Speaking of American Jewish Heritage...


Joyce Antler

Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture
Professor of Women's and Gender Studies
Brandeis University
Contact: 781-736-3036; antler@brandeis.edu

Speech: "One Clove Away from a Pomander Ball: The Subversive Tradition of Jewish Women's Comedy"
From vaudeville and burlesque, to radio, TV, films, and stand-up comedy, Jewish women have shaped American comedy in unique ways. This talk takes us from Sophie Tucker, Gertrude Berg, and Molly Picon, in the immigrant generation, to Elaine May, Joan Rivers, and Gilda Radner, in the next, "Second City," generation, and on to such contemporary comics as Sarah Silverman, Judy Gold, and Jackie Hoffman. With clips from the Jewish Women's Archive film, Making Trouble, the presentation examines why the female Jewish comic tradition has been so powerful--and subversive.

"The Gift of Jewish Women's Comedy"
From Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Gertrude Berg and Molly Picon, to Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn, Roseanne Barr, Joan Rivers, and Sarah Silverman, Jewish women comedians have shaped the American comic tradition. This talk explores the female tradition in American Jewish comedy and explains why it has been so powerful and subversive.

"Making Trouble/Changing Culture: Jewish Women in the Arts and Entertainment"
Through their activism and their contributions to literature, cinema, vaudeville, drama, comedy, radio, television, and the fine arts, Jewish women helped to shape the main currents of modern life. As cultural rebels, they "talked back" to roles and stereotypes which constrained them, creating authentic, innovative images of Jewish and female life and unique models of culture and art.



Ron Arons

Speaker, Humorist, Expert on Jewish Criminality, and author of "The Jews of Sing Sing"
Contact: 510-530-3975; reaxprs@ix.netcom.com

"The Jews of Sing Sing"
There have not been that many Jewish criminals in America's history, right? Think again. This presentation is based on years of pioneering research that led to the book of the same name. The talks discusses how and why the author got involved in this seemingly esoteric subject - an ancestor served a "stretch" in the Big House "up the river." Next, Ron provides an overview of the history of this famous correctional facility. Then brief sketches are provided on notorious gangsters and lesser-known Jewish criminals who served time at the prison. To close, the presentation provides information about how the Jewish community took various actions to fight the problem of Jewish criminality in New York City.

"Bugsy Siegel & Meyer Lansky: The Men Behind the Flamingo Hotel"
Bugsy Siegel & Meyer Lansky were lifelong friends, having grown up together on Manhattan's Lower East Side. By collecting a variety of genealogical documents, including FBI files and newspaper articles Ron has been able to reassemble these two gangsters lives. And what lives they did live!

"The Kosher Nostra"
This is a combination talk providing the "greatest hits", if you will from three of Ron's other talks: "The Jews of Sing Sing", "Bugsy Siegel & Meyer Lansky", and "Putting the Flesh on the Bones" (the latter discusses Ron's research into the lives of not only his criminal ancestor but also that of the scoundrel's father - a rabbi who also found trouble). Always a crowd pleaser, Ron has given this talk for more than a dozen years. The talk has been updated numerous times due to additional finds (this past year has been a watershed for finding new information about Ron's two ancestors).

These talks are normally 45-60 minutes in length, but can be customized upon request. For example, a subset of "The Jews of Sing Sing" was customized for the American Jewish Libraries conference. On another occasion, a two-hour version of "The Kosher Nostra" was given at Florida Atlantic University.



Seth Front

Comedian, rabbi's son, and creator of the Jewish Zodiac®
Phone: 818-645-2670; info@jewzo.com

"A Culinary History of Jews in American based on the Astrological Signs of the Delicatessen"
This presentation uses over two hundred images to tell the story of the Jewish delicatessen in America, from its arrival on the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century and its adaptation to American tastes, to its assimilation into mainstream American culture and its return to authenticity in the 21st century. Seth uses culinary history to describe the communal American Jewish experience, highlighting the most important cultural changes from generation to generation. Through his story, audiences are reconnected to their own heritage, family and faith. With his trademark humor, Mr. Front weaves this social history into a compelling narrative by using the twelve most iconic deli foods as guideposts. These food symbols are the heart and soul of Mr. Front's Jewish Zodiac®, a deli food parody of the Chinese zodiac.



