Recap: Contemporary White Supremacy in America

Contemporary White Supremacy in America: What are its links to the Nazi Past?

On Wednesday, April 10, the Center for Jewish Civilization hosted at the National Press Club its premiere Spring conference. This year’s event was titled “Contemporary White Supremacy in America: What are its links to the Nazi Past,” and featured a number of academics and practitioners. Notable speakers included Christian Picciolini, Kristen Clarke, and Seyward Darby.

The event kicked-off with a conversation between Father Patrick Desbois, the President of Yahad-In Unum, and Christian Picciolini, the co-founder of Life after Hate and the author of White America Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out. The conversation was moderated by CJC’s Director Jacques Berlinerblau.

From Left to Right: Dr. Jacques Berlinerblau, Father Patrick Desbois, and Christian Picciolini

Both speakers brought unique perspectives from their work and lives, covering topics from white supremacy in America to extremists movements such as ISIS. Father Desbois offered the perspective of a historian and forensic expert, drawing from his extensive years of research spent recording the oral histories of the Holocaust by Bullets and his additional work interviewing victims of the Yazidi genocide. Christian Picciolini, as a former skinhead, drew upon his past experiences and current-day work in de-radicalizing white supremacists. Though their combined work spanned regions and decades, the similarities they illustrated between different extremist movements was particularly interesting. One notable moment was when Picciolini and Desbois discussed how studies into extremist groups have placed too much emphasis on “hate” when analyzing those communities. Extremist groups, though founded on a premise of hate, stay together because of the emotional bonds made between hate-group members through the artificial constructions of “us” versus “them.”  

“A pure hate group is a mistake in [the] analysis,” said Father Desbois, to which Mr. Picciolini responded, “Hate is exhausting.”

Christian Picciolini and Father Desbois’ panel was then followed by “Nazi anti-Semitism from 1939 to the Alt-Right.” In that panel, Andrej Umansky, the CJC’s Braman Endowed Fellow of the Practice of the Forensic Study of the Holocaust, joined fellow panelist Norman Goda, the Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies (University of Florida) for an in-depth discussion that made thematic connections between Nazi Germany and modern neo-Nazi and alt-Right movements of today. Their panel was moderated by Wendy Lower, the John K. Roth Professor History and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. Lower is also the author of the acclaimed book Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, which reviews the role of ordinary German women on Nazi Eastern Front. During the panel, Norman Goda talked about the relationship between the media and white-supremacist movements, explaining how for white supremacists the connections between anti-Semitism and building a wall at the American southern border is clear in the mind of the extremist, but is difficult to articulate in day-to-day reporting.

During the lunch session, the Center for Jewish Civilization was thrilled to have Kristen Clarke, the President and Executive Director of the National Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, give the keynote lecture of the conference. Clarke spoke about the work that she and her organization have done in the pursuit of civil rights in her speech titled “Confronting 21st Century White Nationalism.” Clarke also highlighted programs such as Election Protection and the Stop Hate Project, which moves policy into the practitioner sphere by connecting her organization to communities in need.

The afternoon sessions kicked off with a panel on “The Music of White Power, the Music of Nazi Germany: Strategies of Recruitment and Propaganda,” and was moderated by the CJC’s Assistant Professor Dr. Jessica Roda. Kirsten Dyck, an Affiliate Adjunct Professor in the Department of History (James Madison University) and J. Mackenzie Pierce, a visiting fellow at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, comprised the panel. Their conversation was an ethnomusicological approach to how music and musical performance was (and is) used as a tool in white supremacist movements.

The penultimate panel of the day, “Women, White Power Movements, and the Holocaust,” was chaired by the Associate Director for the Center for Jewish Civilization, Anna Sommer. She was joined by Seyward Darby, the Editor in Chief of The Atavist Magazine, and Wendy Lower. Their panel covered the role of women in far-right movements and touched upon online communities of women that connect through shared social experiences.

From Left to Right: Seyward Darby, Wendy Lower, and Anna Sommer

In addition, the panel discussed how women, as a whole, are often integral to social movements–the far-right movement being no exception, regardless of that movement’s normally negative views of women. For some women in white supremacist movements, gender identity matters less than their connection to their race. As Seyward Darby–who in addition to being the Editor in Chief of the Atavist has also interviewed a number of women involved in far-right movements–said, “There’s an impulse to look at the misogyny of white nationalism and assume that women don’t want to be around that…[it] assumes that a woman’s gender is the thing that she’s going to be most protective of. For a white woman, it might be her race.”

