music and of his unique archive, which was presumed to be lost forever. Moyshe Beregovsky, a musician and scholar, crisscrossed Ukraine with phonograph in hand during the most dramatic years of Soviet history in order to record and study the traditional music of Ukrainian Jewry. His work began in the 1920s and led to his arrest and imprisonment in a Stalinist labor camp in 1950. Most of those he recorded on hundreds of fragile wax cylinders were shot by the Nazis and tossed into countless mass graves. Ultimately, Beregovsky succeeded in saving the musical heritage of the centuries-old Yiddish civilization. He rescued the Living Voice of his people from the flames of the Holocaust but paid for it with his life. (2022, directed by Elena Yakovich)
Film: “Ver Vet Blaybn? (Who Will Remain?)”
The Jay Geller Holocaust Lecture Series Film and Panel Discussion
Thursday, November 3 at 7:30pm
Presented with the Department of Jewish Studies and International Lens
Attempting to better understand her grandfather Avrom Sutzkever, Israeli actress Hadas Kalderon travels to Lithuania, using her grandfather’s diary to trace his early life in Vilna and his survival of the Holocaust. Sutzkever (1913–2010) was an acclaimed Yiddish poet—described by The New York Times as the “greatest poet of the Holocaust”—whose verse drew on his youth in Siberia and Vilna, his spiritual and material resistance during World War II, and his post-war life in the State of Israel. Kalderon, whose native language is Hebrew and must rely on translation of her grandfather’s work, is nevertheless determined to connect with what remains of the poet’s bygone world and confront the personal responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s literary legacy. (2022, co-directed by Christa P. Whitney and Emily Felder)
Following the film there will be panel discussion facilitated by Prof. Allison Schachter and featuring Prof. Justin Cammy, translator and editor of From the Vilna Ghetto to Nuremberg: Memoir and Testimony by Abraham Sutzkever, and Christa P. Whitney and Emily Felder, co-directors of the film.
Lecture: Prof. Amelia Glaser
Tuesday, November 8 at 7:00pm
Alumni Hall, Memorial Room (202)
Presented with the Department of Jewish Studies
Amelia Glaser is Associate Professor in Judaic Studies at the University of California, San Diego. In 2021-2022 she was the Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Harvard Ratcliff Institute. She also held fellowships at the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Prof. Glaser is the author of Song in Dark Time: Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine (2020), about leftist Yiddish poets who, in the long 1930s, wrote about the struggles of non-Jewish ethnic minorities, and of Jews and Ukrainians in Russia’s Literary Borderlands: From the Shtetl Fair to the Petersburg Bookshop (2012), a study of overlapping themes in Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish literature in the imperial Russian Pale of Settlement.
Lecture: Holocaust Survivor Elizabeth Wilf
Tuesday, November 15 at 5:00pm
Elizabeth Wilf is a Holocaust Survivor from the Lvov Ghetto in Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine). The daughter of Marcus and Miriam Fisch, Elizabeth Wilf was a young girl when her hometown of Lvov was occupied by the Nazis. When the ghetto was liquidated, Elizabeth and her family escaped and hid for two years on a farm in the countryside. Elizabeth married her husband, Joseph Wilf, in 1949 and they immigrated to the United States in 1950. They established a successful business and engaged in charitable causes to enhance the lives of Jewish people in the United States and Israel.
Film: “Exile: The Roots of Myanmar’s Persecution of the Rohingya”
Tuesday, February 7 at 7:00pm
Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium, Featheringill Hall
Exiled unveils the story of the campaign to erase the Rohingya people and explains the roots and historical context of the violence they have suffered. The genocide against the Rohingya started as early as 1978. Over the decades, villages have been burned to the ground, men and women raped, and over two million driven from the country to live as refugees in miserable conditions. The story is told by eyewitnesses, including Rohingya, as well as former Burmese government officials and radical Buddhist monks who make plain their view that the Rohingya people, as Muslims and “foreigners,” have no place in their country. (2019, directed by Shahida Tulagnova)
Following the film, there will be a virtual question and answer session with the director, Shahida Tulaganova.
Film: “Home from School: The Children of Carlisle”
Tuesday, February 14 at 7:00pm
Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium, Featheringill Hall
“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” This was the guiding principle that removed thousands of Native American children and placed them in Indian boarding schools. Among the many who died at Carlisle Indian Industrial School were three Northern Arapaho boys. Now, more than a century later, tribal members journey from Wyoming to Pennsylvania to help them finally come home. (2021, directed by Geoffrey O’Gara)
Lecture: Indigenous Resilience versus the Logic of Elimination in Federal Indian Boarding Schools
Tuesday, February 21 at 7:00pm
Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium, Featheringill Hall
K. Tisanina Lomawaima (Mvskoke / Creek Nation descent), Indigenous studies scholar and co-editor for the journal Native American & Indigenous Studies, is retired from the professoriate (University of Washington, 1988-1994; University of Arizona 1994-2014; and Arizona State University 2014-2020). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Education. Her scholarship on the federal off-reservation boarding school system is rooted in the experiences of her father, Curtis Thorpe Carr, a survivor of Chilocco Indian Agricultural School in Oklahoma. Relevant publications include the 2018 special issue of the Journal of American Indian Education, “Native American Boarding School Stories” (Vol. 57, #1) and “To Remain an Indian”: Lessons for Democracy from a Century of Native American Education (2006; with Teresa McCarty), which won the Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Research Association. Other publications include Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law (2001; with David E. Wilkins); Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Experiences (2000; with Margaret Archuleta and Brenda Child); and They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School (1994), which won the North American Indian Prose Award and the American Education Association Critics’ Choice Award.