Dr. Rick Hodes

Medical Director, American Joint Distribution Committee
Contact: Aleandra Shklar; alexandraS@jdc.org

For more 25 years, Dr. Rick Hodes, an observant Jew from Long Island, has lived in Ethiopia and provided life-saving medical care for tens of thousands of poor Ethiopians. Dr. Hodes was also instrumental in ensuring the safe immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel during Operation Solomon in 1991, the historic airlift of over 14,000 people in 48 hours. Today Dr. Rick, as he is famously known around the world, focuses on treating patients suffering from spinal deformities and tumors, heart disease, and cancer. Dr. Hodes was a CNN Heroes finalist, an ABC Television Person of the Week, the subject of an HBO documentary, Making the Crooked Straight, and of the book This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes, by Marilyn Berger



Alice Kessler-Harris

R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History
Columbia University
Contact: 212-854-2420; ak571@columbia.edu

"Lillian Hellman: An American Jew"
Jewish-born and southern-identified, playwright and memoirist Lillian Hellman occupied a complicated position in the bifurcated world of twentieth-century Jews. She was not a Jew in the Yiddish-speaking, upwardly mobile, immigrant sense of the word. Nor was she a member of a close-knit southern community of Jews whose isolation lent itself to creating a public face of assimilation and cooperation. Rather she imagined herself existing beyond these worlds, committed to a set of overarching values that included racial egalitarianism and political and social justice. Hellman struggled to reconcile her sense of herself as a Jew with her commitment to larger values. She was in this sense an American Jew: her identity woven into the fabric of the political culture of her time.



Rabbi Kenneth Kanter

Author and music historian
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Contact: 513-221-1875; kkanter@huc.edu

Sing-a-long concert/lectures:

“We Jews on Broadway”
A sing-along history of the American Musical from the “Gay 90s” operetta of Romberg and Friml, through the “Roaring 20s” music of Berlin, Kern, the Gershwins, and Rodgers and Hart. Share Oklahoma’s “Beautiful Morning”; visit the West Side Story of Maria and Tony and the New York of Guys and Dolls. The program ends with Sondheim, Mel Brooks, Kander and Ebb, Broadway of today!

“Jewson Tin Pan Alley
In sing-along format, this program traces the history of American popular music from the 1840’s to the 1940’s, the beginning of the American popular music industry to the end of “Tin Pan Alley.” Meet the song pluggers, tunesmiths, European immigrants, “real life nephews of Uncle Sam,” and the songs that served as musical companions to American history. The names Berlin, Kern, Rodgers, Arlen and Gershwin are joined to lesser known names like Von Tilzer, Gus Kahn, Billy Rose, and Charles K. Harris.

“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor”

The Statue of Liberty, America’s greatest symbol of freedom and welcome, proudly displays the words of the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” With songs and stories in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, share the life of the immigrants when they came to Ellis Island. The poignancy and pathos are mixed with joy and humor. God Bless America!

“Is It True What They Sing About Dixie?”
Next to Manhattan, our most popular song location is “below the Mason-Dixon Line.” “Alabammy” Georgia peaches, cotton plantations and slaves filled the vaudeville music halls and theaters of America after World War I. Many written by New York Jewish songwriters who had never been South of Brooklyn, “Carolina in the Morning,” “Ole Man River” and “Swanee” are a musical tribute to Dear Ole Dixieland.



Lil' Rev

Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and music historian
Phone: 414-305-2328; lilrev@lilrev.com

“The Jews of Tin Pan Alley”
This show traces the rich heritage of Jews as contributors to the American musical landscape as writers, song pluggers, publishers, comedians and entertainers. Audiences will learn how the Jewish immigrant past shines brilliantly in song and dance with popular standards, blues, ragtime, sentimental ballads, Yiddish theater pieces and the influences of the old country. Performing on banjo, guitar, mandolin, harmonica and recorder, Rev highlights the work of Sophie Tucker, Gus Kahn, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Joel Grey and more.

“Jews N Blues”
This one-man show celebrates the Jewish contribution to American Roots ‘n Blues. From ragtime and jazz to the founding or Rock ‘n Roll, Jews have made major creative contributions to all of these genres. Lil’ Rev weaves an amazing tale of Jews whose passion, persistence and creativity have helped to paint the American popular landscape with an unforgettable vocabulary of poetic lyric and melody.

“Fiddler on the Roof Meets Oh Brother Where Art Thou”
Celebrate the best of Jewish folk music, lore and stories as Lil’ Rev carries the listener back in time from the arrival of immigrant Jews in the late 1800s to traveling stories of a modern day troubadour. Through a colorful prism of American roots influence, listeners will hear Jewish Blues, Bluegrass (or Jewgrass!), Country Western and original songs played on guitar, ukulele, mandolin, harmonica and banjo. Lil’ Rev seamlessly weaves Yiddish, Israeli, Chasidic and American folksongs into a tapestry of story, song and lore for the whole family.