The last panel of the day, a fiery discussion about the “The Democratic Prospect: Thinking About America’s Democracy in Light of the Populist Movement,” was moderated by Danielle Pletka, a visiting lecturer at the CJC and the Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. She was joined Harvard University’s Associate Professor from the Department of Sociology, Bart Bonikowski, and Benjamin Hett, a Professor of History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center at CUNY. Their conversation covered a range of divisive topics, such as global populism and the Trump administration, social perceptions of political movements, and right-wing/left-wing political divides in media.

Closing statements were given by Senior Fellow and Assistant Director for Jewish Civilization, Ira Forman. Forman, who served as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, provided an overview of the days events and the common thematics that the panels had pursued throughout the day. Such thematics included the role of community building in alt-right movements, social media as a platforms for mobilization, and similarities between extremist groups in different countries.

The Center for Jewish Civilization would like to thank all of our panelists and attendees for making this an incredibly successful and engaging conference.

CJC-er of the Month: Gabriela A. Barrera

When she first arrived at Georgetown, it was her passion for literature and the humanities that drove Gabriela Barrera to take the “Fictions of Politics and International Relations” proseminar with CJC Director, Jacques Berlinerblau. At the time, her intention was actually to minor in English or Creative Writing—in part to balance her more technical International Politics major in the SFS. What she found in the proseminar, her first CJC course, however, was that the Center offered her a good middle ground between her interests in the humanities and political science.

Gabriela in the CJC lounge, in front of the wall she wallpapered.
Gabriela in the CJC lounge, in front of the wall she wallpapered.

While in the CJC, Gabriela has enjoyed humanities courses like David Ebenbach’s “Fiction Writing Workshop,” Sarah Workman’s “Jewish Pop Culture,” and Meital Orr’s “Introduction to Jewish Civilization.” She has also taken CJC courses on the Holocaust and is currently taking “Holocaust and Geopolitics.”

In these Holocaust courses, Gabriela has appreciated the individualistic approach the CJC takes to the subject—“a perspective that has become so much more important as time continues to separate us from the event.” In this unique approach, these courses avoid the “impersonality” of some of her politics courses at Georgetown.

To further examine the interpersonal aspects of the Holocaust, Gabriela has participated in the CJC Holocaust Forensics Trip with Yahad-in-Unum twice. On her first trip during her Sophomore spring to Belarus and Poland, Gabriela found that “the importance that Father Desbois and his team put on preserving individual stories supplied a dignity to survivors and witnesses that was oftentimes absent in other forms of historical analysis.” Upon her return, the trip inspired her to refocus her studies towards post-conflict development and civil-military relations.

Gabriela and her peers pose for a photo after listening to a Lviv-based survivor (left of Father Desbois) recount his story.

Her second trip to Ukraine impacted her in a different way: “The necessity to educate, to inform, and to preserve memory about the Holocaust has become more demanding, more urgent.” Gabriela reflects that navigating the memory of the Holocaust has become more complicated due to its politicization. This politicization has led to “competing narratives between Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish identities that fluctuate in and out of conflict with domestic political interests.”

The difference between her experience Sophomore year and Senior year was in part due to the varying itineraries. Sophomore year, a visit to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau forced Gabriela to reconcile the Holocaust with “what was left behind.” This spring in Ukraine, however, Gabriela was challenged by the question of how to memorialize the lesser known and more “invisible” sites of the Holocaust: “To the untrained eye, there is no surface-level difference between a mass grave and the local park. To be told, standing beneath the swaying birch trees, that thousands of Jews had been murdered in the field where we stood, was for me, incomprehensible.”

Father Desbois provides a side-by-side comparison between archival footage and modern landmarks in Lviv, Ukraine.

Although these experiences have been challenging, Gabriela has found them enriching. Her time at the CJC has been central to her Georgetown experience. The prospect of graduating two months from now is a challenge “when that also means leaving the Center for Jewish Civilization.” Looking beyond graduation, however, it is clear that the lessons from the CJC will stay with her as a reminder that “As a civil servant, I must hold myself and my peers accountable in the development and practice of the law. There are no excuses that justify ignorance in the face of calamity, or inaction when there is injustice.”

The Forensics Trip students stop to reflect upon the morning and enjoy a lunch in Ternopil, Ukraine.

Contemporary White Supremacy in America: What are its Links to the Nazi Past?

Missed the Conference? 

Catch up on the panels on our CJC Media YouTube channel HERE. 

Contemporary White Supremacy in America:

What are its Links to the Nazi Past?

The Center for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University is pleased to announce a day-long conference entitled “Contemporary White Supremacy in America: What are its Links to the Nazi Past?” Held at the National Press Club, this forum seeks to examine how hate groups in the United States draw upon ideas, propaganda, recruiting techniques, and worldviews from the Nazi era. In what ways do extremists in this country invoke the anti-Semitic theories and practices of their Nazi forerunners? And in what ways do they diverge and/or offer new perspectives and tools for disseminating hatred of Jews and others? Join us and our slate of renowned scholars, diplomats, journalists, and practitioners as we try to make sense of the current extremist moment in the United States. This event is free and open to the public.

