Alyse Unterberger, Director, Special Initiatives, Jewish Learning Venture
Alysa Landry; Communications Liaison, Gratz College
Naomi Housman; Director of Institutional Advancement, Gratz College
December 4, 2018
Jewish Learning Venture and Gratz College Announce Transition for One Book, One Jewish Community Program
Jewish Learning Venture (JLV) and Gratz College are pleased and excited to announce that as of February 2019 One Book, One Jewish Community (OBOJC) will be housed at Gratz College. JLV empowers families to make Judaism more relevant and meaningful for themselves. Gratz is the nation’s oldest independent Jewish college.
Since Jewish Learning Venture launched OBOJC twelve years ago Gratz has been a key partner. A committee of dedicated community volunteers will continue to support OBOJC at Gratz with the annual book selection, resource guide and other related activities.
JLV and Gratz will jointly sponsor the kickoff event for the 2018-19 selection, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, by Michael David Lukas, at 3 pm on Sunday, January 13, at Gratz College (7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, PA). This community event is open to the public and includes a presentation and book signing with the author. Books will be available for purchase at the event.
Lukas also is the author of the internationally best-selling novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, which was a finalist for the California Book Award and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. It has been published in 15 languages. He is a graduate of Brown University and was a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey and a student at the American University of Cairo. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and he works at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley.
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a fascinating, multi-generational novel about Joseph, a man who seeks to unravel a centuries-old family secret that ties him to both the Muslim men of his family and his American Jewish mother. Connecting with his family in Egypt, Joseph learns about the family “business” of serving as watchmen of the ancient Ibn Ezra Synagogue. The story includes the fascinating discovery of the Cairo Genizah, a treasure trove of medieval Jewish documents, including the “Ezra Scroll.” British sisters and scholars, Agnes and Margaret Smith, and rabbi and educator Solomon Schechter are the main characters in this chapter in history. Among many other things, this is a story of family, cultural identity and the role of women in academia.
Jewish Learning Venture’s CEO, Rabbi Philip Warmflash said, “One Book has been a signature program of Jewish Learning Venture for 12 years – and now we are so pleased that Gratz College will continue to share important Jewish books with our community. We look forward to the additional opportunities that Gratz can also make available as features of OBOJC in the future.”
Dr. Paul Finkelman, President of Gratz College, noted that this transition fits with Gratz’s historic commitment to adult education and Jewish education. “I am delighted that Gratz can help continue this program throughout Jewish Philadelphia,” he said. “As an online college, we also have the capacity engage our students and alumni from across the region, the nation -- and the world -- in One Book, One Jewish Community.”
November 6, 2018
Gratz College Hosts Arnold and Esthere Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In
MELROSE PARK, Pa.—On Sunday, November 11, Gratz College will host its biennial Arnold and Esther Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In, a program aimed at providing an intensive learning experience for the community at large as well as tools for educators to teach the next generation about the Holocaust.
Sunday’s program, held on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, features a keynote address by Dr. Steven Luckert, senior program curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In his lecture, “Artifacts and Memories,” Dr. Luckert will explore the stories behind the artifacts displayed in the museum—like a wedding dress made from a German parachute and worn by several survivors at their weddings in a displaced persons camp in 1946.
“For most of history, museums have been about art or science or things that make people feel good,” said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. “The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is all about educating people about things that are truly hard to think about.”
The program runs from 1:30 to 5:45 p.m., with a morning workshop exclusively for teachers presented by Randi Boyette, education director for the Anti-Defamation League. The afternoon features seminars on Polish concentration camps, hidden children and their protectors, rescue of the Danish Jews, Nazi propaganda, the Nuremberg Trials, and other topics.
“This is a chance for anyone to learn about the Holocaust from personal items,” Dr. Finkelman said. “It’s important to read about the Holocaust or see movies about it, but when you talk to someone who survived or touch an artifact, history becomes more real. There will not always be Holocaust survivors, but there will always be artifacts.”
The Teach-In is the first since Gratz launched its new Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies last year. The program director, Dr. Monika Rice, said the event presents attendees with the most current scholarship in the field.
“This allows teachers, lawyers, other professionals and the general public to become acquainted with some of the most important events, debates and issues within the field of Holocaust and genocide studies,” she said.
This program is made possible by the financial support of the Arnold and Esther Tuzman Holocaust Education Fund. Arnold and Esther Tuzman each fled their homes as teens to escape the Nazis. Esther was hidden by a Polish Catholic farmer. After imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp, Arnold served in the Polish-Russian army. Still in uniform after V-day, Arnold gave a ride to a beautiful young woman named Esther. They married in 1946 and immigrated to the US in 1947. The Tuzman family is proud to support The Arnold and Esther Tuzman Holocaust Memorial Holocaust Teach-In.