Ted Merwin, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Religion & Judaic Studies
Dickinson College Carlisle, PA
Phone: (717) 245-1636; merwin@dickinson.edu

Illustrated lectures:

"Where Harry Met Sally: The Jewish Deli in Pop Culture"
In New York, L.A., Chicago, and other cities, the Jewish deli was a gathering place on par with the synagogue, a convivial space where the overstuffed sandwiches symbolized nothing less than the achievement of the American Dream. Over time, the deli also became an iconic part of American popular entertainment, in dozens of plays, films, TV shows, songs and stand-up comedy routines. From Aaron Lebedeff's signature tune, "Rumania, Rumania" to John Belushi's "Samurai Deli" sketch on Saturday Night Live to Rob Reiner's film "When Harry Met Sally," the deli and its fare became emblematic of Jewish culture for Jews and non-Jews alike.

"Unbuttoned! Clothes and the Fashioning of American Jewish Humor"
Since their earliest days in this country, Eastern European Jewish immigrants were overwhelmingly involved with two industries--the garment trade and the entertainment business. Not surprisingly, clothing became a major theme of American Jewish humor. This interactive lecture traces the symbolic use of clothing in Fanny Brice's "Second Hand Rose," Eddie Cantor's "Belt in the Back" routine, the Yiddish/English radio commercials for Joe and Paul's clothing store, and the Seinfeld "Puffy Shirt" episode. If, as Marx Twain noted, "clothes make the man," then how did clothes help to "make" American Jewish comedy?

"Seinfeld: A Show About Secular Jewish Identity"
One of the most popular TV shows of all time, Seinfeld, also became a touchstone of secular Jewish identity. While most of the quartet of central characters, other than the title character, were not identified as Jewish, the show afforded them stereotypical Jewish mannerisms and concerns--often relating to issues of etiquette and social behavior in the realms of food, clothing, and mating rituals. A show about "nothing" was thus nothing less than a showcase of urban Jewish anxieties at the turn of the 20th century. This interactive lecture explores selected Seinfeld episodes, mining them for their explicit/implicit Jewish content.

Ted Merwin, Ph.D. teaches religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA), where he directs the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life. His first book, In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture was hailed by the Forward as "impressively researched and entertainingly presented," with critic Ethan Kanfer noting that "this lively volume shows how the twin forces of immigrant acculturation and the quickening social pace of the Jazz Age helped put Jewish entertainers at the center of the new popular culture." His latest book, Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Delicatessen, is the first full-length history of the New York Jewish deli. In addition to his more than 500 theater columns for the New York Jewish Week, Ted's articles on Jewish culture have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Haaretz, London Jewish Chronicle, Moment, Hadassah, Sondheim Review, and many other newspapers and magazines throughout the English-speaking world.



Pamela Nadell

Professor of Jewish History, Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women's and Gender History, and Chair, Department of History
American University, Washington, DC
202-885-2425; pnadell@american.edu

Illustrated lectures:

“Rediscovering Streisand’s Yentl: From Yeshiva Boy to Syndrome"
In 1983, actress-director Barbra Streisand adapted Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy” as a musical film. Although set in Eastern Europe early in the twentieth century, the film resonated with American Jews then caught up in debates over the second wave of American feminism. In time, Yentl became a code word for women all around the world trying to break out of their circumscribed roles. This illustrated lecture explores how that happened.

"Building History on Independence Mall: The National Museum of American Jewish History"
This illustrated lecture, by one of the four members of the Founding Historians' Team of the National Museum of American Jewish History, covers the major themes laid out in the museum's core exhibition illustrating 350-years of the American Jewish experience.

"The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Out of Tragedy Comes Social Justice."
 New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in March 1911 was one of the deadliest industrial fires in American history. The fire claimed 146 lives, most of them Jewish girls and women. In its wake, a coalition of men and women, from different backgrounds, classes, parties, and religions came together to compel the government of the United States to protect its workers.

"Jewish Women and the Civil War."
In times of war, men and women lived very different lives. This lecture explores the very different lives lived by Jewish women of the North and of the South during the Civil War.




