EVELYN DEAN-OLMSTED, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras To Be Mexican, Jewish, and Arab: Language and Laughter in Mexico City
JOSHUA FRIEDMAN, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brooklyn College Yiddish Returns: Language, Intergenerational Gifts, and Jewish Devotion
JESSICA RODA, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Ethnographic Research in the Aftermath of Violence, Concordia University Ruptures and Reconstruction of Kinship Ties among OTD (Off the Derech) Communities: Gender, Sexualities, and Personhood in New York City
MATTHEW BOXER, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, Brandeis University Judaism as a Contact Sport: Lessons from Small Jewish Communities
Dr. Boxer’s project focuses on the effects of Jewish community size on Jewish identity and represents an important application of both demography and theories of identity development to a problem that has largely been understudied in the sociology of American Jewish life. His rigorous and unsentimental look at the small population centers in which a significant number of Jews can be found provides a helpful understanding of the prospects for the future of Jewish belonging and identity in such communities. Grounded in a commitment to applied social research, Boxer represents an approach to the sociology of American Jews that seeks to engender discussions both in the academy and beyond.
LAURA LIMONIC, Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Old Westbury The Privileged ‘In-Between’ Status of Latino Jews
Exploring the complex intersection of Latino and Jewish identities among Jewish immigrants from Latin America, Professor Limonic’s research situates the sociology of American Jews in the context of broader social and demographic patterns that are reshaping America’s ethnic landscape. Equally well-versed in the sociology of immigration, of Latinos and of American Jews, Limonic demonstrates how first-rate sociological research weaves together strands from multiple subfields to contribute something new and innovative to each. Her work offers a model for a sociology of American Jewry that is deeply engaged at the discipline of sociology’s cutting edge.
Berman Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Support of Research in the Social Scientific Study of the Contemporary American Jewish Community
MATTHEW BERKMAN, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania Ethnic Institutional Development and Political Mobilization in the United States: A Comparison of Jewish, Cuban, and African American Experiences
MIJAL BITTON, Humanities and Social Sciences in the Professions, New York University Syrian Jews in America: In Search of Community
AJS also recognizes the following finalist:
MIRA NICULESCU, Department of Sociology, Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales After the Jewish Buddhists: Reconstructing Jewish Spirituality in a Global Age
JAY (KOBY) OPPENHEIM, Department of Sociology, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York 'Once Removed': A Comparative Study of ‘Russian Jews’ in New York and Berlin
Mr. Oppenheim’s dissertation explores the experiences of children of immigrants from the wave of Russian-speaking Jewish immigration to the U.S. and Germany from 1989 onward. Between 300,000 and 500,000 immigrants arrived in the U.S. and an additional 200,000 resettled in Germany. The transition of outsiders to insiders, of integrating or assimilating into a new society, involves lengthy and often vexing negotiation of social and symbolic boundaries. The project focuses on the complex of experiences that characterize the construction of ethnic identity in immigrant-receiving societies, capitalizing on the divergent trajectories of this group to undertake a comparative analysis of identity formation in both Europe and the United States.
EMILY SIGALOW, Departments of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies & Sociology, Brandeis University Intersecting Traditions: The Jewish Encounter with Buddhism since 1893
Ms. Sigalow’s dissertation, "Intersecting Traditions: the Jewish Encounter with Buddhism since 1893," contributes to the understanding of the growing religious syncretism of American Jews. Through observation of eighteen related Jewish and Buddhist organizations and over eighty in-depth interviews with Jewish people from these organizations, Sigalow develops a framework distinguishing converts, practitioners, enriched and seekers, which illuminates the different types of contacts Jews have with Buddhism, and will be a useful tool to understanding contacts between Jews and other religions, as well. The research also sheds light on the impact of Buddhism on a wide range of Jewish practices.
The AJS also recognizes the following projects, which received honorable mention:
SCHNEUR ZALMAN NEWFIELD, Department of Sociology, New York University Degrees of Separation: Patterns of Personal Identity Formation Beyond Boundaries of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism
Mr. Newfield’s dissertation, "Degrees of Separation: Patterns of Personal Identity Formation Beyond Boundaries of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism," focuses on the bridges between the Lubavitch and Satmar communities and the outside world through interviews with sixty members of the Lubavitch and Satmar communities on the subject of their process of “distancing” themselves from their ultra-Orthodox communities.
