Studying the Impact of World War I on Jewish Culture

April 25 YU Center for Israel Studies Conference Convenes Scholars to Explore Complex History

A Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) postcard from 1918, supporting the United States in the First World War (artwork by M. [Mendel] Bennoon)

On Wednesday, April 25, the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies will present “World War I, Nationalism, and Jewish Culture,” a conference organized by Dr. Joshua M. Karlip, associate professor of Jewish history at YU, to examine the destruction and reconstruction of Jewish culture brought on by World War I. The event will take place at 9 a.m. in Furst Hall 535 on YU’s Wilf Campus.

“Few modern moments were more critical and formative of Jewish religion, culture and nationalism than the First World War,” said Dr. Steven Fine, director of the Center for Israel Studies and Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History. “What makes our conference special is how the changes triggered by the war renewed a focus on Israel, not only by the great powers but most of all by the Jews.”

The day will be arranged in three sessions, interspersed with breaks and campus tours. Dr. David Myers, Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at the University of California Los Angeles and president/CEO of the Center for Jewish History in New York, will chair the first session, “World War I and The Maturation of Jewish Nationalism.”

The second session will focus on “The Transformation of Jewish Culture,” led by Dr. Jeffrey Freedman, professor of history at YU. Under the guidance of Dr. David Lavinsky, associate professor of English at YU, a third session will discuss Jewish religious life during and after the war.

Three of the presenters will be coming from Israel to participate: Vladimir Levin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Tsion Klibansky of Efrata College and Michael Keren of the University of Calgary (now living in Israel).

“The great strength of this conference,” said Karlip, “will be the way our presenters demonstrate that even as World War I proved the moment of maturation of secular Jewish political and cultural nationalism, it also served as the beginning of a renaissance of traditional Judaism. The legacy of both trends informs our Jewish reality to this day.”

“Yeshiva University is committed to the deepest and most penetrating exploration possible of what it means to be Jewish,” Fine added. “This conference as well as the work being done by the Center for Israel Studies exemplify and celebrate that mission.”

Attendance at the conference is free, supported by the Leon Charney Legacy Fund of the Center for Israel Studies and co-sponsored by the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.  Those who wish to attend can RSVP at yu.edu/wwi. An associated exhibit of rare documents from the Yeshiva University Libraries and the Yeshiva University Museum illustrating themes of the conference, organized by Shulamith Berger, curator of special collections and Hebraica-Judaica, will open on April 25 in YU’s Mendel Gottesman Library on the fourth floor.

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