Imagining Jews: New Lecture Series Kicks Off at Muhlenberg

Following the success of its adult education series on “Jews, Money and Capitalism,” the Jewish Studies Program at Muhlenberg College will present a new series of public lectures and events in 2014.

Funded by a grant from the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project and directed by the Association for Jewish Studies, these programs are free and open to the public.

The theme of the new series – spearheaded by Muhlenberg professors Jessica Cooperman and Hartley Lachter -- is “Imagining Jews: From the Ancient World to the American Present.” Drawing on a wide range of topics and scholarly expertise, the series will explore how Jews have understood themselves, and been understood by others, in diverse historical settings.

“We thought it would be a topic that is interesting to people in the community and that would let us work with some really dynamic departments at the college, particularly the theater and dance program and media and communications,” Cooperman said. “They were programs we hadn’t worked with in the past series and we wanted to tap into the exciting things and exciting work that people were doing in those departments.”

The first talk in the series, on Thursday, Jan. 30, at Muhlenberg will be led by Professor William Gruen, chair of the Religion Studies Department. Gruen, a scholar of early Christianity, will discuss “The Image of the Jew as Anti-Imperial Rebel in the Ancient Roman World.”

The second event will take place in February at the JCC, where Dr. Daniel Leisawitz, an expert in Italian studies in the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department at Muhlenberg, will present, “Imagining the Vanishing World of the Roman Ghetto.”

On March 20, Ruth Knafo Setton, writer-in-residence at the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University, will speak in Easton on “Living Between Question Marks,” based on her forthcoming novel, “Darktown Blues. “

In the first week of April, Professor Henry Bial of the American Studies and Theater Departments at the University of Kansas, and author of “Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen,” will give a talk entitled, “Jew Media: Performance and Technology for the 58th Century” at Muhlenberg. 

The first half of the series will culminate with a special lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Shandler of Rutgers University. Shandler, a scholar of modern Jewish culture specializing in Yiddish culture, and the president of the Association for Jewish Studies, will give a talk entitled “Tchotchkes: Collecting Yiddish Popular Culture” at Muhlenberg. Anyone who owns an interesting Yiddish “tchotchke” is invited to bring it in to be displayed before the talk.  Shandler may even select some of the tchotchkes for discussion.

Six additional talks are scheduled for the fall of 2014, so there’s plenty more to come. The series is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. Learn more about upcoming programs, including exact times and locations, at



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