October 23, 2018
Gratz College Hosts Hasia Diner For Lecture on Julius Rosenwald
MELROSE PARK - Gratz College will host Dr. Hasia R. Diner on Sunday, October 28, for a Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture about Julius Rosenwald, an American Jew, social activist and philanthropist who took up the cause of African Americans during the Jim Crow era.
Dr. Hasia R. Diner
Dr. Diner, the Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History and director of the Goren-Goldstein Center for American Jewish History at New York University, has been writing about Rosenwald for four decades. Her latest book, Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World (available for purchase at the lecture), takes an unflinching look at a complicated man who was sympathetic toward the plight of African Americans.
Born in Springfield, Ill., in 1862 to Jewish immigrants from Germany, Rosenwald made his fortune as president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Early on, he began giving his money away to African American causes, most famously establishing the Rosenwald Fund. The fund donated millions in matching dollars for the education of African American children in the South and paid for white principals and superintendents in the South to attend training.
Rosenwald did not, however, use his money to push for integration, Dr. Diner said.
“Rosenwald believed the real issue was economic equality,” she said. “That would not be attained unless the African American population was literate, educated and economically independent. That is how he defined what was needed and where he put his money.”
As a Jew living in Chicago, Rosenwald was not personally affected by racism or anti-Semitism, Dr. Diner said. But he was concerned about discrimination and worked to end economic inequality.
“It’s important to note that, as a Jew in America, Rosenwald was a beneficiary of white privilege,” Dr. Diner said. “In many ways, he was never personally touched by discrimination, but he dedicated much of his resources to fighting for groups that have been oppressed.”
Rosenwald was deeply committed to communal engagement. A study of his life and philanthropy offers a nuanced understanding not only of African American history during Jim Crow, but also American Jewish life in the early twentieth history.
“What I’m interested in is Rosenwald as a Jew,” Dr. Diner said. “What role did his Jewishness play in his engagement with African Americans? And how did Jews, who found themselves on the outskirts of society, make sense of racism in America?”
Rosenwald died in 1932, but his eldest son, Lessing J. Rosenwald, took over Sears, Roebuck and Company, running the business from Philadelphia. He had an estate in Jenkintown, which he donated to Abington Township and is now the Abington Art Center. He was a member of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel of Elkins Park.
The Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture is free and open to the public, though registration is requested. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28, at Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, Pa.
For more information, contact Mindy Cohen at 215-635-7300 x155 or [email protected]. To register, click here.
September 13, 2018
Gratz President Cited in Landmark Religious Freedom Case
MELROSE PARK, Pa.—A U.S. District Court judge cited Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College, a number of times in a ruling that upholds religious liberty in Pennsylvania.
Christopher C. Conner, chief judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, on Aug. 29 ruled against the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a case that questioned the constitutionality of a policy limiting who can pray at the beginning of legislative sessions. Chief Judge Conner relied heavily on an expert report from Dr. Finkelman, president of Gratz College, citing him four times by name and his report a few more times in the 36-page opinion.
The House opens most of its daily legislative sessions with a prayer or invocation delivered either by a House member or an invited guest chaplain. It maintains a policy that requires guest chaplains to be members of “a regularly established church or religious organization” and to subscribe to a belief in God or a divine power.
In his ruling, Chief Judge Conner found that the guest chaplain policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by purposefully discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion. The policy denies individuals with nontheistic beliefs the opportunity to deliver an invocation before the House, he wrote in his opinion.
This policy “categorically excludes those who would present an uplifting message of hope, mutual respect, and peace yet—based upon their nontheistic beliefs—would fail to incorporate theistic entreaties to a divine or higher power,” Chief Judge Conner wrote. He also found that, before it changed its policy in early 2017, the House unconstitutionally coerced visitors to standing during the opening prayer and thereby participate in a religious exercise.
Dr. Finkelman, a legal historian who has written extensively on issues of civil and religious rights, generated a comprehensive report detailing the use of chaplains by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives—and finding no historical evidence of nontheists requesting or being denied the opportunity to pray in either chamber of Congress.
Dr. Finkelman’s report notes that when Congress first created chaplaincies in 1789, it passed a resolution that sought to reflect religious diversity. Neither federal nor state legislative history supports the intentional exclusion of nontheistic guest chaplains but, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, nontheists likely did not let their beliefs become public because of the threat of imprisonment or “severe physical punishment.”