ROTTEM SAGI, Department of Sociology, University of California-Irvine Who’s in My Bed: Strange Bedfellows in the American Pro-Israel Movement
Ms. Sagi’s dissertation, “Who’s in my Bed: Strange Bedfellows in the American Pro-Israel Movement,” contributes organizational and social movement perspectives to understanding the American pro-Israel movement in both historical and contemporary contexts. Ms. Sagi’s development of a database of over seven-hundred Jewish American organizations’ purpose statements, as well as archival research and in-depth interviews, promotes an organizational analysis which is rare and needed in the social scientific study of American Jewry.
CAROLINE BLOCK, The Johns Hopkins University Rabbis, Rabbas and Maharats: Aspiration, Innovation and Orthodoxy in American Women’s Talmud Programs
This project examines the recent emergence of women’s Talmud programs in the American Modern Orthodox Jewish community. These Orthodox Jewish women engage in the full-time study of the traditional rabbinic curriculum, though they will not become rabbis. The project examines the intersection of the Judaic practice of transmitting rabbinic authority and knowledge through textual studies and the American practice of denominationalism rooted in communal and congregational institutions. This study will illuminate how spiritual experience operates with law, how female religious leadership is linked to tradition and American culture, and how the study of text and tradition can address women and piety as well as religion and the public sphere.
BRITT TEVIS, University of Wisconsin May It Displease the Court: Jewish Lawyers and the Democratization of American Law
This project is an important contribution to American Jewish history, and focuses on the place of Jews in American professions. Without a keen understanding of why Jews were drawn to the law and how the law was changed by their presence, we are missing one of the most important foundations of American Jewish culture. While many scholars have noted the remarkable number of Jewish lawyer since the early twentieth century, no scholar has successfully analyzed its impact. Ms. Tevis not only documents the antisemitism that they encountered, but also examines the impact Jews had on the “democratization” of American law. She has focused on areas such as labor, free speech and civil rights. Both immigrant and native-born lawyers carved out new fields of the law, and expanded freedoms in American society. In addition her study compares Jews in American law to the role that they played in a number of European countries. Her dissertation will, therefore, compare and contrast American and European Jewish lawyers.
The AJS also recognizes the following project, which received honorable mention:
WENDY FERGUSSON SOLTZ, The Ohio State University Separate but Not Equal: The Jewish Fight for Racially Integrated Education, 1930-1965
This project offers an original perspective on Jewish involvement in the fight for integrated education for African Americans in Southern public and private schools and colleges between 1920 and 1970. The dissertation will be built on four case studies that explore the American Jewish philanthropists who brought this issue into the public arena in the 1920s, Jewish refugee faculty at Southern colleges and universities scattered throughout the South, the Jewish lobbyists and lawyers involved in the Brown v. Board of Education case, and Habonim, the Zionist youth group’s involvement in the fight for integrated education.
RACHEL GROSS, Princeton University Objects of Affection: The Material Religion of American Jewish Nostalgia
Rachel Gross's dissertation project, "Objects of Affection: The Material Religion of American Jewish Nostalgia," is a material culture and ethnographic study of American Jews' nostalgia for their communal homelands of Eastern Europe and New York's Lower East Side of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This nostalgia, a sentimental, generalized looking back at mythologized pasts from which they are safely distant, is an integral religious feature of American Jews' practice in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Nostalgia is both an emotion and a practice, one that has become increasingly commoditized and institutionalized in recent decades, though no less a significant source of personal and communal meaning. The project focuses on four broad case studies: the material culture of Jewish genealogy; historic synagogues used as heritage sites; children's books and dolls; and American Jewish foodways, focusing on "kosher style" restaurants and delis. This project examines how American Jews use each of these kinds of material to create an affective, sentimental connection to the past that produces communal, religious meaning in the present and conveys social desires for the future.