When: Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Where: National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20045

RSVP REQUIRED to all, or part, of the conference here.

All registered attendees will be receiving a specialized QR code that they must present at the door to gain entry into the conference.

For accessibility concerns, please contact the National Press Club at 202-662-7500.

Schedule of Events*


Jacques Berlinerblau, Rabbi Harold White Professor of Jewish Civilization, Director, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University


Lara Logan, Former Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, CBS News

Fr. Patrick Desbois, Braman Endowed Professor of the Practice of the Forensic Study of the Holocaust, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University; President, Yahad-In Unum

Christian Picciolini, Co-founder, Life After Hate, Author, White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement–and How I Got Out.



Wendy Lower, John K. Roth Professor of History, George R. Roberts Fellow, Claremont McKenna College; Director, Mgrublian Center for Human Rights

Norman Goda, Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies, University of Florida

Andrej Umansky, Braman Endowed Fellow of the Practice of the Forensic Study of the Holocaust, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University


Kristen Clarke, President, National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law


Jessica Roda, Assistant Professor, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University

Kirsten Dyck, Affiliate Adjunct Professor, Department of History, James Madison University

J. Mackenzie Pierce, Sosland Fellow, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum



Anna Sommer, Associate Director, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University

Seyward Darby, Editor in Chief, The Atavist Magazine

Wendy Lower, John K. Roth Professor of History, George R. Roberts Fellow, Claremont McKenna College; Director, Mgrublian Center for Human Rights


Danielle Pletka, Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Visiting Lecturer, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University

Bart Bonikowski, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Harvard University

Benjamin Hett, Professor, Department of History, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY


Ira Forman, Former U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, U.S. Department of State; Senior Fellow, Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University


*This schedule is subject to change. Please check our website frequently for updates.

Jacques Berlinerblau

Jacques Berlinerblau is the Rabbi Harold White Professor and Director of Jewish Civilization in the Walsh School of ForeignService. Holding separate doctorates in Sociology and ancient Near Eastern languages he has published 8 books and written dozens of scholarly articles on subjects ranging from Secularism, to Jewish-American literature, to African-American and Jewish-American relations. His next book project is on the fiction of Philip Roth. His latest publication is Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students, published in 2017 by Melville House.

Lara Logan

Lara Logan has served as CBS News’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent since 2006. Over the last few decades she has received international recognition for her reporting in high-risk war zones and areas of political unrest. Before being promoted from her correspondent position in 2002 at CBS, Logan’s work as a reporter, editor, and producer appeared in numerous reputed outlets including CNN, NBC, Fox/SKY, ABC in London, the European Broadcast Union, and Reuters Television in Africa. She is the recipient of several awards including the Daniel Pearl Award (2011), the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award (2011), the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award (2011), an Emmy Award (2008), the Association of International Broadcasters’ Best International News Story Award (2007), five American Women in Radio and Television Gracie Awards (between 2000 and 2008), and the Radio & Television Association David Bloom Award (2008).

Father Patrick Desbois

Father Desbois is President and Founder of Yahad- In Unum. In 2015, Desbois launched the initiative Action Yazidis which seeks to uncover facts of the Yazidi genocide committed by ISIS. He is the former director of the National Service of French Bishops for Relations with Judaism, and is presently Advisor to the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews. Desbois holds several degrees and honorary degrees. He is the recipient of the “LBJ Moral Courage Award” by the Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Lantos Human Rights Prize from the Lantos Foundation. He has written several books on his genocide research and is the winner of the 2008 National Jewish Book Award. His latest publication is In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind the Holocaust by Bullets, published in 2018 by Skyhorse.

Christian Picciolini

Christian Picciolini is an award-winning television producer, a public speaker, author, peace advocate, and a reformed violent extremist. His life’s work bears witness to an ongoing and profound need to atone for a grisly past, and an urgency to make something of his time on this planet by contributing to the greater good. After leaving the violent hate movement he helped create during his youth, he began the painstaking process of rebuilding his life. While working for IBM, Christian earned a degree in international relations from DePaul University, and later began his own global media firm. In 2009, Christian cofounded Life After Hate, a nonprofit dedicated to helping others counter racism and violent extremism. He is currently working to help build the world’s first global network of extremism preventionists, who are helping people disengage from hate movements and other violent ideologies around the globe. In 2016, Christian won an Emmy Award for his role in directing and producing an anti-hate advertising campaign aimed at helping youth disengage from white-supremacist groups. He has worked as an adjunct professor at the college level, and is a frequent commentator on national and international news networks. Christian Picciolini’s memoir and latest publication, WHITE AMERICAN YOUTH: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out, where he details his involvement in, and eventual exit from, the early American white-supremacist skinhead movement, was published by Hachette Books in 2018.

