2019 - 2020 Academic Events

The Duke Center for Jewish Studies is an inter-departmental program that sponsors a wide variety of cultural events, offers educational programs, and fosters academic research and scholarly exchange of ideas. Over the past several decades, the Center for Jewish Studies has confirmed its commitment to fostering global academic engagement through the acquisition of resource materials in conjunction with Duke Library, as well as the continued presence of a wide variety of specialists in the field of Jewish studies through a series of endowed lectures, conferences, reading groups, seminars, and talks. The following events were offered in the 2019-2020 academic year by the Duke Center for Jewish Studies to students, faculty, staff, community members, and beyond. 

September 7-9, 2019

“Letters and Correspondences in Hebrew Literature"

Letters and Correspondences in Hebrew Literature workshop took place with several senior scholars in the field of Hebrew Literature at the University of Chicago in collaboration with Duke University and Ben Gurion University of the Negev.


September 15, 2019

Sepphoris: Past, Present and Future

Join us a for a special evening celebrating the conclusion of the Duke excavations at Sepphoris, “the ornament of all Galilee” according to Josephus.  Professor Eric Meyers, Professor Carol Meyers, and Professor Benjamin Gordon will offer remarks on the importance of the excavation project.  Professor Chad Spigel will speak about the digitization of the dig archives.   A public reception will follow.

Sepphoris was an important Galilean site during the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. It served as Herod Antipas’s capital of Galilee in the early first century C.E., and the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish authority) under the leadership of Rabbi Judah the Prince, who edited the Mishnah there, was located at Sepphoris for a time in the third century C.E.

Extensive excavations on the western acropolis—probably the location of many of the Jewish occupants of this multicultural city—by the Duke University-Hebrew University project in the mid- to late 1980s and the Duke excavations of the 1990s produced a remarkable assemblage of ceramic wares, small finds, mosaics, and residential buildings, most of which had ritual baths.

Eric M. Meyers, the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at Duke University, is an expert in the fields of biblical studies, ancient Judaism, and the archaeology of the Land of Israel. He is past president of the American Schools of Oriental Research and served as director of its Jerusalem Institute.

Carol Meyers, the Mary Grace Wilson Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Duke University, specializes in biblical studies, the archaeology of the Land of Israel, and gender in the biblical world. She is past president of the Society of Biblical Literature and is currently Vice-President of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

Benjamin D. Gordon, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies  at the University of Pittsburgh and Rosenberg-Perlow Fellow in Classical Judaism, is a historian of religion specializing in Jewish culture and society in the ancient Mediterranean world. As a graduate student at Duke, he was instrumental in bringing the Sepphoris project to completion.

Chad Spigel, Associate Professor of Religion at Trinity University in San Antonio, received his doctorate at Duke and focuses on the role of synagogue worship in ancient Jewish communities and the use of archaeology and the Bible(s) in popular media. He is currently working on the next phase of the Sepphoris project, the digitization of archival data.

This event is made possible thanks to the co-sponsorship of the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, Duke University Libraries, Jewish Life at Duke, the Department of Religious Studies at Duke, the Levin Jewish Community Center, the Elizabeth A. Clark Center for Late Ancient Studies at Duke University, and Duke Divinity School. 


September 19, 2019

Amir Eshel: "Thinking and Modern Tyranny: Reflections on the 'Sonderkommando photographs'"

The German Department welcomes Amir Eshel, the Edward Clark Crossett Professor of Humanistic Studies, Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature and an Affiliated Faculty at The Taube Center for Jewish Studies and The Europe Center at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He is also the faculty director of Stanford's research group on The Contemporary and of the Poetic Media Lab at Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA). His research focuses on contemporary literature and the arts as they touch on memory, history, politics, and ethics.  A reception will precede the event at 4:30pm. Amir Eshel is the author of Poetic Thinking Today (Stanford University Press in 2019). Previous books include Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past (The University of Chicago Press in 2013).  The Duke Center for Jewish Studies is proud to co-sponsor this event.