LAURA LIMONIC, The Graduate Center, CUNY Ethnic Options? Jewish Latino Immigrants in the Northeastern United States
The process of immigration requires an examination and often an alteration of people's ethnic identity as they incorporate into a society with different ethno-racial groups than their own. This project focuses on contemporary Jewish immigrants from Latin America who have settled in the United States. Since this group is not easily classified within the North American racial and ethnic schema, their ethnic identity and group affiliation challenges the existing paradigm. A central question is whether these immigrants are to be classified primarily as Jewish; whether, and in what situations, their national identities as Colombian, Argentine, Mexican or Cuban trump their Jewish ethno-religious identity; or if they will choose to eschew these categories all-together and construct a new panethno-religious group, that of Jewish-Latinos. Another issue is how they are adding new diversity to, and having an impact on, U.S. Jewish communities and institutions. This qualitative study contributes to our understanding of contemporary North American Jewry by shedding light on how this immigrant group, whose Jewishness is so salient, navigates the existing North American Jewish communities and either contributes to the reshaping of these communities or creates new enclaves, institutions, and communities that in turn become part of the greater North American Jewish experience.
The AJS also recognizes the following projects, which received honorable mentions:
RACHEL ADELSTEIN, University of Chicago Braided Voices: Women Cantors in Non-Orthodox Judaism
JOSHUA B. FRIEDMAN, University of Michigan Intimate Institutions: Post-Vernacularity and the Institutional Mediation Jewish Cultural Continuity in Yiddishland
EMILY SIGALOW, Brandeis University Jews on Zafus?!: A Study of Jewish-Buddhist Lived Hybridity in America
MOSHE KORNFELD, University of Michigan Rebuilding Houses, Rebuilding Judaism: Post-Katrina New Orleans and the Rise of the Jewish Social Justice Movement
Rebuilding Houses, Rebuilding Judaism: Post-Katrina New Orleans and the Rise of the Jewish Social Justice Movement integrates ethnographic data on Jewish philanthropy, activism, and service in New Orleans into a historically situated and theoretically informed dissertation on the establishment, growth, and influence of the Jewish social justice movement. In particular, this project frames qualitative social scientific data on Jewish social justice activities in New Orleans in relation to the anthropology of Jews and Judaism, anthropological theories of gift and exchange, and anthropological discussions of the relationship between religion, secularity, and modernity. Ultimately, this anthropological consideration of contemporary American Jewish philanthropy applies ethnographic methodologies to generate an understanding of how American Jews as individuals and as members of a faith/ethnic community perceive their ethical responsibilities in a society that has afforded them unprecedented wealth, comfort, and security. Primary questions to be addressed include the following. What accounts for the rise of Jewish social justice movement? What influence does the Jewish social justice movement have on American Jews and American Judaism? Finally, what does the rise of the Jewish social justice movement say about the position of Jews in American society?
PATRICIA MUNRO, University of California, Berkeley What If I Drop the Torah? Tensions and Resolutions in Creating B’nai Mitzvah
B'nai Mitzvah is the central life-cycle event for American Jews. As a result, all concerned invest great effort in managing the intrinsic challenges of preparation and enactment. These challenges are not problems with simple solutions, but ongoing tensions that affect the structure of the ritual, of the congregations, and of the lives of individual Jews. My research over the past several years, which includes observation at five congregations and interviews with over two hundred individuals, has led me to identify five key challenges in the B'nai Mitzvah ritual. These are: creating and communicating authenticity, setting limits to participation, routinizing or individualizing the process, assuring competence in enactment, and negotiating public and private space. In the dissertation, I explore different approaches to managing each challenge as well as the characteristics that determining these different approaches. However, while the dissertation looks at a specific ritual, these five issues have broader relevance for American Jewish life. Jews wrestle with what makes Judaism and Jews authentic, with the individualized or rountinized nature of community, with what is sufficient competence in Jewish practice, and with the nature of resource distribution. My hope is that this work will contribute to both a specific and a general understanding of the sociology of American Jewish life.
The AJS also recognizes the following projects, which received honorable mentions:
BECKA ALPER, Purdue University Does Religious Geography Affect Identity? The Impact of Local Size Characteristics on Religious Networks, Behavior, and Salience
SHAINA HAMMERMAN, Graduate Theological Union The Fantastic Hasid: A History of Modern Jewish Imagination
JENNIFER ROSKIES, Bar-Ilan University In Their Own Voices: The Multiple Identities of Jewish Academic Women
INGA VEKSLER, Rutgers University Remembering the Emigration Journey: Soviet Jews in the Vienna-Rome Pipeline, 1971-1991