Dr. Finkelman noted that this case “expands religious liberty in Pennsylvania, and hopefully the whole nation, by protecting the spiritual and intellectual beliefs of all Americans.” He also noted the irony of the legislature’s policy.
“Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, who was jailed in England for his refusal to support the established church and for his public preaching,” Dr. Finkelman said. “He established the Pennsylvania colony as a haven for all people, of all beliefs. He would have been appalled by legislature discriminating against residents of the state because of their beliefs.”
Even more ironic, Dr. Finkelman said, is Pennsylvania’s Revolution-era history.
“Benjamin Franklin, the most famous citizen of the state, was not a member of any organized church, and was uncertain about the existence of God,” he said. “Before this case, the state legislature would not have allowed Franklin to give an invocation.”
The case was brought by seven nontheist Pennsylvania residents who desire to deliver an opening invocation before the House. The Plaintiffs—joined by groups including Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, Inc., and the Philadelphia Ethical Society—claim that such invocations would not proselytize or disparage any faith. Instead, the prayers would be “positive, uplifting, unifying, and respectful toward all.”
Four of the plaintiffs are ordained clergy, clergy leaders or ministers.
The court granted partial summary judgment, declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief to the plaintiffs. Defendants are expected to appeal.
Click here for a copy of the ruling.
Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Gratz Welcomes Two New Members of Our Board of Governors
MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Gratz College has welcomed two prestigious educators as members of its Board of Governors.
In separate meetings earlier this year, Zipora Schorr, Ed.D., and R. Owen Williams, Ph.D., were appointed to the board, which has primary responsibility for oversight of the college. The appointments bring board membership to 25 and expand the board’s professional and geographic diversity.
“It’s exciting to have such accomplished educators join the Gratz Board,” said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. “Both of our new board members bring years of educational experience and scholarly accomplishment to the board.”
Schorr, director of education for Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, Md., earned her Ed.D. in educational leadership from Gratz College. In 2003, Schorr received the prestigious Covenant Foundation Award for Exceptional Jewish Educators, and in 2013 she received the Award for Educational Excellence in the Diaspora from the World Council for Torah Education.
“I first came to Gratz as a student looking for a school that combined my passions: educational leadership and Jewish studies,” Schorr said. “When I was asked to be on the board, I was impressed by the depth of the people I would be working with. I felt like I could help Gratz grow its footprint.”
Williams, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale University, is president of the Associated Colleges of the South and makes his home in Atlanta, Ga. He brings substantial experience in both finance and college administration.
Williams has the distinction of being the first non-Jewish member of the Gratz Board of Governors.
“I am not Jewish, but I’m deeply interested in Jewish history and current affairs,” he said. “To be invited to be a member of the Board of Governors is an enormous honor.
The Board of Governors supports as many as 30 members. Individuals are nominated by the college president or existing board members. After a vetting process, members are asked to join the board for three-year terms.
The board, which meets six times per year, selects the president of the college and establishes policies related to governance, course of studies and management of the college's resources and assets.
The appointments of the new members come as Gratz expands its Jewish learning opportunities and grows its academic repertoire. In 2017, it launched the country’s first online Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which attracts students and faculty from around the globe. In early 2018, Gratz launched on online M.A. in Interfaith Leadership.
Williams said Gratz’s focus on both Jewish history and interfaith dialogue sets it up as an academic leader in areas that are important on a global scale.
“The Jewish story is a central element of the human story, and as a historian, that interests me a great deal. As a human, it interests me even more,” he said. “From my perspective, the idea of a Jewish college for Jewish students is less important than a Jewish college for the purpose of understanding Jewish history. I’m extremely enthusiastic about an integrated understanding of the human story and condition. I think it’s imperative that the Jewish story in all its glory and trial be properly recounted and understood.”
Gratz also continues to operate a Jewish community high school and offer adult Jewish learning courses. Schorr, who has decades of experience in the Jewish day school and leadership communities, called Gratz a “beautiful little secret” with a mission to expand its reach.
“Gratz has some work to do in making itself a more visible presence in the Jewish education world,” she said. “It is a gem that can absolutely grow its footprint. It is a truly unique and valuable place of higher learning that should appeal to a much broader range of interested students, and at the same time attract
“Gratz has some work to do in making itself a more visible presence in the Jewish education world,” she said. “It is a gem that can absolutely grow its footprint. It is a truly unique and valuable place of higher learning that should appeal to a much broader range of interested students.”