Wendy Lower

Professor Wendy Lower is the Director of the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights and the John K. Roth Professor of History and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. She is the author of Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, a 2013 finalist for the National Book Award. A few of her other books are The Diary of Samuel Golfard and the Holocaust in Eastern Galicia, Lanham MD: Altamira/Rowman and Littlefield and USHMM, 2011, The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008 (co-edited with Ray Brandon) and Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press and USHMM, 2005 (paperback, 2007, audio version 2010).

Norman Goda

Norman J.W. Goda is the Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies. He received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He studies modern European history and specializes in the history of the Holocaust, war crimes trials, and twentieth century diplomacy. He teaches a variety of courses on the Holocaust and Nazi Germany from historical and interdisciplinary perspectives. He is the author of Tomorrow the World: Hitler, Northwest Africa, and the Path toward America (1998); Tales from Spandau: Nazi Criminals and the Cold War (2007); The Holocaust: Europe, the World, and the Jews (2013). He has also co-authored, with Richard Breitman, US Intelligence and the Nazis (2005) and Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, US Intelligence and the Cold War (2010). He has published articles in various journals including the Journal of Modern History, The International History Review, and The Journal of Contemporary History, and his work has been the subject of stories by the The New York Times, the Associated Press, US News and World Report, and other major news outlets. Goda has served as a consultant to the US and German governments, as well as for various radio, television, and film documentaries in the US, Europe, and Israel. His latest publication, Jewish Histories of the Holocaust: New Transnational Approaches (Making Sense of History), was published by Berghahn Books in 2016.

Andrej Umansky

Andrej is a Research Fellow, Faculty of Law at the Institute for Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, University of Cologne, Germany, and is historical and legal advisor to Yahad-in-Unum. He obtained a master’s degree in French and German law from the Universities of Cologne and Paris I and another master’s degree in the history of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe from the University of Paris IV. In 2016, he finished his PhD at the University Amiens, France, about the Holocaust in the Northern Caucasus in 1942-43. His work led informed his book, La Shoah a l’Est: Regards d’Allemands. He serves as Secretary General for the Yahad In-Unum.

Keynote Speaker: Kristen Clarke

Kristen Clarke is the president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization that seeks to promote fair housing and community development, economic justice, voting rights, equal educational opportunity, criminal justice, judicial diversity and more.

Ms. Clarke’s career has been dedicated to the strengthened American democracy by combating discrimination faced by African Americans and other marginalized community. She has pursued that calling through careers at the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Within each position, she has served the country through the enforcement of civil rights on matters such as criminal justice, education and housing discrimination, fair lending, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, gender equality, reproductive access, LGBT issues, police misconduct and brutality, and human trafficking.

Her honors and awards include the 2018 Louis L. Redding Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018 Harvard College Service to Society Award, the 2017 Choate Rosemary Hall Alumni of the Year, the 2017 Thurgood Marshall Award from Quinnipiac University School of Law, the 2016 Alumni of the Year by the National Black Law Students Association, the New York Law Journal’s 2015 Rising Stars, the 2014 New York State Senate Proclamation for Exemplary Service, the 2012 Best Brief Award for the 2012 Supreme Court term from the National Association of Attorneys General, among others.

Jessica Roda

Jessica Roda is an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist currently serving as an Assistant Professor at the Center for Jewish Civilization. She earned Ph.D.s from both Sorbonne University and the University of Montreal where she studied political implications of Sephardic and Arab-Jewish music and the Unesco Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage, respectively. More recently, Dr. Roda began an ethnography of Ultra-Religious Jewish Life in Montreal and New York City. Before joining the Center, Dr. Roda was a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University (Department of Jewish Studies), Concordia University (Department of History and Anthropology/Sociology), and University of Quebec in Montreal (Canada Research Chair in Urban Heritage). In 2014, she was selected by the Royal Society of Canada and the Science Coucil of Japan to participate in WISET Program. She has been a visiting scholar at UCLA (Department of Ethnomusicology), Columbia University (Heyman Center), and Universidade Estadual de Cambinas, Brazil. Beyond her academic life, she is also trained as a pianist, flutist, and modern-jazz dancer (City of Paris Conservatory). Her latest publication, “From French Guiana to Hasidic Montreal,” was published in  the Association of Jewish Studies magazine, AJS Perspectives, in 2018.

