1. With next year’s funding renewed by the Townsend Center, the Working Group on Modern Jewish Culture will resume its monthly multi-disciplinary meetings in the Fall Semester 2014.


  2. Final Meeting of the Semester 5/7, 5 PM

    This past semester, we hosted a new roster of scholars from other academic institutions in the US, Israel and Germany and focused our critical attention on the relationship between Jewish material culture teaching across the disciplines.. Each monthly meeting explored cross-disciplinary connections and methodological paths. We continued direct collection study work, where participants, using a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, examined artifacts held by the Magnes Collection. Participants collaborated with students and faculty from the Department of Art Practice and History. Highlights from this past semester included a complex paper amulet from India, a collection of antisemitica from Europe and the United States, as well as a collection of objects related to food, which were illuminated in a presentation by Diller Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Yahil Zaban. 

    This coming fall will continue our dedication to fostering Jewish Studies on campus. Our upcoming meeting will wrap up the semester and will take place on Wednesday, May 7, 5 pm. We will discuss new pathways to the collection, the coming Magnes exhibition plan, and next semester’s invited speakers. 


  3. UPCOMING MEETINGS - 4/12 and 4/23 5 PM.

    This coming semester will continue our focus on multi-disciplinary collaboration. Our upcoming meeting will welcome Yahil Zaban (Jewish Studies) and will take place on Wednesday, April 9,  at 5 pm. Professor Zaban will be discussing his ongoing research into foodways and the dynamics of modern Jewish culture. 

    Please join us for a Special Event on Wednesday, April 23rd at 5 pm :

    Book Launch: Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman. (Indiana University Press, 2014) Professor Nakhimovsky and participants will examine and discuss the Magnes' extensive collection of Jewish-themed postcards, which animate themes of mobility and modernity. 


  4. Collecting, Displaying, and Teaching with “Antisemitica” | Working Group Meeting with Dr. Andrea Sinn

    Our upcoming meeting will welcome Andrea Sinn (History) and will take place on Wednesday, March 12, 5 pm.

    Professor Sinn will be discussing “Antisemitica” holdings at the Magnes Collection and their potential uses in teaching across disciplines.

    The discussion will be complemented by the examination of “Antisemitica” in The Magnes Collection, ranging from 19th-century visual and literary descriptions of the “wandering Jew” to postcards about the Dreyfus Affair, to early 20th-century Antisemitic propaganda from Getmany, and Holocaust-related materials.




    This coming semester will continue our focus on the multi-disciplinary collaboration. Our upcoming meeting will welcome Jonathan Sheehan (History) and will take place on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 at 5 pm. Professor Sheehan will introduce the new Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion (http://bcsr.berkeley.edu). Participants are invited to discuss visions for collaboration between Jewish Studies and Religious Studies on campus and learn more about opportunities at the new Center. 

    Please mark your calendars for the semester’s upcoming meetings:

           Wednesday, March 12, 5 pm - Collecting and Teaching ”Antisemitica” with Andrea Sinn (History) and Francesco Spagnolo (Magnes, Music) 

    •     Wednesday, April 9, 5 pm - Food and the Jews with Yahil Zaban (Jewish Studies) 

    •     Wednesday, April 23rd, 5 pm (special event): Book Launch: Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman. (Indiana University Press, 2014) Professor Nakhimovsky and participants will examine and discuss the Magnes’ extensive collection of Jewish-themed postcards, which animate themes of mobility and modernity. 

    Wednesday, May 7, 5 pm - Planning for the Year Ahead. 

    We look forward to welcoming new and past participants.


  7. UPCOMING MEETING: Wednesday, December 11th

    Our final meeting this semester will take place on Wednesday, December 11th, from 3-5 pm at The Magnes (2121 Allston Way).  

    The meeting will follow this year’s multidisciplinary focus on the relationship between Jewish material culture and teaching-in-progress, and allow Working Group participants to join the concluding meeting of Jewish Studies 39H: Modern Jewish Thought. Each student will make a brief research-based presentation about an object in the Magnes Collection and respond to questions from their peers. 

    Ranging from a Zionist-themed poster by Salvador Dali to a ritual belt from 18th century Poland, students in this Freshman/Sophomore seminar spent a semester researching the physical, cultural and social aspects of individual objects held in the Magnes Collection. These objects provided points of productive tension with assigned texts and served as the anchor of their own writing throughout the semester. We invite participants in the Working Group to meet these students.

    Please mark your calendars for the next meeting, and circulate this message with colleagues across Campus. 


  8. Postcards, Cultural Mobility, and Modern Jewish Culture | Upcoming Meeting | November 13, 2013

    Our upcoming meeting will take place on Wednesday, November 13, starting at 5 PM at The Magnes (2121 Allston Way).  

