Summer Break

The CCJS Graduate Working Group will be back in the fall with new coordinators Meredith Aska McBride and James Nemiroff.


Spring 2012 Meetings

April 13th, 12-1pm, Goodspeed 205 (different room!!)

Meredith Aska Mcbride (Ph.D student in Ethnomusicology)

Shund afn range: yiddishe cowboys, racialized masculinity, and the trash aesthetic in American popular culture

The figure of the Jewish cowboy recurs in American popular culture throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first–primarily in music but also in literature, theatre, and film. This figure both reveals and negotiates tensions around masculinity, ethnicity, class, language, and highbrow/lowbrow notions of culture. My paper examines several case studies of such Jewish cowboys in American music from the past hundred years, attempting to understand this phenomenon’s historical continuities as well as each instantiation in its contemporary context. I will attempt to present it in an experimental fashion, interweaving active listening with critical analysis in an evocation of popular song form.


April 27th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Lily Wohl (Ph.D student in Ethnomusicology)

Where Memory Shapes Justice: Performing Jewish Music at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires

In the auditorium at AMIA, (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), instrumental performances, show espectáculos (spectacles), individual recitals, and choir concerts of repertoire, ranging from Broadway musicals, Yiddish folksongs, klezmer, jazz, to tango fill this memorial hall several times each week. Since the devastating terrorist attack in 1994, music has held a special place in the cultural programming initiatives in the new AMIA building that was rebuilt and re-inaugurated in 1999. In this paper, I will explore how musicians and audiences proliferate the past through interventions in collective memory to interpret transcultural Jewish history and modern Jewish life in contemporary Buenos Aires. I examine certain aesthetic dimensions of various musical materials while focusing on the performance of Jewish belonging as a cultural intervention connecting the past to the present.


May 11th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Shayna Zamkanei (Ph.D student in Political Science)

Arab Jewish Refugees: Yet Another Diaspora?

The story of expulsion is a common theme in Jewish history. Not surprisingly, the forced departure of Arab Jews from their ‘native’ lands might be regarded as no different than other tales of expulsion from countries such as England, Germany, Spain and Portugal.  Nevertheless, a diasporic framework, I argue, is ill-suited for this case. I discuss alternatives ways in which we might theorize the aftermath of the Arab Jews’ departure.


May 25th, 12-1pm,  Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Joela Zeller (Ph.D student in Germanic Studies)

The Question of the Hyphen in (German-)Jewish Identity and Literature: From One[Minus]Other to One[Plus]Many

What is hybrid identity, or rather, what isn’t? Contemporary academia employs the notion of hybridity quite liberally, but what does this conceptualization contribute to personal experience? At an international conference with a non-academic audience I will address post-Shoah German-Jewish identity and the way this hyphenated concept relates to literature. Fiction provides a space for the reflection, reproduction, and construction of diverse, individual identity concepts, but in everyday life, the rich multiplicity of identity is often represented by the use of a hyphen, a way of saying “one[minus]other.” In my talk, I will explore how conceptualizations like hybridity or the hyphen contribute to or detract from identity in life and literature. I want to suggest a way to enable academics and non-academics alike to address the potential of diverse identity structures as a “one[plus]many,” without conflating experience or terminology.

Winter 2012 Meetings

January 27th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Sam Berrin Shonkoff (Ph.D student in History of Judaism)

Ancient Soil and Firm Sod: On Buber’s Insistence that the ‘Land of Israel’ Literally Refers to the Land

Given Buber’s strong affinity for the “pan-sacramentalism” of Hasidism, it might strike us as peculiar that he so boldly affirmed the exceptional holiness of the geographical eretz yisrael (the Land of Israel). Moreover, scholars such as Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer observe a spiritualization/internalization of eretz yisrael in Hasidism to the extent that striving for “self-redemption” in Exile even outweighs the hope for collective redemption in Zion. In Buber’s 1944 book Bein Am le-Artzo (later translated as On Zion: The History of an Idea), however, he portrays Hasidism as a movement that radically embraces the earthly aspect of eretz yisrael and that provides a foundation for what Buber sees as a truly robust and righteous form of Zionism. Furthermore, Buber ironically portrays political Zionism as the movement that spiritualizes/internalizes the notion of Zion. In this exploration of the relationship between Buber’s Zionism and his interpretation of Hasidism, we will gain a better understanding of why and how he insisted that eretz yisrael literally refers to “land”.


February 10th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Kelli Gardner (Ph.D student in Hebrew Bible)

My Mother’s House: Validations of Female Sexuality in the Song of Songs

Much of the same language and imagery used to discuss the strange woman of Proverbs 1-9 are also used throughout the Song of Songs to describe the love-stricken female protagonist. Despite being described in analogous (and at times identical) terms and presented as engaging in similar actions, these two women are evaluated in divergent ways, seemingly on the basis of the opposed viewpoints and agendas of their respective texts.  However, it seems likely that there is a common understanding of what is appropriate female behavior running through both texts.  My presentation will focus specifically on Song of Songs 3:1-5 and Proverbs 7:6-27 and will examine the connection presented in Song 3 — highlighted by the comparison with Proverbs 7 — between the maiden, her mother, productive female sexuality, and societal validation.


February 24th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Sam Brody (Ph.D student in History of Judaism )

A Jewish Solution to the Zionist Problem, or, Why Martin Buber Considered Isaiah 30:15 More Realistic than Rifle Practice

This paper argues that Buber’s career as a public intellectual raises and sharpens the question of the opposition between “realism” and “utopianism” in politics. This can be seen on two levels: the level of the reception of Buber as a political thinker, and the level of his actual engagement with and impact on the public through speeches, editorials, and activism.