Kirsten Dyck

Kirsten Dyck is the author of Reichsrock: The International Web of White-Power and Neo-Nazi Hate Music (Rutgers University Press, 2017). She currently works as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the English Philology Department at Poltava National V.G. Korolenko Pedagogical University in Poltava, Ukraine.  She is also an Affiliate Adjunct Professor with the History Department at James Madison University. She has held fellowships with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German-American Fulbright Commission, and The Auschwitz Jewish Center. She holds a BFA in Music and an MA in Ethnomusicology from York University in Toronto, Canada, as well as a PhD in American Studies from Washington State University.

J. Mackenzie Pierce

Mackenzie Pierce received his PhD in musicology from Cornell University and is currently a visiting fellow at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. His articles have been published or are forthcoming in the Journal of Musicology, 19th-Century Music, and in the first edited volume devoted to the composer Roman Palester. His research has led to collaborations with international scholarly communities and performers. A highlight of this work was the scholarship and performance festival “Forbidden Songs” in spring 2018, which featured six US premieres of works by Palester and the premiere of Poland’s first postwar feature film with new English subtitles. His research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Polin Museum for the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, the Title VIII Program of the US State Department, the Kosciuszko Foundation, and the Beinecke Foundation.

Anna Sommer Schneider

Anna Sommer Schneider is Associate Director and Associate Teaching Professor for the Center for Jewish Civilization. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Jewish Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. She is the author of She’erit Hapletah: Surviving Remnant. The Activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Poland, 1945-1989 (2014, Published in Polish) and co-author of Rescue, Relief and Renewal: 100 Years of the Joint in Poland (2014), and she co-curated an exhibition of the same title that year. She is also the author of numerous scholarly and critical articles of Holocaust memory and the history of the Jews in post-World War II Poland. Her most recent writings include “The Survival of ‘Yiddishkeit’: Impact of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee on Jewish Education in Poland, 1945-1989.” She served as a guide and educator at the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim between 1998-2018.

Seyward Darby

Seyward Darby serves as the editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine. She formerly held positions at other esteemed news sources as deputy editor of Foreign Policy and online editor of The New Republic. In September 2017, her article on women in the alt-right movement, “Rise of the Valkyries”, was chosen as the cover story for Harper’s Magazine. Her scholarship on the topic has been spotlighted by National Public Radio. Currently, Darby is writing a book about women and white nationalism in America. Her focus is on social justice and culture.

Danielle Pletka

Danielle Pletka is senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she oversees the Institute’s work on foreign policy and the Middle East. She has master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College. Her most recent publication is a report entitled “Tehran Stands atop the Syria-Iran Alliance,” published in 2017 by the Atlantic Council.

Bart Bonikowski

Bart Bonikowski is an Associate Professor of Sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Center for European Studies, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Relying primarily on innovative survey and network analysis methods, his research applies insights from cultural sociology to the study of politics. Bonikowski’s most recent work examined the impact of trade and IGO networks on cross-national attitude diffusion, as well as the consequences of within- and between-country variation in popular understandings of the nation-state for political change. He is currently launching a new project on the logic of populist discourse in democratic polities, focusing on popular attitudes, media representations, and political messaging. Bonikowski’s publications have appeared in the American Sociological Review, The International Journal of Comparative Sociology, and a number of edited volumes. His latest publication, “Populism and Nationalism in a Comparative Perspective: A Scholarly Exchange,” can be found in Nations and Nationalism. 

Benjamin Hett

Benjamin Hett was born in Rochester, New York but grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, leaving him with a lifelong if mostly heartbreaking attachment to the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL. He earned a BA in Political Science and English Literature from the University of Alberta (1987) and then a J.D. from the University of Toronto (1990). Four years of legal practice – it felt like eight – convinced him to return to the University of Toronto for an MA in History (1995) before he moved on to Harvard for a Ph.D. (2001). For two years he taught in the History and Literature program at Harvard alongside advising graduate students at the Harvard Law School. In 2003 he joined the faculty of Hunter College and in 2006 that of the Graduate Center, CUNY. Hett’s work has gradually shifted from a focus on the theory and practice of criminal law in Germany, through the legacy of National Socialism in postwar Germany, to the Second World War on the Eastern front and the work of West German intelligence services in the 1950s. He is the author of three books (Death in the Tiergarten, 2004; Crossing Hitler, 2008; Burning the Reichstag, 2014) and a number of articles. Hett has been a recipient of the Hans Rosenberg Prize for the best article on German history by a North American scholar; the Fraenkel Prize from the Wiener Library in London; and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. His latest publication,The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic was published by Henry Holt and Co. in 2018.