October 20, 2019

NCJSS welcomes Shari Rabin (Oberlin College): “This Happy Land:” Rethinking Southern Jewish History, 1789-1861

Shari Rabin is assistant professor of Jewish studies and religion at Oberlin College. She is the author of Jews on the Frontier: Religion and Mobility in Nineteenth-century America (NYU Press, 2017), which won the National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies and was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She received a PhD in religious studies from Yale University in 2015 and previously taught at the College of Charleston.


October 21, 2019

“Stranger Than Fiction: Talmudic Paradoxography” James Redfield (St. Louis U)

The Elizabeth A. Clark Center for Late Ancient Studies and the Duke Center for Jewish Studies host scholar James Redfield (Saint Louis University) for an exciting lecture on Talmudic Paradoxgraphy

James Redfield's primary research area is late ancient Judaism. He also teaches the Hebrew Bible, with a special interest in this canon's afterlives in literature, criticism, and theory. Redfield approaches these sources primarily through cultural anthropology–the field where he began graduate work–and his book project (on Curiosity and Culture in Early Rabbinic Law), writes Talmudic law into the history of ethnography and cultural theory, both late-ancient and modern. He has published in the above areas of the humanities, and others; he is also an experienced translator of scholarship and literature (French, German, Yiddish).


November 4, 2019

Evans Lecture presents: Naomi Seidman (University of Toronto): “The Navel of the Dream: Freud and/in Yiddish”

This lecture explores the role of Yiddish in Freud’s writings and in the reception and translation of psychoanalysis. Was Yiddish, as the French psychoanalyst Max Kohn suggests, the “unconscious” of Freud’s German works? Were Yiddish translations a minor episode in the dispersion of psychoanalysis, or do they have a special place in this history, as the “lost originals” of Freud’s German writings?

Professor Naomi Seidman is the Chancellor Jackman Professor of the Arts in the Department for the Study of Religion and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto, and a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow. She has written books on the sexual politics of Hebrew and Yiddish, translation as the space dividing and connecting Judaism and Christianity, literature and the modernization of Jewish marriage, and the Orthodox girls’ school system Bais Yaakov.

This lecture is part of an on-going collaboration and lecture series with the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. 


November 7, 2019

An Evening with Lex Silbiger: Duke Professor, Holocaust Survivor

Please join JSU and CPM in the Freeman Center Sanctuary to co-host a Holocaust survivor and retired Professor Emeritus of Duke Music, Dr. Lex Silbiger, as he shares with us his story of being a child refugee in Holland during World War II and his family's journey/escape to Jamaica.


November 13, 2019

Julius Szekfű and the Books of Ezekiel; Patriarch Joseph used as an Anti-Semitic Topos”

Please join us, the MicroWorlds Lab and the Department of History for an informal seminar with visiting Erasmus scholar Prof. Károly Halmos (ELTE, Budapest) on the Anti-Semitic use of Joseph the Patriarch, as well as radicalism and race.  Parking is available on east campus at 5pm.

Károly Halmos is a an Associate Professor of Social and Economic History at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary.  In addition to being an economist by training, and his interests in social and business history, he is also interested in the history of ideas and microhistories.  His current project looks at the global phenomenon, capitalism, in Hungary through business and private inventories, invoices, bills of exchange with all of the endorsements and testimonies of criminal suits that survived in the bankruptcy cases of 1869 in the Archive of Budapest.


November 18, 2019

Rudnick lecture presents David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari: “Israel-Palestine: Conflict and Conversations”

The Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the annual Rudnick lecture proudly welcomes David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari, senior fellows at The Washington Institute. This event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will follow the event.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute and director of the Project on Arab-Israel Relations. He is also an adjunct professor in Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In 2013-2014, he worked in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, serving as a senior advisor to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. He is coauthor, with Dennis Ross, of the 2019 book "Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel's Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny" (PublicAffairs).

Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute's Irwin Levy Family Program on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship, is the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine. He served as advisor to the negotiating team during the 1999-2001 permanent-status talks in addition to holding various other positions within the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Al-Omari is a lawyer by training and a graduate of Georgetown and Oxford universities.


