More Upcoming Ruth Wisse Events You Don’t Want to Miss

NoJokeAuthor Ruth R. Wisse will be making several appearances in the next couple of months to discuss her new book, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. In this book, Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of spontaneous Jewish joking–as well as the brilliance of comic masterworks by writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that have called Jewish humor into being–and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.

The next two events will be held in November, the first being November 20th at 7:00 PM at the APJCC Auditorium in Silicon Valley. To learn more about the event, click here.

The second event will be held at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on November 21st at 7:00 PM. To learn more about the event, click here.

For both events, Wisse will discuss “No Joke: Making Jewish Humor,” her book about the most celebrated of all Jewish responses to modernity. Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture, which won a National Jewish Book Award. Her other books include Jews and Power (Schocken) and The Schlemiel as Modern Hero.

“Aftermath”, a Polish Film Based on Jan T. Gross’ “Neighbors” Is Released

aftermath_us_poster_1_lgAftermath, a Polish film based on the historical book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan T. Gross, was recently released in limited showing in the United States, including New York City and Los Angeles (with Boston, Chicago and more to come shortly).

The official website for the film can be found here on Menemsha Films’ website, which includes a short synopsis, a trailer, photos from the film, and reviews. It also has links to locations and showtimes for the film in the United States.

The film was reviewed by The New York Times, which can be found here.


k7018One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews. Neighbors tells their story.

This is a shocking, brutal story that has never before been told. It is the most important study of Polish-Jewish relations to be published in decades and should become a classic of Holocaust literature.

Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an engulfing reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne’s Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne’s surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it.

Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne’s Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why.

Daniel B. Schwartz Named Co-Winner of 2012 Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize

Daniel B. Schwartz – The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image
Co-Winner of the 2012 Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize, American Academy for Jewish Research

The American Academy for Jewish Research is pleased to announce the winners of its annual Salo Baron Prize for the best first book in Jewish studies published in 2012…The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image [is a] commanding piece of intellectual history that traces the image of Spinoza in a number of different geo-cultural contexts. The prize committee found Schwartz’s authoritative grasp of each of them, from Spinoza’s own time, to eighteenth-century Germany, nineteenth-century East Central Europe, and twentieth-century Palestine, truly remarkable for a scholar for whom this is a first book. The book rests on careful and precise terminological apparatus, as well as on a graceful and compelling writing style.

The Baron Prize honors the memory of the distinguished historian Salo W. Baron, a long-time president of the AAJR, who taught at Columbia University for many decades. It is…one of the signal honors that can be bestowed on a young scholar in Jewish studies and a sign of the excellence, vitality, and creativity in the field.

The First Modern JewPioneering biblical critic, theorist of democracy, and legendary conflater of God and nature, Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his “horrible heresies” and “monstrous deeds.” Yet, over the past three centuries, Spinoza’s rupture with traditional Jewish beliefs and practices has elevated him to a prominent place in genealogies of Jewish modernity. The First Modern Jew provides a riveting look at how Spinoza went from being one of Judaism’s most notorious outcasts to one of its most celebrated, if still highly controversial, cultural icons, and a powerful and protean symbol of the first modern secular Jew.

Ranging from Amsterdam to Palestine and back again to Europe, the book chronicles Spinoza’s posthumous odyssey from marginalized heretic to hero, the exemplar of a whole host of Jewish identities, including cosmopolitan, nationalist, reformist, and rejectionist. Daniel Schwartz shows that in fashioning Spinoza into “the first modern Jew,” generations of Jewish intellectuals–German liberals, East European maskilim, secular Zionists, and Yiddishists–have projected their own dilemmas of identity onto him, reshaping the Amsterdam thinker in their own image. The many afterlives of Spinoza are a kind of looking glass into the struggles of Jewish writers over where to draw the boundaries of Jewishness and whether a secular Jewish identity is indeed possible. Cumulatively, these afterlives offer a kaleidoscopic view of modern Jewish cultureand a vivid history of an obsession with Spinoza that continues to this day.

Daniel B. Schwartz is assistant professor of history at George Washington University.