Dr. William Recant

Disaster Relief Expert / Assistant Executive
Vice President, American Joint Distribution Committee
Contact: Alexandra Shklar; alexandraS@jdc.org

Will Recant is one of America's top experts on international disaster relief. With more than three decades of work in global development and crisis management, Recant has successfully directed relief efforts and disaster assistance programs for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Japan, Haiti, Kosovo, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Cuba and countries affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

A highly sought-after source on crisis response, Recant has appeared in a variety of TV, print, and radio outlets discussing the rescue and relief distressed populations, international disaster response and preparedness, and global volunteerism.

Recant has advised and briefed U.S. Presidents, government agencies, members of Congress, local, national, international government officials, embassy staff, as well as community leaders and academics. Recant was previously the Executive Director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, where he served as the chief advocate of the Ethiopian Jewry movement and was responsible for helping to implement one of the largest resettlement operations in the 20th century with the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.



Gail Reimer

Executive Director Emerita, Jewish Women's Archive
Phone: 617-383-6752; greimer@jwa.org

"Making Trouble: Changing the Narrative of Jews and Entertainment"
Making Trouble tells the story of six of the greatest female comic performers of the last century: Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein. Hosted by four of today's funniest women--Judy Gold, Jackie Hoffman, Cory Kahaney, and Jessica Kirson--it's the true saga of what it means to be Jewish, female and funny. Riemer will discuss and show clips from the film, which includes archival footage and photographs from performances by the featured comedians, giving audiences a glimpse into each of their lives and careers over the last century. "These talented women defied cultural expectations and opened doors that ALL women are walking through today. The Jewish Women's Archive made this film to preserve and highlight that legacy," notes Reimer.



Marcia Jo Zerivitz, L.H.D.

Founding Executive Director, Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU
Researcher and lecturer on Jewish history, curator of Jewish historical exhibitions, author of documentary films and books
(727) 363-7030; mzerivitz@me.com


American Jews in Entertainment. This enlightening 60-minute narrative with photographs (PowerPoint) presents highlights of a large topic in the 20th century where Jews have contributed in far greater proportion than their numbers would suggest. From the Yiddish Theater and nickelodeons to Hollywood, radio, TV and Broadway, the list of Jewish names is staggering and demonstrates how Jews came as immigrants and became Americans while entertaining America.

Chronicle of Florida's Jews. This 90-minute narrative with photographs (PowerPoint) is an exhilarating and surprising overview of the history of Jews in Florida. Prior to Zerivitz's research that began in the mid-1980s, this story was unknown. For Florida's first 250 years, only Catholics could settle, as it was owned by Spain since discovery in 1513. While Florida hosts the nation's third largest Jewish community, it is perceived to have a "new" Florida Jewish history starting after World War II. In reality, Jews have been allowed to live in Florida since 1763 (and possibly were there as Conversos since the 16th century) and have contributed greatly to the development of the state. David Levy Yulee brought Florida into statehood (1845) and served as its first U.S. senator (and the first person of Jewish ancestry to serve in the U.S. Congress). You will "meet" Jews who have made their mark in history and understand the themes and involvement for the past 250 years.

Can I See the Horns: History of 2000 Years of Antisemitism Through Art. Hatred is perhaps the oldest of human emotions. Hatred against Jews is the most persistent, pervasive and pernicious of all hatreds known in the world, motivates most of the hate crimes and has lasted the longest. Why? Through a lecture using degenerate artworks, Marcia Jo Zerivitz will demonstrate the historical background of antisemitism, intolerance and bigotry and the insidious power of imagery in communicating the agenda of hatred, including Christian roots, the modern world and contemporary racist images from Florida culture covering the Klan, Nazism and restrictive covenants.

Florida Jews in the U.S. Military. The exemplary history of Florida Jews in the military began in the mid-1800s with the Seminole Indian Wars when West Point graduate Abraham C. Myers served as quartermaster and a Florida city now bears his name, Ft. Myers. Jews have continued their participation in defense of democracy and freedom in every war. This illustrated lecture demonstrates how Jews have served in the military in a larger percentage than their share of the population. Those who came to America and then to Florida enlisted very often to become "accepted" to overcome the concept of the "wandering Jew" and to show that they were not cowards. While serving, these Floridian Jews maintained the traditions of their heritage, even when it was challenging. Many earned medals and some were killed in action in each of the wars, including at least seven young Floridian Jews in the Gulf Wars. These individuals' stories and their character traits are role models for the future generations. They risked their lives for a dream--our nation. This presentation pays tribute to these extraordinary Americans.