December 8, 2019

NCJSS welcomes Jonathan Decter: “Al-yahūdiyya: The Emergence of a Comparative Framework in Medieval Jewish Thought

Speaker:  Jonathan Decter is the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies at Brandeis University.  His most recent book, Dominion Built of Praise: Panegyric and Legitimacy

Among Jews of the Medieval Mediterranean (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) was awarded the National Jewish Book Award in Sephardic Culture.  His first book, Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe (Indiana University Press, 2007) won the Salo W. Baron Prize for best first book in Jewish Studies.


January 16, 2020

“Synonyms" (2019 | Nadav Lapid

Introduced by Prof. Shai Ginsburg (AMES)

Film Screening: "Synonyms" (Nadav Lapid, 2019, 123 min, France/Israel, French & Hebrew w/ subtitles, Color, DCP) Winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, "Synonyms" features a dynamic lead performance from newcomer Tom Mercier, whose feral intensity practically bursts out of the frame. Mercier plays Yoav, a disaffected young Israeli who flees Tel Aviv for Paris to start a new life. Desperate to erase his origins, Yoav sees becoming French as his only hope for salvation. "Astonishing, maddening, brilliant, hilarious, obstinate, and altogether unmissable." - David Ehrlich, Indiewire "Furious, brilliant. A movie that turns rage into pain and identity into a howl." - Manohla Dargis, The New York Times. 


January 19, 2020

NCJSS welcomes Tomer Persico: "Religion and State in Israel: The End of the Status Quo"

Religion and State relations were never simple in Israel, yet over the last three decades they've entered a dramatic overhaul. The famous "Status Quo", agreed between Ben-Gurion and the Ultra-Orthodox in 1947, is today a dead letter, highlighting the growing gap between public opinion in Israel and the formal word of the law. The Chief Rabbinate has lost public legitimacy, and diverse "Judaisms" challenge the traditional divisions in Israeli society. We shall examine the social conditions for these developments, as well as their political ramifications, such as were witnessed in the Israeli October 2019 elections.

Persico is the Shalom Hartman Institute Bay Area Scholar in Residence and the Koret Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish and Israel Studies at UC Berkeley. He has taught for eight years at the Department for Comparative Religion in Tel-Aviv University, and his fields of study are contemporary spirituality, Jewish Renewal, forms of secularization, and trends of secularization and religiosity in Israel. His book, The Jewish Meditative Tradition was published by Tel Aviv University Press in 2016. He is an activist for freedom of religion in Israel, and has written hundreds of articles on these subjects for the popular media.


January 27, 2020

Mikhal Dekel: Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey

Mikhal Dekel (City College of New York) comes to Duke to give the Holocaust Remembrance Day lecture on her new book, "Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey." A book signing and reception will follow.

Dekel was born in Haifa, Israel, to a Holocaust refugee father and an Israeli-born mother. Over the course of seven intense years, she completed her mandatory military service, earned an L.L.B. from Tel Aviv University's Buchmann School of Law, interned at the Tel Aviv State Attorney's Office and joined the Israel Bar Association, before completing a graduate program in English at the CCNY and then a Doctoral program at Columbia University. She teaches English and Comparative Literature at CCNY and the CUNY Graduate Center, and directs CCNY's Rifkind Center for the Humanities and Arts. 

Tehran Children is the culmination of Mikhal's decade-long journey to understand her father and the odyssey at the core of his young adulthood-an experience which he never talked about, though it informed every aspect of his being. His wartime odyssey was also part of a larger chapter in the history of World War II, that of refugees in Central Asia and the Middle East. The fact that most Polish Jews who survived the war had followed this path was virtually unknown at the time when she began writing. 


February 8, 2020

Coalition for Preserving Memory Annual Film Festival

Join the Coalition for Preserving Memory to view three important films dedicated to remembering and raising awareness about mass atrocities and human rights crimes.



