New Research at the Center


Mina Muraoka (Brandeis University)
Dr. Sophie Bookhalter Fellow in Jewish Culture
“Jews and the Russo-Japanese War: The Triangular Relationship between Jewish POWs, Japan, and Jacob H. Schiff”

Mina Muraoka’s dissertation deals with the complex relationship among American Jewish banker Jacob H. Schiff, Russian-Jewish prisoners of war and Japan. The Russo-Japanese War had a significant impact on the Jews—from the POWs who served in the Tsarist army to the American Jewish leaders who used the war to further their own agendas. When the war broke out, Schiff loaned $200 million to Japan, which amounted to half of its war costs. Schiff’s close relationship with Japanese officials during the post-war years would actually help Jewish refugees who fled to Japan because of the Russian Revolution of 1917. This dissertation aims to explore the politics of war, finance, philanthropy and transnational Jewish activism. Though the war ended with Portsmouth Treaty signed in September 1905, it continued to have repercussions on Jews in post-war years.

Adam Sacks (Brown University)
Cahnman Foundation Fellow
“The Doctors Chorus of Berlin: A Community Hidden in Song”

Adam Sacks’s dissertation focuses on the Berlin Doctors Chorus founded by Dr. Kurt Singer in 1913, which continued operating until its demise in 1938. This is a microhistorical subject employed as a prism through which to examine a complex web of larger historical concerns. Exploring the Chorus of Berlin in five thematic sections, the dissertation underscores the chorus’s significance in German cultural and political history, European and German Jewish history, and the history of musical performance. With Kurt Singer as director for the entirety of its tenure, the choir began with 25 members and ended with 230. It gave over 50 major public performances in the city of Berlin and received significant coverage in the media. This was the first chorus of its kind in Europe, and it had no direct successor or comparable counterpart. The Doctors Chorus of Berlin was constituted by mostly middle-aged, female, Social Democratic, Jewish practicing physicians in the city of Berlin who sang a repertoire made up largely of sacred Christian music. The unraveling of these apparent contradictions is the work of this project.

David Sclar (The Graduate Center, CUNY)
Lillian Goldman Fellow
“He will Flourish like a Cedar in Lebanon: Controversy, Acceptance, and Printed Books in the Life and ‘After-Life’ of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto”

David Sclar’s dissertation concerns the posthumous popularization of the controversial 18th-century Italian rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto (1707-1746; Padua, Amsterdam; Acre). A brilliant and diverse author, Luzzatto led a group of young intellectuals in a quest to redeem the world through mystical means. Fearing that Luzzatto was a deviant threat to mainstream Judaism, many members of the rabbinate throughout Europe suppressed his activities and banned his writings. After his death, however, Luzzatto’s various works were used by adherents of the Haskalah, Hasidism and the Musar movement. Using unpublished archival documents, manuscripts and rare printed books, David Sclar’s dissertation contextualizes the Luzzatto controversy and ascendancy within the rapidly changing spheres of 18th- and 19th-century European Jewry. In the process, it explores the limited but nevertheless powerful influence of rabbinic authority, the tensions between a global Jewish community and distinct, autonomous Jewish communities, and the effects of printing on Jewish historicity and identity.

David Weinfeld (New York University)
Morris & Alma Schapiro Fellow
“What Difference Does the Difference Make? Horace Kallen, Alain Locke, and the Development of Cultural Pluralism in America”

David Weinfeld’s project explores the development of cultural pluralism, the ancestor to modern multiculturalism, through the intellectual relationship between two American philosophers, the secular Zionist Horace Kallen (1882-19974) and the African American aesthete Alain Locke (1885-1954). Kallen invented the term “cultural pluralism” while he was a teaching assistant at Harvard (1906-1907) in conversations with his student Locke, the future leader of the Harlem Renaissance. By examining Kallen and Locke’s lifelong friendship, David Weinfeld hopes to explore the nature of racial and ethnic relations in the first half of the 20th century, how the two philosophers’ ideas influenced them, and how cultural pluralism developed and functioned not only as an abstract concept, but also as a lived experience. Half of Kallen’s papers are housed at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at the Center for Jewish History, and the Center contains numerous other collections relevant to Weinfeld’s research.

Jennifer Young (New York University)
Dr. Sophie Bookhalter Fellow in Jewish Culture
“American Jewish Communists, Anti-Fascism, and the Shaping
of Ethnic Culture in the International Workers Order, 1930-1956”

In the late 1940s, the International Workers Order (IWO)—a leftwing, multi-ethnic fraternal order established in 1930 by Jews active in the American Communist movement—reached a membership peak of close to several hundred thousand members. These men and women, who had helped create the Popular Front political culture of the 1930s, participated in a mass political movement via the framework of the leftwing fraternal order, organized primarily around the issues of anti-racism, anti-fascism and cultural pluralism. By championing the rights of ethnic cultures, and by linking injustices against racial, cultural and economic groups as related forms of oppression, the Jewish Communist leaders of the IWO created a powerful counter-example to what the IWO’s director of Jewish Education Itshe Goldberg called the “scorched melting pot.” These leaders believed their task was to help complete the unfinished project of American democracy, and they argued for the continuing growth of Yiddish language and Jewish culture on its own terms, as integrally American and yet uniquely Jewish.

Polly Zavadivker (University of California at Santa Cruz)
Dr. Sophie Bookhalter Fellow in Jewish Culture
“Soviet History, Jewish Fate: The War Writings of S. An-sky, Isaac Babel, and Vasily Grossman, 1914-1948”

Polly Zavadivker’s dissertation explores the war writings of three Russian-Jewish intellectuals who lived through three devastating conflicts in which the Russian Empire/Soviet Union took part between 1914 and 1945. She compares representations of war in the Russian and Yiddish writings of S. An-sky (1863-1920), Isaac Babel (1894-1940) and Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) during the First World War, Polish-Bolshevik War and Second World War/Holocaust, respectively. Her thesis makes the case that these three writers were pioneers in depicting experiences of Jewish civilians in each war. As war correspondents, they traveled extensively through the war zone, which gave them the opportunity to witness Jews living and dying in the multi-ethnic borderlands between Russia/the USSR and its wartime enemies to the west. The dissertation focuses on how these writers witnessed and wrote about historically significant and unprecedented events as they unfolded in real time.