On the first level, the paper argues that Buber’s reputation as a political thinker has suffered from a tendency to perceive his politics as a simple application of his dialogical philosophy. On the second level, this paper will attempt to explain why Buber counter-intuitively saw success in policy proposals that other Zionists rejected as failures: why he saw faith in God as more realistic than faith in guns, and why he saw anarchism as a more realistic path for Zionism than the nation-state.


March 9th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Elayne Oliphant (Ph.D student in Anthropology)

The Risks of Historical Memory: Inter-Religious Dialogues in Present-Day Paris

This paper explores examine a series of unsuccessful Catholic-Jewish dialogues between “cultural” Jewish and Catholic organizations in Paris that attempted to find unity in the common text of the “Old” Testament, without leaving space to account for the effects of a very fraught history in this conversation.  This chapter also examines the paradoxical role played by Paris’ recently deceased and very popular archbishop–Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger–who was born to Jewish parents and converted to Catholicism while living in hiding during the Second World War.  He went on to become on of France’s most influential, powerful, and significant Catholic figures of the post-War period. Both accepting Lustiger’s biography and engaging in inter-religious dialogues require a certain refusal to confront a history that France has yet to fully acknowledge. This paper attempts to explore implications of this historical forgetting for various citizens in an increasingly nationlistic and xenophobic France today.

Fall 2011 Meetings

October 21st, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Jacqueline E. Vayntrub (Ph.D Student in Northwest Semitic Philology)

Wisdom is a woman: Images of the feminine in Proverbs 1-9 and 31

A look at the previous scholarship on the feminine personification of  Wisdom and her adversaries in Proverbs 1-9 and the “Woman of Valor” in  Proverbs 31:10-31, the compositional history of the book of Proverbs,  and future directions in research.


November 4th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

James Nemiroff (Ph.D Student in Romance Languages and Literatures)

Crypto-narrations: The representation of Judaism in the Toledan comedias of Lope de Vega (1590-1614)

We will be discussing my dissertation proposal which concerns the representation of the Jew and the utilization of Jewish traditions in the comedias written by Lope de Vega while he lived in Toledo between 1590 and 1614.  Using Paul Ricoeur’s theory of threefold mimesis as its central methodology, the project argues that Lope inserts crypto-narrations into his comedias which can be refigured by both an Old Christian and a Crypto-Jewish audience depending on their religious orientations.  As a subsidiary argument, I also propose that Lope imposes a hierarchy of interpretations where the so called Christian sense (or interpretation) of the text is considered superior to the Crypto-Jewish sense that could be present in these dramas.


November 18th, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Katharine Pflaum (Ph.D Student in Religion and Literature)

The ‘Raw I’ versus ‘The Collective We:’ Negotiating American Jewish Identity in The Adventures of Augie March and The Human Stain

My presentation will examine two influential American novels with complicated portraits of contemporary American Jewry: Saul Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March” (1953) and Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” (2000). Though Bellow and Roth have each been the subject of extensive critical analysis, a careful consideration of “Augie March” and “The Human Stain,” read together, will enhance understanding of the fraught process of Jewish American identity formation. Central to both novels is the determination to write a story in the genre of the great American novel through the figure of the Jew. This connection between the two novels operates on multiple levels: the thematic (recurring questions of assimilation and identity), the historical (the link between Bellow and Roth as novelists writing from two distinct periods in the American twentieth century), and the literary (issues related to narrative autonomy, structure, and perspective).


December 2nd, 12-1pm, Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201)

Shayna Zamkanei (Ph.D Student in Political Science)

Theorizing Arab Jewish Refugee Politics

The origins of the Arab Jewish refugee story lie in the United Nations Palestine Partition Plan, which in its immediate aftermath and the decades that followed, led to the displacement of approximately 1.5 million persons; 700,000 were Palestinians, 850,000 were Jews. While the United Nations formally accepted responsibility for the creation of Palestinian refugees, and established a refugee regime to address their plight, it made little contemporaneous reference to the circumstances or persecution of Jews in Arab countries. The vast majority of these Jews had little choice but to flee to Israel, the only country willing to ‘absorb’ them. Since they were first displaced, however, Jews from Arab countries have been deemed “refugees” and “former refugees” in various significant political contexts. In the 1970s, the first reparations-oriented Arab Jewish organization was formed. Since then, other Arab Jewish organizations have successfully lobbied the U.S. and Israeli governments to be recognized as “former refugees” and thus entitled to compensation. My talk explores how this case might serve as a lens through which we can better understand the evolution of human rights discourses and their intersection with identity politics.



As the new organizers of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies Graduate Working Group, we welcome you to this graduate student only workshop. Our goal is to bring together graduate students across the disciplines with research interests in Jewish Studies. Representing different programs ourselves, we believe that interdisciplinary exchange can only widen our perspective on all questions Jewish.

This workshop gives graduate students an opportunity to receive feedback at any stage of their work in a welcoming environment. The format of our meetings can accommodate anything from presenting conference papers and practicing Q&A’s, to getting feedback on the development of course papers, grant applications, exam lists, dissertation proposals, dissertation chapters, etc.

We invite submissions for the upcoming academic year. Please email us at <> with a short description of your project, a title and your preferred presentation date. 

The presenter is given around 30 minutes to detail his or project (by reading a paper, handing out an abstract, or outlining ideas in a presentation). The second half of the hour is reserved for questions, commentary, and discussion. Usually, papers are not circulated prior to the workshop, but exceptions are possible.

We will meet every other Friday from 12-1 pm in the Social Sciences Tea Room (SSRB 201). Refreshments and snacks will be provided.

Spread the word,

Katharine [a third year in Religion and Literature at the Divinity School]

& Joela [a fourth year in the Department of Germanic Studies]