1:00pm:            “Leaving Memel”

2:00pm:            Q&A with Scott and Emily Finkelstein, Family Members

2:30pm:            “Violins of Hope”

3:30pm:            break/debrief

4:00pm:            “The Armenian Genocide” (as seen on PBS)

5:00pm:            Catered dinner


This event is co-sponsored by the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, Duke Jewish Student Union, and WVIZ/PBS Cleveland.


February 10, 2020

Verena Kasper-Marienberg: “Microhistory of a Jewish Community”

Newly discovered material from the High Court of the Holy Roman Empire provides a point of departure for understanding the overlap of Jewish and Christian societies in Medieval and early modern history. It also highlights the variety of Jewish experiences in early modern daily life.

We will use primary source material from an eighteenth-century court case from Frankfurt am Main to think about questions of agency, communal history, gendered realities, and performance of religious difference.

Verena Kasper-Marienberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at North Carolina State University. She received her BA and MA in Rhetorical Studies and History from the University of Tübingen, Germany. Kasper-Marienberg earned her Ph.D. at the University of Graz, Austria, in 2009 in History and Historical Museology (Public History). Her research focuses on the intersection of Jewish and Christian communities in the early modern period in Europe.

Hosted by: Humanities Unbounded MicroWorlds Lab


February 11, 2020

Book Manuscript Workshop: Grace Overbeke

Heather Nathans, Editor of the Studies in Theatre History and Culture Series of the University of Iowa Press, joins the 2020 Manuscript Feedback Workshop to discuss Perilman Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr. Grace Kesler Overbeke’s work in progress.

Dr. Overbeke works at the intersection of Jewish Studies and Theatre Studies.  She recently completed her dissertation on the life and work of Jean Carroll, the first Jewish female stand-up comedian—“the real Mrs. Maisel.”  This project developed out of her interests in female Jewish comedians and autobiographical performance among marginalized populations. 


February 13, 2020

Jewish Geometry: Pi in the Bible & Talmud

Dr. Adam Levine, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Duke University, will discuss pi in the Bible and the Talmud.  A famous Biblical passage describes a circular object that's 10 cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference. This suggests 3 as a value for pi... or does it? We'll look at how the Talmud and various commentators throughout the centuries have wrestled with that passage and its implications for religion and science. All are welcome regardless of Jewish or mathematical knowledge, and pi(e) will be provided! 


February 14, 2020

Data Dialogue: "Small Data Analysis in the Age of Big Data: Estimating the Number of Scribes in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions" 

Shira Faigenbaum, Department of Applied Mathematics, Tel Aviv University.  In the era of data proliferation, it is sometimes unfeasible, from practical reasons, to collect a large amount of data. In our research, we tackled the problem of estimating the number of different scribes who produced a corpus of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, originating from Israel of the First Temple period. The data we dealt with was unearthed in archaeological excavations of two different sites. The first one is the isolated military outpost of Arad in the Judah desert (dating to ca. 600 BCE), while the second one is Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel (dating to the 8th century BCE). As such, the availability of samples is very limited and Big Data techniques cannot give statistically significant answers. In our study, we reformulate the problem of finding the number of scribes in terms of estimating the number of clusters in a limited data. Thus, given a set of high-dimensional distributions, we aim at comparing and finding an estimate to the number of clusters in the data. First, we introduce a method for comparing a pair of high-dimensional distributions through a hypothesis testing. Next, utilizing this test on a pair-by-pair basis, we estimate the lower bound for the number of clusters in the examined data. Last, we suggest a method for calculating the maximum likelihood estimate for the number of classes, by leveraging the statistics on the accuracy of our algorithm.