Women in Florida Jewish History. Especially appropriate for Women's History Month (March) and Florida Jewish History Month (January), this illustrated lecture covers the impact that women have had throughout 250 years of Florida Jewish history in business, education, law, military, politics, sports, the arts and in the community. Through all they achieved, these women maintained their traditions to pass on Jewish heritage. Learning what these women accomplished and contributed to the quality of life inspires those of today and tomorrow to continue to work hard to ensure the participation and recognition of women.

Jews of Greater Miami. Florida, the first of the American territories to be discovered and settled in the 1500s, did not allow Jews to settle until 1763, and was among the last to develop a substantial Jewish population. The stereotyped image as the destination of Jews settling in Florida has been "Miami" In reality, Miami was among the state's latest communities to develop a Jewish population. Miami was founded in 1896 when Henry Flagler's railroad was extended there - and this attracted Jews for the economic opportunity. Where did these Jews come from and how did they become such a powerful community? Jews owned 12 of Miami's earliest 16 businesses. Jews began to settle on Miami Beach by 1913. Facing discrimination, the Jewish community grew to dominate the Beach, its politics and tourism industry until the 1980s. Barriers for Jews have been greatly dismantled and prejudice against Jews has lost its respectability. In this richly illustrated lecture, you will meet the pioneer Jews and learn of their struggles and successes, how they worked hard to help develop every area of their community and at opening society and now thrive in it.

Jews of Broward County. Jews have lived in Broward County since 1910. Original research revealed the comprehensive story of the many roles that Jews have played in agriculture, retail, development, the arts and politics to create the home to the second largest Jewish community in Florida. This illustrated lecture demonstrates the tremendous impact that Jews have had on the growth of the area from swampland to a major metropolitan area and the anguish of antisemitism experienced as Jews settled there.

Jews of Greater Orlando. As curator of the 2017 exhibition, Kehillah: A History of Jewish Life in Greater Orlando, Marcia Jo Zerivitz takes you on a powerpoint tour through 150 years of Jewish history. At the end of the Civil War there were Jews in Orlando. Merchant Jacob R. Cohen was elected a city leader with incorporation in 1875. Dr. Philip Phillips settled in 1897 and amassed 5,000 acres to grow oranges, leaving a philanthropic legacy that continues. At the turn of the 20th century, five families comprised the Orlando Jewish community until the Pittsburgh migration in 1912 doubled the Jewish population. Soon religious services were held in a citrus grove, and then a congregation was chartered in 1918. Today, the Jewish population exceeds 30,000. Jews organized to preserve their traditions and enriched the lives of their neighbors through their commitment to agriculture, businesses, professions, arts, education, civil rights, media, philanthropy, hospitality, defense and more. Enjoy seeing the impact of 340 Jewish owned stores through 1969 and the narrative from pioneers and later arrivals whose remarkable contributions are woven into the fabric of the region’s history.

Jews of Tampa. Spanish explorers arrived in Tampa Bay in the 16th century. Jews were first allowed to live in Florida in 1763 and less than 100 years later, Tampa became a city and the earliest Jewish pioneer settled in 1844. With the arrival of Henry Plant, his railroad, and the cigar industry in the 1890s, Tampa became a center of activity. Jewish immigrants settled and helped propel the growth, especially in Ybor City, where more than 80 businesses were owned by Jews. By the early 1900s, two congregations were thriving--Schaarai Zedek and Rodeph Sholom. Over the decades, Jews enthusiastically participated in civic organizations, all the wars, politics, and in growing Tampa as a sports center. Today, with about 23,000 Jews in Tampa, there are 5th generations that represent the continuity of a people who contribute vibrancy to every area of the community.



Jewish Federation of Northern America

The Jewish Federation of North America offers a number of speakers who can address the topic of Tikkun Olam--Healing the World. To utilize any of these speakers for your JAHM programs, please contact:

Nadine S. Schneider, Director, Speakers Bureau
The Jewish Federations of North America
(212) 284-6543 - Office


Rabbi Lou Feldstein
Charles Harary
Rabbi Lynda Targan
William Daroff
Deborah Grayson Riegel
Vicki Agron
Rachael Freed
Susan Jackson
Avraham Infeld
Danny Siegel
Rabbi Arnold Samlan
Yael Luttwak
Rabbi David Saperstein
Batsheva Bodega



The AJS Distinguished Lectureship Program

The Association for Jewish Studies Distinguished Lectureship Program connects you with distinguished lecturers in the field of Jewish studies. Enrich your next program with one of over 300 lectures, which cover the breadth of Jewish history, religion, politics, and culture. For more information, visit www.ajslectures.org or contact Shira Moskovitz at the AJS office.