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RSVP to our Online Lecture, “Once We Were Slaves: “The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family”

February 24 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


The Center for Jewish Civilization is pleased to invite you to our virtual lecture, “Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family,” with Professor Laura Arnold Leibman. RSVP to our event here!

From Oxford Scholarship Online:

An obsessive genealogist and descendant of one of the most prominent Jewish families since the American Revolution, Blanche Moses firmly believed her maternal ancestors were Sephardic grandees. Yet she found herself at a dead end when it came to her grandmother’s maternal line. Using family heirlooms to unlock the mystery of Moses’s ancestors, Once We Were Slaves overturns the reclusive heiress’s assumptions about her family history to reveal that her grandmother and great-uncle, Sarah and Isaac Brandon, actually began their lives as poor, Christian, and enslaved in Barbados.

Tracing the siblings’ extraordinary journey throughout the Atlantic World, Leibman examines artifacts they left behind in Barbados, Suriname, London, Philadelphia, and, finally, New York to show how Sarah and Isaac were able to transform themselves and their lives, becoming free, wealthy, Jewish, and—at times—white. While their affluence made them unusual, their story mirrors that of the largely forgotten population of people with mixed African and Jewish ancestry that constituted as much as 10 percent of the Jewish communities in which the siblings lived, and sheds new light on the fluidity of race—as well as on the role of religion in racial shift—in the first half of the nineteenth century.

About the Speaker:

Laura Arnold Leibman is Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1995. Her work focuses on how material culture changes our understanding of the role of women, children, and Jews of color in the early Atlantic World. Leibman is the author of The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects (Bard Graduate Center, 2020) which won three National Jewish Book Awards. She also authored Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life (2012), which won a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award and a National Jewish Book Award. She has written several other books and numerous academic articles, including three articles co-authored with Reed students, one of which won the 2015 Wasserman Essay Prize from the journal American Jewish History. She has been a Fulbright scholar at the University of Panama and the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), a visiting fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University of Oxford, and the Leon Levy Foundation Professor of Jewish Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center.

Leibman is known for her scholarship in Digital Humanities and regularly teaches courses in this area. She has served as the Chair of the Digital Media Committee for the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), and the academic director of the award-winning, multimedia public television series American Passages: A Literary Survey (2003). As a literary scholar, she was the series editor for Gale Researcher’s 10-volume American Literature I, and the religion and literature delegate to the Modern Language Association. She is currently the Vice President of Publications and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Association for Jewish Studies.

About the Moderator:

Jessica Roda is an Assistant Professor of Jewish Civilization at the Walsh School of Foreign Service. She is an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist who specializes in Jewish life in North America and France, as well as in international cultural policies. Her research interests include religion, the performing arts, cultural heritage, gender, and media. Her articles on these topics have appeared in various scholarly journals and edited volumes in French and English. She is the author of two books and the editor of a special issue of MUSICultures. Her more recent book, Se réinventer au present (PUR 2018), was a finalist for the J. I. Segal Award for best Quebec book on a Jewish theme. It also received the Prize UQAM-Respatrimoni in heritage studies. Her forthcoming monograph, Beyond the Sheitl. Jewish Orthodox Women and Performances in the Digital Age, investigates how music, films, and media made by ultra-Orthodox and former ultra-Orthodox women serve as agents of social, economic and cultural transformation and empowerment, and as spaces that challenge gender norms, orthodoxy, and liberalism.

Roda earned Ph.Ds from both Sorbonne University and the University of Montreal. She has served as a fellow at McGill University (Eakin Fellow and Simon and Ethel Flegg), as a visiting scholar at Columbia University (Heyman Center), UCLA (Department of Ethnomusicology), and Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil. Her research has been funded by several programs and institutions in North America and Europe. Roda’s public-facing work has appeared in Times of Israel, LaPresse, TV Quebec, The Huffington Post, Akadem, Radio Canada, France Culture, The Moment, Glamour, and numerous networks in Europe, United-States, and South America (Brazil and Colombia). She is also a trained pianist, flutist, and modern-jazz dancer (City of Paris Conservatory).


February 24
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm




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