February 19, 2020

An Afterlife with author Frances Bartkowski

Please join the Franklin Humanities Institute for a reading and discussion of An Afterlife, a novel by Frances Bartkowski (Rutgers U). This event is part of our World Arts series. A reception and book signing follows; books will be available to buy on site. Free and open to the public.  In An Afterlife, young couple Ruby and Ilya meet in a Bavarian displaced persons camp established by the Allies. There, they, like all the displaced, are trying to figure out, how to figure out, what life is. Life and home will need to be created anew. The novel follows the pair to northern New Jersey where, suffering from post-traumatic stress they each face challenges to adapt to a new culture, and adapt to one another.  Frances Bartkowski is Professor of English at Rutgers-Newark; Chair of the Department of Arts, Culture and Media; and Co-Director of Express Newark.


February 21, 2020

Kata Gellen: "On Hubris and Imagination: Kafka, Nietzsche, and Contemporary Ecological Discourse"

Join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences and arts the opportunity to present on their current research to interlocutors in their fields. Breakfast is served at 9am.

This paper uses the writings of Franz Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche to think through two tropes in contemporary ecological discourse: the failure of imagination and the critique of hubris. Both thinkers critique humans for failing to recognize the limits of their cognitive horizons, but neither thinks this should prevent us from trying to understand things that are beyond our powers of understanding. Together they demonstrate that confronting cognitive failure and overreach are in fact indispensable tools for dealing with a "hyperobject" like climate change (Timothy Morton), or climate phenomena that are real and present despite seeming "improbable" (Amitav Ghosh). Taking inspiration from Kafka and Nietzsche, I suggest that climate discourse should stretch our imaginative capacities and confront the necessary hubris of the endeavor.

February 28, 2020

Beth Holmgren: "Tom and Zula: Jews and Gentiles at Play on the Interwar Polish Stage"

Join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences and arts the opportunity to present on their current research to interlocutors in their fields. Breakfast is served at 9am.

By the 1920s, Poland's newly independent capital of Warsaw had expanded from serious theater town into entertainment mecca, a quick change catalyzed by the investment of Jewish entrepreneurs in recording studios, sheet music publishing, and theater management, and the talents of young Jewish composers and musicians who eagerly switched from classical fare to American ragtime and swing. In the city's new cabarets - high-quality topical venues for a Polish-speaking majority culture that attracted a Christian-Jewish clientele - rising stars were both working-class gentiles and middle-class Jews, most of whom excelled as impersonators and improvisers and enjoyed pairing off with each other in satirical and pure nonsense sketches, the latest dances, and ensemble songs. To introduce these cabaret greats, who functioned as film stars for Polish citizens between the wars, this talk analyzes Warsaw cabaret's founding couple: Konrad Tom, a Jewish sketch-and-songwriter, elegant man about town, and character actor, and his gentile partner Zula Pogorzelska, a brunette bombshell who packed houses as an emancipated flapper and a versatile comedienne.  Beth Holmgren is Professor of Polish and Russian Studies at Duke University.


March 8 – March 12, 2020

REEL Israel: Documentary Film Festival

The Duke Center for Jewish Studies is proud to be cosponsoring this year’s REEL Israel: Documentary Film Festival, presented by the Chelsea Theater and Kehillah Synagogue, The Festival presents films that explore Israel from angles rarely seen in the news: from heart-wrenching to heart-warming stories about family and friendship, life and death, and revelations of the past. Films are selected by Duke University professor/film scholar Shai Ginsburg.

Speakers to follow select shows:

Sunday, 3/8 following 6:30 showing of Advocate:  Shai Ginsburg

Director of the Duke GameLab

Associate Prof, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Duke University


Tuesday, 3/10 following 4:30 showing of In the Desert:  Tamar Rachkovsky

Israeli documentary filmmaker from Jerusalem and alumni of the Experimental and Documentary Arts Program at Duke University. Her thesis film Home in E Major participated in national and international film festivals. Tamar is currently teaching a course, Israeli Contemporary Cinema at Duke University.

Wednesday: 3/11 following 7 pm showing of A Whore Like Me: Carlos Rojas

Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies; Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; and Arts of the Moving Image, and is also the current president of the Association of Chinese and Comparative Literature. His research focuses on issues of gender and visuality, corporeality and infection, and nationalism and diaspora studies, particularly as they relate to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the global Chinese diaspora.