Ira Forman

Ira N. Forman is a Senior Fellow on Anti-Semitism at the Center for Jewish Civilization and a Senior Fellow at the Moment Institute. In the fall of 2018, he was appointed Senior Advisor on Anti-Semitism at Human Rights First. Mr. Forman served as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2013-2017.  From 2011-2012 he served as the Jewish Outreach Director for the Obama for America campaign. He also served for nearly 15 years as the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). Mr. Forman received his B.A. from Harvard University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in Government. He received his M.B.A. from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He co-edited and wrote for the reference book Jews In American Politics.

CJC-er of the Month: Jocelyn Ortiz

When Jocelyn Ortiz was deciding on where she would study abroad during her 2018 Fall semester, she knew she “really wanted to live somewhere that had the same relaxed mentality that California (where I’m from) has, and I wanted to be close to the beaches and the outdoors.” Ortiz, a History Major in the College with a Minor in Jewish Civilization Arabic, ended up choosing the University of Sydney in Australia. Her initial hope to balance her academic workload with outdoor activities was fulfilled when she learned to surf just off of Sydney’s famous coasts.

While at the University of Sydney, Ortiz participated in a number of on and off campus activities. She worked as a Residential Assistant at Urbanest Student Accommodations, a housing service for visiting students, and participated in the University’s international student society.

As a student of U-Syd, Ortiz pursued her interest in activism and the law. “I learned a lot about indigenous history and culture, and the ongoing fight against inequality within Australia (Aboriginal people often have less access to education, job opportunities, and welfare services). I met a lot of Aboriginal activists and was surprised not only by their persevering attitude but also by the fact that they were very much in tune with their culture and still habitually practiced traditional Aboriginal cultural activities such as dance, art-making, and community building.” Ortiz was able to engage with these local actors through the University of Sydney’s Indigenous Studies Program.

When she wasn’t learning about indigenous social justice, Ortiz made sure to immerse herself in Sydney’s cultural and social life. “Most Thursday nights I was able to make my way down to the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge area and watch the sunset. There’s a great national botanic garden on the other side of the Opera House and my friends and I would take a walk through all of the different flower and tree gardens.” At the Opera House, Ortiz saw the first rap artist to ever perform at the venue. In September, “I saw Skepta, a Britist Grime artist from London who sold out the event.”

Back on the Georgetown campus, Ortiz is an editor for the feminist-literature magazine, Bossier, and a member of Delta Phi Epsilon, an undergraduate foreign service sorority. Ortiz is also a research intern at the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG), where she works with PILPG’s founder and president, Dr. Paul Williams. “There, I work on helping Dr. Williams and his pro-bono legal/research team with research pertaining to war crimes prosecution, transitional justice negotiations, and human rights violations.” At the Center for Jewish Civilization, Ortiz is a Teaching Assistant for Professor Jessica Roda’s and Father Patrick Desbois’ class, “The Geopolitics of the Holocaust.”

CJC-er of the Week: Tanner Larkin

Every week the Center for Jewish Civilization spotlights one of its many talented undergraduates.

Prior to his Fall 2018 semester in Jerusalem, Tanner Larkin never expected to have a front-row seat in seeing the day-to-day happenings of the President and First Lady of Israel.

“From my apartment window, you could see a large helipad. One day early in the semester, a convoy delivered a group of people to a waiting helicopter. My flatmates and I were too far to make out anyone, but I joked that the person in the red pants must be Sara Netanyahu. Sure enough, that day Bibi’s Instagram featured him visiting a new hospital wing with Sara—in bright red pants! From then on, we watched the Netayanhu’s from our window weekly.”

For Larkin, a School of Foreign Service junior majoring International Politics and pursuing a certificate in Jewish Civilization, such experiences came to define his time abroad both inside and outside of the classroom. Originally from Walnut Creek, California, Tanner went to Israel for a number of reasons. He was interested in learning more about Israeli-Palestinian relations, but also wanted to explore his Jewish faith, study Hebrew, and get to know his Israeli family members. His study abroad program also afforded him the opportunity to travel to the West Bank, where he visited settlements, Arab villages, and the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem.

In addition to studying at the Rothberg International School in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tanner interned at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Shoah and a museum dedicated to Holocaust education, documentation, and research. “I am incredibly grateful that I could contribute, even in an extremely minor way, to the mission of Yad Vashem to preserve and honor the memory of the Shoah.”

This wasn’t Tanner’s first time interning in Israel. During the previous summer, he worked at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy through “Onward, Israel,” a program that connects college students to professional development opportunities in Israel. As a summer intern at Abba Eban, Tanner describes as being “treated like one of the staffers. I got to work on major projects and to take part in off-the-record meetings with Israeli politicians whom you normally just read about in the news. All the while, I lived in the heart of Tel Aviv, just blocks from Rothschild Avenue, and explored the city’s cafes, bookshops, and bars.” Contributing to Abba Eban’s mission of reinvigorating Israel’s diplomatic efforts was an unparalleled experience that Tanner recommends to “CJC-ers [considering] an Israeli summer internship.”