    The meeting will follow this year’s multidisciplinary focus on the relationship between Jewish material culture and teaching practices, and allow participants to explore the extensive holdings of postcards at The Magnes Collection. 

    These materials, a veritable treasure trove, include postcards from Europe, early-20th-century Palestine, Israel, the Americas, Asia and North Africa, as well as greeting cards (mostly for the High Holy Days), and touch upon a variety of themes, including cultural mobility, iconographic conventions, anti-semitism, views of the “Holy Land,” material culture, synagogue life, and more. 

    The circa 3,000 cards are currently being re-inventoried in conjunction with a URAP project. Several items have already been digitized, and are easily accessible either via the The Magnes Online Catalog or on Flickr

    The meeting will consist in an overview of the postcard collection, and a multidisciplinary discussion of the ways in which these materials can be used to foster scholarship and teaching. 


  9. The Museum and/or The Classroom | Upcoming Meeting | October 16, 2013

    Our upcoming meeting will take place on Wednesday, October 16, starting at 5 PM at The Magnes (2121 Allston Way). (Please note the time change).  

    The meeting will inaugurate this year’s focus on the relationship between Jewish material culture and teaching practices. We will consider Jewish Studies courses (includingPerforming Texts: Music, Liturgy and Jewish Life, the first UC Berkeley course based on The Magnes Collection), recently offered at UC Berkeley, as well as other ongoing initiatives that bridge the study of Jewish objects and texts. The meeting will consist of an open discussion, starting from a few case studies. 

    1. Circumcision Knife and Ritual Slaughter Knife. Germany, 1750-1850. Intersection between close reading and close examination of objects, tradition and modernity, ritual and violence.Presented by Eli Rosenblatt, Doctoral Candidate, Jewish Studies. 

    2. Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children, Middle East/Italy/India, 18th century. Intersection between text study, essay in localization, the study of pan-Diasporic folk practices (vigil before a Circumcision), and Digital Humanities. Presented by Francesco Spagnolo, Curator, The Magnes.  

    3. The Museum in/and the Classroom. Andrea A. Sinn, Daad Visiting Professor, German and History and Greg Niemeyer, Professor, Art Practice.  


  10. Fall Kick-off Event | Global India Exhibition Tour and Lecture

    The Townsend Center Working Group on Modern Jewish Culture inaugurates its activities this Fall with a tour of Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley, and a lecture by Dr. Barbara C. Johnson. 

    Barbara C. Johnson
    Kerala Jews from David Mandelbaum to the Magnes Collection:
    An Appreciation and Critique
    September 11, 2013 | 4PM
    Townsend Center Working Group on Modern Jewish Culture
    The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life | 2121 Allston Way

    UC Berkeley professor David G. Mandelbaum (1911-1987) was a prominent figure in 20th century scholarship about the Kerala Jews. Uniquely valuable photos and film from his 1937 visit to the Jewish community in Kochi—archived in the Bancroft Library and at The Magnes—are of central importance to the current Magnes exhibition “Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley.” His publications growing out of that visit strongly influenced the course of subsequent research in the field. While paying tribute to his importance, this presentation will note how the unquestioning acceptance of some of Mandelbaum’s basic assumptions (regarding caste, race and slavery) has contributed to long-standing misrepresentation of  Kerala Jewish history and social organization. Issues for discussion include: 1) helpful newer paradigms in the study of South Asian and Jewish history;  2) implications for white western Jewish Studies scholars studying the history and culture of Jewish groups from Asia and Africa; and 3) the challenges for museum representation of  controversial historical materials. 

    Barbara C. Johnson is Emerita Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College. Upon completing her B.A. in history at Oberlin College, Barbara Johnson lived and taught in South India for four years during the 1960s, before beginning academic research on the Kerala Jews leading to her M.A. in religion (Smith College) and Ph.D.in anthropology (University of Massachusetts). Since 1972 she has made six trips back to India and twenty to Israel (including two years of residence) for ethnographic fieldwork with their community in both places. Johnson’s publications include Oh Lovely Parrot!: Jewish Women’s Songs from Kerala (Book & CD: Jewish Music Research Center, Jerusalem, 2004); Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers (co-authored with Ruby Daniel: Jewish Publication Society, 1995); and many scholarly articles. She is currently a Visiting Scholar in the South Asia Program at Cornell University. She recently served as visiting scholar, assisting in the preparation of the exhibition, Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley, curated by Francesco Spagnolo, on view at The Magnes, UC Berkeley, in the Fall of 2013. 

    The exhibition tour and the lecture are free and open to the public.