Tanner, now back at Georgetown for the spring semester, reflects on his time in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as allowing him to “deepen and internalize my understandings of Israeli and Palestinian societies, as well as the issues at the heart of the conflict.”

Dr. Jessica Roda in the Association for Jewish Studies: From French Guiana to Hasidic Montreal

The following text appeared originally in the Fall 2018 Issue of AJS Perspectives, the magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies. AJS’s 50th Anniversary Issue focused on New Vistas in Jewish Studies, in which Dr. Jessica Roda’s work was published. The journal in its entirety can be found here.

From French Guiana to Hasidic Montreal

By Dr. Jessica Roda

As an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist specializing in Sephardic/Arab-Jewish and ultra-Orthodox contemporary Jewish life, my research interests focus on music, kinship, and sexuality, as well as interreligious dialogue and international cultural policies. As I was educated in both Europe and North America, my experiences in both continents have led me to acquire expertise in different schools of thought. I started my training with anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and linguists influenced by the heritage of the French structuralist school at the “Langues, Musiques et Société” laboratory at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris (CNRS). While pursuing my PhD at both Sorbonne University and University of Montreal, I attended seminars in anthropology, ethnomusicology, and sociology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and CNRS. In Montreal, I discovered post-colonial studies, gender studies, intersubjectivity, and the anthropology of music.

In addition to this university background, I was driven by a passion for a culture, a community, and a musical practice. My PhD, obtained in a joint program through Sorbonne University and University of Montreal, focused on the descendants of Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Empire who settled in France in the twentieth century. I worked for ten years with this community and several artists performing its heritage in France. Then I pursued my journey in the Sephardic world, but this time with the Moroccan Jewish community of Montreal, the city where I settled in 2010. Over the years, living near the neighborhood where Hasidic Jews established themselves, my fascination with their way of life and culture guided me to begin a new journey into a very different, distinct Jewish niche. My fieldwork among Hasidic Jews led me to first meet with people who had left the community, then people at the edges of the community. In time, I was introduced to Hasidic families and became a professor of socio-anthropology, studying religious Jewish women, a majority of whom were Hasidic. One might wonder how and why I became interested in these Jewish communities and why I have started to look at contemporary Jewish lives with an anthropological and ethnomusicological eye. The responses to these questions have to do with a personal journey that I would like to share.

I was born into a family that had experienced migration, open adoption, composite families, war, and displacement during the Spanish Civil War and the Algerian War of Independence. For many years, my parents continued the family preference for a nomadic lifestyle over a sedentary one. With my brother David, the four of us travelled for years through Australia, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, and Venezuela. When I was six, they chose to settle in French Guiana, named “L’enfer Vert” (green hell) because of its hard climate and its past, burdened with a history of slavery and deportation (prison). In French Guiana, Creoles, Amerindians, Bushinengue, Hmong, Europeans, as well as people from China, Lebanon, Brazil, Haiti, Surinam, and Peru were part of my daily experience and would become my closest friends. Different visions of the world were part of my childhood and my discoveries of human beings. These early experiences with Otherness in religion, kinship, migration, language, and culture influenced my development as a person and as a future anthropologist and ethnomusicologist. It aroused in me a deep desire to understand individual and collective negotiation of systems of values and also a need to socialize with people from very different backgrounds. This diversity was also reflected in the music I was surrounded by, all the time and everywhere. At home, at school, in the street, at the conservatory, or at the beach, I had the chance to listen and sometimes perform classical music, reggae, ragga, zouk, jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, samba, French songs, carnival music, kaseko, grajé, bossa nova, and many others sounds. Dance and theatre were also part of my youth, until my early twenties.

When I left French Guiana to study musicology at the Sorbonne University in Paris, as well as piano and modern jazz dance at the Conservatory, I started an identity quest that led me to look back at my own heritage and at my Sephardic Jewish origin. At the age of nineteen, while I was in Montreal for an exchange program, Judaism became part of my life. No longer an artifact from the past that my family had not handed down to me and that I tried to document on an intellectual basis, it then became something that I embodied in my everyday life through the discovery of rituals and prayers. 

As this narrative explains, I did not become involved with Jewish Studies at the outset of my academic training. It was the development of my expertise in Jewish life as an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist that progressively led me to be involved in the field. Jewish Studies in the North American sense was not part of the French and the French-Canadian curricula, so it had never been obvious to plunge into such a field of research. Indeed, even if I had the chance to interact with scholars working on Judaism or Jewish music, at research centers specializing in Jewish Studies, and departments of Hebraic Studies issuing diplomas in Hebrew, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, or Judeo-Spanish languages (Inalco), it would have been impossible to imagine it as a separate field of study. Furthermore, departments of Jewish Studies generally had very little room, if any, for Sephardic/Arab-Jewish culture, whether through the social sciences or in the humanities. It was only when I started to develop ties with the English North American academic world, after my PhD, that I started to engage with the field of Jewish Studies, first as a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University with Erica Lehrer and then at McGill University, in its Department of Jewish Studies. 

My involvement in Jewish Studies meets the need of a particular time in which scholars studying non-Western Jews and anthropologists working on Jewish topics have started to find a place within departments of Jewish Studies. After an important period of focus on history, theology, philosophy, and eastern European Jewish life, I can foresee the development of a flourishing field within a Jewish Studies department, notably in North America, both for the study of the non-Western Jewish experience as well as on what it means today to experience Jewishness around the globe, which I am sure will bring new and innovative perspectives for Jewish Studies in the twenty-first century.

CJC-er of the Week: Corine Forward

Every week the Center for Jewish Civilization spotlights one of its many talented undergraduates.

Corine Forward, a senior in the College majoring in English and double-minoring in Jewish Civilization and African American Studies, recently went on a research trip to Ghana. On a previous voyage to the west African nation, Corine was intrigued by the overwhelming pervasiveness of Christianity in Ghanaian life–everything from the way people addressed each other and spoke of “God’s grace,” to storefronts and taxis with references to Jesus plastered all over them. The experience was intense and moving, but Corine had a question: were there any Jews in Ghana?

Upon returning to Georgetown, Corine tracked down some scholarly articles that spoke of a Jewish community in the Western region of the country. The Oakland native received the requisite institutional permissions (and some funding from her unit, the Center For Jewish Civilization) and embarked on her study of Jews in the town of Sefwi-Wiawso. 

“It was a very informative and positive trip,” Corine said. “From the interviews, I learned that the Sefwi people appear to have clung to some Jewish practices for a long time prior to fully embracing the religion. Eventually in the 1970s a man in the community had a vision that led him to adopt Judaism completely and persuade his neighbors to do so as well.”

Corine was intrigued by the near constant references and comparisons her interview subjects made to Christianity. “Every member [of the community] was very happy to be Jewish and highlighted some of their theological and ritualistic differences with Christianity,” she said. As she writes her senior thesis she is trying to better understand why this Jewish community was so quick to speak of their experiences in the context of their quite peaceful encounters with their Christian neighbors.

The experience was full of surprises and moments of true kindness. One of the men she interviewed, Joseph Armah, who is an elder member of the community, noted how happy he was to have Corine there with them in Ghana. “I am praying,” Mr. Armah intoned, “that when you are going back, the All Mighty God is watching over you so that you tell your family that, ‘I have gone to Sefwi-Wiawso, I have been to Sefwi-Wiawso and I have seen the Jewish people.’ So, I thank you very much for being here with me this morning.”

Corine joined the CJC her sophomore year after taking “Blacks and Jews” with Professors Jacques Berlinerblau and Terrence Johnson. “After falling in love with the topic, I wrote my final paper on the Afro-Jew in modern American literature.” The paper was selected to be presented at an academic conference for outstanding undergraduates at DePauw University.

“I knew I wanted to continue exploring Black and Jewish relations,” observes Corine. “Already being an African American Studies minor, I figured it would be really beneficial to also minor in Jewish Civ. So after Prof. Berlinerblau and Anna Dubinsky convinced me and gave me the final nudge, I joined at the end of my sophomore year.”

Along with being a part of the CJC, Corine is also a tour guide for Blue & Gray, a member of Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program, and a part of the Georgetown Scholarship Program. Over the summer she worked with the Public Defender’s Service for DC. She hopes to go to law school and study criminal defense after graduation.

Berlinerblau, who is the Director of the CJC, and one of Corine’s thesis advisors, along with Professor Johnson, remarked: “Luckily, our donors have made sure that we have a fund for special undergraduate projects such as this one. For a student of Corine’s caliber and accomplishments to go out and study a community of Jews as unknown and under-researched such as this one–it was an easy decision for us to make!”

Abe Foxman and Rabbi David Saperstein

On October 10th, 2018, CJC faculty member Rabbi David Saperstein spoke with former ADL director and Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman about the growth of anti-Semitism in the United States.

Abe Foxman is a former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League from 1987 to 2015, and is currently the League’s National Director Emeritus. Since 2016, he has served as the head of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

Rabbi Saperstein is the former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Director Emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Senior Advisor to the URJ for Policy and Strategy.